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Student journalists & ethics

by on September 25, 2014

One of the readings this week, entitled, “Student Editors Need Help in Learning How to Use Codes of Ethics,” by Kirstie E. Hettinga and Marie Hardin, got me thinking about the general concept of “student journalists” and how they differ from “professional journalists.” I’d like to think that we are all technically held to the same standards, but even if that’s not the case, aren’t we all responsible for doing the same thing? (i.e. seeking the truth and reporting it) So how does a student become an editor of a college newspaper, one where there is no professor or truly experienced journalist in charge?

At the The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, there seems to be a divide between reporters and editors. I have never been an editor, so I am writing from the prospective of a contributor to the paper over the last three years.

What Hettinga and Hardin got me thinking about was how well-trained student editors really are. Without degrees in journalism or a related field (or any long-term experience) how skilled could someone really be at editing the work of a peer?

In my early days at the Collegian, I was intimidated by the editors and often confused by the choices they would make before printing my story. Oftentimes, it was frustrating to see a word changed here or there and wonder why the editors, who were students just like myself, had the power to alter my words. Weren’t we all students at the same university? Didn’t we all take the same classes in the same department with the same professors? Of course, an extra pair of eyes on any piece of writing is likely to pick up typos, grammatical errors and the like, but why did my peers get to decide if my lead was good enough?

Now, this is not to say that there haven’t been some great editors at the Collegian who I am sure one day will become the editors-in-chief of very fancy publications. When I was a freshman, and even in the beginning of my sophomore year, I did some editorial and journalistic work that I am not proud of — and if it weren’t for the student journalists editing my work, these pieces would have come out even worse.

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Pros and cons to reporting for a college newspaper:

     Pros

  1. Learn how to work with others
  2. Learn how to accept criticism graciously
  3. Learn how to recover from an ethical mistake
  4. Learn how to multitask

Cons

  1. No “real” or “professional” editing
  2. Making mistakes that might end up being a big deal or getting accused of libel
  3. Have your writing quality diminished because of an editor’s inadequacy
  4. Become discouraged by peers

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In Hettinga’s and Hardin’s article, it is is written, “In general, student editors were more likely to say that their ethics classes were more influential to their decision-making than codes. That being said, less than half of the students reported taking a media ethics class, suggesting that the presence of media ethics courses in the curriculum may not be as robust as we had hoped or thought.”

I have never thought about it before, but I think that all assistant editors and editors of each section should all be required to have taken an ethics course, a law course, a combination of the two or something similar, because if a student is going to edit another student’s work, he or she should know, understand and refer to a code of ethics every day.

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