Journalism Center

School Newspaper Rules of Responsible Journalism


The following rules of responsible journalism are tailored towards schools, school newspapers, and school newspaper clubs. You as either the editor of the newspaper or the teacher adviser may need to adjust these rules or even add to them as your situation warrants.

Print Only Protected Material

Despite our freedoms of speech in the United States, there are just some things that will land you in hot water. Calling for the evisceration and murder of a group of people, for example, is not a protected free speech. You can print the news. You can print your opinion. You can print controversy. Stay away from material that would be considered unconstitutional.

Avoid Defamation and Libel

Unsubstantiated material can be considered slander. In addition, a newspaper is not a bully pulpit, a place for you to get your personal gripe off your chest. You don’t want to use the newspaper as a form of revenge to attack someone’s character or personality.

A student newspaper should have no place for mocking individuals—regardless of the reason. Even on a school level, bias is not pretty and is often just petty. Try to stay objective in your writing.

Avoid Obscene or Vulgar Content

There should be no place for this type of material in your newspaper. Not only will obscenity or vulgarity seem petty and weak, but it will cast your writing as immature. This is beside the fact that such material will offend people. The goal of journalism is not to offend people, but to give a well-researched piece that is meant to sway opinion.

Avoid Plagiarism

Always give credit to whom credit is due. Never steal someone else’s work or words. Not only is this against the law, but it will reflect negatively on you. Since practically everything is on the internet, it is no longer that difficult to check and see if you have stolen someone else’s work. Even a simple rewording of sentences is stealing. Give credit.

Avoid Fabrication

Sometimes it is just simple and easy to make up facts that you think should or might exist. Assumptions often lead to fabrication. Check and double-check all your sources to be sure that you are not, in fact, making something up. Fabrication in journalism often comes from well-meaning people who think something is true without having done the proper research or investigation.

Avoid Conflicts of Interest

It is impossible to be objective and write a piece about a close friend, a teacher you know well, or a family member. Not only do you lean towards favoritism, but even if you can be objective and honest, you may end up straining relationships.

Indeed, once people realize that you have a conflict of interest, they will automatically doubt your words, bringing suspicion upon you and your story.

Avoid Disrupting School Operations

Do not write something that will impede the normal operations of your school. You may feel this to be unfair and somewhat hypocritical, but it is too dangerous. A similar situation would be a reporter deciding to write an article that attacks his own newspaper. Not only would the newspaper not print it, the reporter will most likely find himself out of a job.

Your school has given you a forum, but biting the hand that feeds you, in this case, may result in the shutting down of your voice altogether. It is simply good practice to avoid any story that might jeopardize the overall operations of your school.

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