This is the repository for all information about Legal and Ethical Issues in Journalism taught by Professor Ruth Hochberger

Below is the syllabus for this course:

Legal and Ethical Issues in Journalism – JOUR 71001

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism – Fall 2011


Erik Bierbauer: Classroom 434; 1:30-3:30

ecbierbauer@debevoise.com; (212) 909-6793

David Bralow: Classroom 430; 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

DBralow@tribune.com; (212) 210-2893

George Freeman: Classroom 442; 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

freemang@nytimes.com; (212) 556-1558

Ruth Hochberger: Classroom 330; 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Ruth.Hochberger@journalism.cuny.edu; (212) 873-9374; 917-446-1977

Geanne Rosenberg: Classroom 436; 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Geanne.Rosenberg@journalism.cuny.edu; (646) 312-3969

All sections will meet from time to time on Mondays in Room 308 for an additional hour at 3:30 for guest speakers, as announced.

Learning Goals:

  • Familiarize students with the often-overlapping legal and ethical issues they are most likely to encounter as professionals.
  • Learn the basic principles in areas such as the First Amendment, defamation, copyright, plagiarism, privacy, journalists’ codes of ethics, relationships with sources, use of quotations, shield laws, and avoidance of conflicts of interest and biases.
  • Expose students to the current state of the law and ethical thinking so that they will be able to anticipate legal and ethical issues and obtain practice in analyzing and resolving them, or seek professional guidance when warranted.
  • By dissecting case decisions and applicable legislation, and writing analyses of actual as well as hypothetical ethical situations, gain practice in weighing the competing ethical and legal principles so as to be able to apply them in their reporting, writing, video, audio, online and photographic assignments.
  • Discuss developments in the news during the semester, which provide subjects for immediate discussion, and relate them to concepts examined in the syllabus.


This syllabus is designed to be flexible and is subject to change depending on the needs and interests of the individual seminar instructors, guest speaker availability, and questions and issues raised by students from their own reporting.


  1. Attend all classes on time and prepared.
  2. Participate in class discussions
  3. Writing assignments: Assignments will include four two-page responses to case studies from the Knight Case Studies Initiative (available at https://casestudies.jrn.columbia.edu/casestudy/www/home.asp),

an editorial, a Freedom of Information request, and a copyright registration application.

  1. Midterm examination
  2. Final examination


Final grade will be based on:

  1. Attendance, class preparation and participation: 20%
  2. Midterm exam: 20%
  3. Written assignments: 30% (due before beginning of following week’s class – no exceptions)
  4. Final exam: 30%


It is a serious ethical violation to take any material created by another person and represent that it is your own original work.  Any such plagiarism will result in serious disciplinary action, including possible dismissal from the CUNY J-School. Plagiarism may involve copying text from a book or magazine without attributing the source, or lifting words, photographs, videos, or other materials from the Internet and attempting to pass them off as your own.  Student work may be analyzed electronically for plagiarized content.  Please ask the instructor if you have any questions about how to distinguish between acceptable research and plagiarism.

Required Reading:

Textbook: Communications Law: Liberties, Restraints and Modern Media (Wadsworth Series in Mass Communication and Journalism), 6th edition, John D. Zelezny (2011). This text is available from Amazon (text or Kindle edition); Barnes and Noble (paperback, Nook, or rental) or the publisher (Cengage Brain, http://www.cengagebrain.com/shop/ISBN/9780495794172?cid=APL1) as a paperback purchase or rental or as an e-book purchase or rental.

Assigned articles, court opinions and online readings.

Case studies from the Case Consortium @ Columbia (formerly, the Knight Case Studies Initiative) for written assignments (https://casestudies.jrn.columbia.edu/casestudy/www/home.asp) You order them just like you are ordering a book and pay with a credit card.  Two are free – one is free to everyone; you will be given a password for the other one which the Case Consortium is offering to CUNY on a complimentary basis.

“Public Editor” column in the Sunday New York Times “Sunday Review” section (basis for class discussion)

Assignments are listed under the date they are due.

Week One (Aug. 29): Introduction: Explanation of course, syllabus, requirements and case assignments. Discussion of common pitfalls for beginning reporters. Audio and video releases. Ethical dilemma class writing assignment.

Assignment: Make a list of five things reporters should never do. (NOT researched, from your own ideas). This will not be turned in or graded.

