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Ethical Challenges in Today's News Cycle 

Conference Presentations, Classroom Activities, Library Programs and More!


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Mosque Shooting

When a gunman fired on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a month ago, questions about media coverage of the tragedy accompanied the shock and grief. How much information should be revealed about the shooter and his motives? How much of his manifesto and live-streamed video of the attack should the media share, if any? And how can media organizations honor their duty to inform the public without playing into the hands of dangerous individuals or groups seeking attention?

Concerns regularly arise about whether the media is amplifying hateful ideologies or inspiring copycats when it reports on acts of terrorism and other violence. However, this gunman's multi-pronged social media strategy highlighted how evolving technologies pose additional dilemmas for news organizations covering the story. The British media outlet The Daily Mail, for instance, received much criticism for not only posting an edited version of the killer's video but also uploading a PDF of his manifesto for readers to access in full. (The Mail later removed both items from its website).

After facing criticism over coverage of recent mass shootings, such as Parkland, many U.S. publications limited use of the shooter's name, and almost every major news organization around the world chose not to publish clips online from the gunman's video, according to an NBC News story. "CBS This Morning" did air brief clips of the gunman approaching the mosque and revealing his face.



These debates can further our understanding of the freedoms provided by the First Amendment as well as the behind-the-scenes decisions that journalists make covering breaking news. Unlike New Zealand, where posting any segment of the shooter's video is currently illegal, in the United States, individual news outlets can determine which details and images to share. However, that doesn't mean they abuse this freedom as we saw in the Christchurch coverage. Many reporters, editors and publishers try to abide by the guiding principles of journalism, such as accuracy, fairness and do no harm. A better understanding of media ethics, or the choices that shape the news stories we consume, is an important aspect of media literacy.

Media ethics is a thought-provoking angle for discussing current events in your classroom. On, you'll find a lesson plan about the code of ethics issued by the Society of Professional Journalists, and then use those guidelines to analyze recent news stories. Two of our many online resources on ethics are especially relevant to the Christchurch shooting. In a case study on the Unabomber, students debate whether the media should share a killer's manifesto. Another case study looks at whether news outlets should air a video by the terror group ISIS of a pilot being burned alive.

NewseumED also offers a free virtual class called "Media Ethics" that familiarizes students with many of the ethical issues journalists face as they strive to be accurate, fair and clear, through the use of case studies. One such case encourages students to debate whether a local newspaper should name the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooter. Check out all of our virtual classes here.


Do you incorporate the topic of media ethics into your classroom discussions? What are other current or historical events to examine from this angle? Tweet @NewseumED with your response and include the hashtag #NEDquestion.


  • Conference Presentations: You can find us this month at the spring National High School Journalism Convention in Anaheim, Calif. Barbara McCormack, our vice president of education, will co-present a session April 26 on "Surviving in a Fake News World." A few weeks later, NewseumED will be at the Democracy and Digital Media International Conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anna Kassinger, our curriculum director, will join a panel May 18 on "Cause for Collaboration: Librarians, Museums, and Allied Professionals Working Against Misinformation."
  • Library Programs: Join us as we present "Escape Fake News" at two public libraries in the coming weeks. In the hands-on session, learn how to navigate a media landscape where real and fake sometimes look all too similar. Click on the library's name for more details.
  • Our community educators will travel to libraries and community centers in the D.C. metro area that want to host this free program for adults. Email [email protected] with questions or to arrange a session.


  • In the News: Use NewseumED's case study on campus speech as an entry to discuss President Trump's new executive order to withhold funding to schools that "don't protect free speech on campus." The critical debate, based on a 2017 incident at a Vermont college, has students considering: Should educational institutions host speakers who have controversial viewpoints that might lead to protests or even conflict? Does freedom of speech mean people have the right to be heard without interference from others? Find this First Amendment debate and others in our Free Speech Essentials EDCollection.
  • Breaking News: Although April starts off with a day of light-hearted pranks and hoaxes, the rest of the month historically has been much darker. Among April's tragedies: President Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassinations, Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings, Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings, and Waco. To help students understand what breaking news is and the difficulty of getting reliable information, check out NewseumED's interview with NPR managing editor Sara Kehaulani Goo. The "Ask an Expert: Breaking News" video is part of our "Is It News?" lesson plan.
  • Prom Attire: As prom season is upon us, we share with you a case study of a high school senior who wanted to wear a gown patterned after the Confederate flag. See how First Amendment rights come into play.


  • Summer Institutes: The Religious Freedom Center is offering two learning opportunities for educators this summer at the Newseum that explore religious literacy and diversity in the classroom. The NCSS-RFC Religious Studies Summer Institute, in partnership with the National Council for the Social Studies, is July 9-11. The Religious Studies Institute for Independent Schools is July 23-25. Click on the program's name to get additional details and registration information.
  • #MeToo's Impact on Media: The Power Shift Project released a report on Summit 2.0, which brought together in January more than 100 editors, reporters and experts to assess what's changed since revelations of sexual harassment rocked the media industry. Read more here. The major initiative on behalf of women in the news industry is overseen by the Freedom Forum Institute.

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EDClasses & Training

  • Religious Liberty for Students

    Students will be introduced to the principles that flow from the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment.

  • Religious Literacy for Students

    Students will be introduced to academically rigorous and constitutionally appropriate models for analyzing the role of religion in private and public life.

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