Read “Ask These 10 Questions to Make Good Ethical Decisions” by Bob Steele: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/everyday-ethics/talk-about-ethics/1750/ask-these-10-questions-to-make-good-ethical-decisions/

Sept. 5: Labor Day.  NO CLASS


Week Two (Sept. 12): Introduction to the Legal System, Sources of Media              Law; First Amendment and Prior Restraint (Pentagon Papers, Wikileaks)

Assignment: Chapters 1,2 (through p. 69) and 3, Zelezny Text


Week Three (Sept. 19): Sources, Interviewing, Attribution and Using Quotes

Assignment: Cohen v. Cowles Media Company,

Text Pp. 311-12

“Questions to Ask Before Going Off the Record,” Kelly McBride, http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/25191/questions-to-ask-before-going-off-the-record/

New York Times Confidential News Sources Policy, http://www.nytco.com/company/business_units/sources.html

“Those Persistent Anonymous Sources,” Clark Hoyt, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22pubed.html

“Tracking the Anonymice,” Jack Shafer, http://www.slate.com/id/2195078/

Monday, Sept. 19: Speaker: Jack Shafer, Slate


Week Four (Sept. 26): Plagiarism, Fabrication, Copyright and Aggregation

Assignment: Text, Chapter 8

Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises

“Correcting the Record; Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” New York Times, May 11, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html

“Editor’s Note” in the same issue,  http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/pageoneplus/11EDIT.html

“The Counter-Plagiarism Handbook,” Craig Silverman, Columbia Journalism Review, http://www.cjr.org/regret_the_error/the_counterplagiarism_handbook.php

Draft a copyright registration application for one of your articles, photos, or broadcasts (For assistance, http://www.copyright.gov/forms/, and “Why and how to register your articles,” American Society of Journalists and Authors Contracts Committee, http://www.asja.org/pubtips/copyrite.php)


Week Five (Oct. 3): Ethics Codes and Conflicts of Interest

Assignment: “The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism,” http://www.nytco.com/press/ethics.html, Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp, Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, http://www.rtnda.org/pages/media_items/code-of-ethics-and-professional-conduct48.php

Watch or read the transcript of “Journalists as People,” Nov. 5, 2010, “On the Media,” http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/11/05/03

RTNDA Social Media and Blogging Guidelines, http://www.rtdna.org/pages/media_items/social-media-and-blogging-guidelines1915.php?g=37?id=1915

Carpenter v. United States, 282 U.S. 19 (1987)

Read “Conflicted: The New York Times and the Bias Question,” and write no more than 2 pages on how you would decide and if you would publicly explain your decision.


Oct. 10: Columbus Day: NO CLASS


Week Six (Oct. 17): Privacy: Legal and Ethical Issues

Assignment: Text, Chapter 5, and pp 176-212

“Name the Accuser and The Accused,” Geneva Overholser, http://www.poynter.org/archived/journalism-junction/13913/name-the-accuser-and-the-accused/

“Respecting Privacy Guidelines,” Bob Steele, http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/1837/respecting-privacy-guidelines/

“Think Before You Record,” Meg Martin http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/70385/think-before-you-record/

Shulman v. Group W Productions Inc., 74 Cal.Rptr. 2d 843, 955 P.2d 469 (1998)

Read “On Downie’s Desk/Public Death, Private Life: Army Major Alan Rogers and The Washington Post.” Write no more than 2 pages as to what your decision would have been and why.

Assignment for Next Class: Prepare for midterm


Week Seven (Oct. 24): Midterm


Week Eight (Oct. 31): Access and Freedom of Information, Open Meetings and Courts

Assignment: Text, Chapter 6

Prepare and submit a Freedom of Information Act request for a proposed story (For help see the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press “Federal Open Government Guide,” http://www.rcfp.org/fogg/). Separately, list what possible exceptions or excuses the requested agency might rely on.

Mon., Oct. 31: Speaker: Robert Freeman, executive director, Committee on Open Government, New York State


Week Nine (Nov. 7): Newsgathering Torts, Undercover Reporting and Fair Tactics

Assignment: Text, Chapter 5, and pp. 176-212

“Lying to Get the Truth,” Mark Lisheron, American Journalism Review, October/November 2007, http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4403

“Planned Parenthood videos, undercover recordings have roots in journalism they challenge,” Adam Hochberger, Feb. 23, 2011, http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/120446/planned-parenthood-videos-undercover-recordings-have-roots-in-journalism-they-challenge/

Poynter Institute News U. module on newsgathering

Read “The Facebook Conundrum: The New Haven Independent and the Annie Le Murder,” Write no more than 2 pages on if you would use the Facebook posts and how.


Week Ten (Nov. 14):  Defamation and Defenses; Corrections and Retractions

Assignment:  Text, Chapter 4

Milkovich v. Lorain Journal,

New York Times v. Sullivan

Poynter Institute News U module on Defamation


Week Eleven (Nov. 21): Community Standards: Offensive Material, Language and Tone; Third-Party Posts and Comments Online

Assignment: Text, pp 432-433, and pp. 473-483

Listen to “What’s ‘Too Graphic’? How to Photograph Disaster,” “Talk of the Nation,” Feb. 1, 2010, http://www.wbur.org/npr/123221099/whats-too-graphic-how-to-photograph-disaster

“Images of Horror from Fallujah,” David D. Perlmutter and Lesa Hatley Major, Summer 2004, http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=100834

Associated Press Standards and Practices: Obscenities, Profanities, Vulgarities, http://www.ap.org/newsvalues/index.html

“Dead Teen’s Photo Had Value Beyond Shock,” by Bill Mitchell, Aug. 25, 2002, http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/2115/dead-teens-photo-had-value-beyond-shock/

“Rejecting Racism: The Native Factor,” by Fanua Borodzicz, July 28, 2003, http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/diversity-at-work/14071/rejecting-racism-the-native-factor/


Week Twelve (Nov. 28): Subpoenas, Reporter’s Privilege and Shield Laws

Assignment: Text, pp. 302-311

“The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a Jail Cell and a Deal, Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak, and Clifford Levy, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/16/national/16leak.html

New York State Shield Law, http://www.rcfp.org/privilege/index.php?op=browse&state=NY

“Falling on Their Shield,” Jeffrey Benzing, http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=5029

Write a short editorial (no more than 1 page) as to why Congress should pass or defeat the federal shield law.

Mon., Nov. 28: Speaker: Arthur Brisbane, Public Editor, The New York Times


Week Thirteen (Dec. 5): Photography, Video, Audio and Skype: Special Concerns

Assignment: National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics, http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/diversity-at-work/14071/rejecting-racism-the-native-factor/

NPPA Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics, http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/digitalethics.html

“Photo Manipulation: A Lesson in Ethics,” by Nancy Wolff, Aug. 4, 2008, http://login.vnuemedia.com/pdn/content_display/resources/is-it-legal/e3i7c8f9d806fcefe2e4a8047b1258461af

“Why Is ‘Photo Illustration’ a Dirty Word in Journalism,” by Scott Baradell, June 22, 2008, http://rising.blackstar.com/why-is-photo-illustration-a-dirty-word-in-journalism.html, “The Case Against Photo Illustrations,” by Scott Baradell, June 23, 2008, http://rising.blackstar.com/why-is-photo-illustration-a-dirty-word-in-journalism.html

Read “Worth a Thousand Words: The Associated Press and Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard,” and write no more than 2 pages on what you would have done and why.

Mon., Dec. 5: Speaker: Photo Editor


Week Fourteen (Dec. 12): Reporter’s Role in Society: Duty to Report Wrongdoing? Duty to Help Victims? Request to Cooperate With Law Enforcement or Delay Story? Reporter’s Role as an Employee: How Obligated Are You for the Success of Your Employer?

Assignment: “SPJ Tells Journalists Not to Become Part of the Story,” http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/romenesko/100369/spj-tells-journalists-in-haiti-not-to-become-part-of-the-story/

“Reporters Doubling as Docs in Haiti,” Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review, http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/reporters_doubling_as_docs_in_1.php

“Western Reporters in Africa Struggle Over When to Help,” Abraham McLaughlin, Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0406/p01s03-woaf.html

“The Role of Journalism in the Midst of Disasters,” Mike Fancher, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20050925&slug=fancher25

“Writer defends reporting Wie,” Tom Spousta, USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/sports/golf/lpga/2005-10-17-wie-si_x.htm#

“Ethics of Paper’s Fake Arson Story Debated,” Sara Jean Green and Ian Ith, Seattle Times, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030418&slug=sherer18e

Assignment for next week: Study for Final Exam

Week Fifteen (Dec. 19:) Final Exam