Inundated With Information: Teaching Our Students Journalistic Ethics and Digital Citizenship

Updated: Nov 28


A myriad of different social media icons like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more are showcased within this image.

Information overload is a term I have heard floating around in conversations among colleagues, family, friends and neighbors. We all face it whether we choose to or not. Everywhere you turn there is information at your fingertips: television, radio, print media, social media platforms. We cannot get away from it. It’s even at the gas stations when you fill up your vehicle!

Students have access to so much content, how do we teach them to be critical thinkers and cautious users of the internet and written materials?

In our culture today, social media platforms are flooded with people’s ideas, thoughts, products, solutions, and so much more. Every place you look on the internet there is an inundation of information and access to other people's works, in addition to the books, magazines, newspapers, and other printed media. Students have access to so much content, how do we teach them to be critical thinkers and cautious users of the internet and written materials? What should we teach our students about being a mindful digital citizen? How do we help them give credit to whom it is due and refrain from stealing what doesn’t belong to them? We don’t want plagiarism to be perceived as acceptable in any form or at any time. The value of honoring others for their work and giving proper credit needs to be taught to students.


Journalistic ethics and digital citizenship are priorities to include in your lesson plans. There is an intentional connection to be made between students and content, with a view of what is appropriate within journalistic ethics and suitable digital conduct. United Yearbook Printing has prepared a Curriculum which addresses, in depth, this subject matter, and I will be referring to it here in this article. Understanding the “why” behind journalistic ethics is important for students to understand. Begin with the basics when addressing the ethics behind yearbook journalism. In United Yearbook Printing’s Curriculum & Resources No.1, Yearbook Basics Instructional Guide, we start by reading through and evaluating the “First Amendment,” which grants the right to free speech and press. This link takes you to the government’s website. First Amendment. Our suggestion is to include a physical copy for each student while going through an analysis of what it is saying. How do we practice this freedom? In what ways are we protected? Use a pen or pencil to mark the specific items of discussion. Next bring the dialogue down to your individual situation with the school’s journalism program, specifically in creating a yearbook. Yearbooks are a historical record of the ongoing life of the school and will be stored as archival material. Therefore, it is a challenge and opportunity to remain ethically sound and true to its representation of the students, staff, and faculty contributions.


After completing this assessment of the First Amendment, guide your students to integrate the concept of integrity in their journalism. Students need to internalize that their work is important and approved. The Curriculum & Resources No. 1, Yearbook Basics Instructional Guide includes The Journalism Education Association’s website with student-centered terminology and access to resources for the classroom at jea.org, and covers the following:

  • Transparency in Reporting

  • Sensitivity with Controversy

  • Power of Multiple Viewpoints

  • Civic Engagement Considerations.

Your students need to aspire to be inclusive, accurate, and as unbiased as possible

Your students need to aspire to be inclusive, accurate, and as unbiased as possible. Encouraging their efforts and providing learning activities to underscore your teaching is key to growth. “One suggested activity is for your staff to produce their own Yearbook Staff Code of Ethics which should be posted in a prominent place in the classroom. The NSPA Model Code of Ethics (Click here for access) has Seven Key Ethic Points, each of which has several bullets of explanation. For example, Be Responsible, the first of the seven key ethic points, has 13 benchmarks to underscore the behaviors and practices embedded within the context of what journalistic responsibility entails. The object of this exercise is to fully immerse students in what each key ethic point means and generate meaningful, streamlined descriptions for each. The descriptions should be no more than 2 or 3 sentences. To produce a meaningful and streamlined version of the NSPA Model Code of Ethics, the teams of students are to read, interpret, and condense the key ethic points. Teamwork is best for this activity. This activity can be given participation points. Students could also write a short essay about Ethics in Journalism and Its Impact on Yearbook Work for a grade.”


Additionally, another example to follow is from The Society for Professional Journalists, whose Code of Ethics underscores the same principles. This resource presents another opportunity or activity to discuss accurate, fair, and integrous exchange of information. There is a free printable PDF version which would also be useful as a poster in the classroom for quick referral of ethical standards in journalism. https://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics.pdf

We need to guide our students and support what they know, help them understand their responsibility and digital footprint, and the impact they make in their personal digital world

The exchange of information can get quite murky in the waters of the internet, which is why Digital Citizenship cannot be overlooked. What is digital citizenship? According to Dictionary.Com, the definition of a digital citizen is,a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the internet and other digital technology, especially in order to participate responsibly in social and civic activities.” We need to guide our students and support what they know, help them understand their responsibility and digital footprint, and the impact they make in their personal digital world and that of the Yearbook Staff. No one is an island, especially in the digital world, which affects every area of our lives. Our students’ practice is our focus, not just the knowledge. I taught my students the etiquette of online presence and to visualize being in a physical space with the person(s) on the receiving end. In practice, you can also do the same by having activities focused on mindfulness, kindness, courtesy, and respect for others. Students can learn to control their emotional urges to respond immediately and take time to breathe, restore a sense of calm, and compose a proper response. Provide examples, divide your students into teams, and dialogue how to respond to a digital feed. Have the students compose several statements and share with the class, and then select the key ones. Create a poster with a list of these statements which they can refer to during the day.

  1. McHugh, Lucy; Curriculum & Resources, No. 1, Yearbook Basics, page 3, United Yearbook Printing, August 2022

  2. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/digital-citizen; 2022 Dictionary.com© 2022 Dictionary.com, LLC © 2022 Dictionary.com, LLC

The Google app is shown about to be downloaded on an iPad. An Apple pen rests on top of the screen.

Let’s talk about cyberbullying. What have your students experienced in their daily digital access? Encourage honesty and courage in sharing, and create a place of safety. Talk about their options and what action they can take in these circumstances. Refer students to talk privately with you, a counselor, their parents, the school administration, clergy, friend, and be their advocate if they speak to you about it! Cyberbullying can occur anywhere. Be engaged, aware and present to prevent it from happening in your yearbook classroom. We help our students be present when they are online. How can we guide students to think carefully and fairly when they are online? There is an etiquette to follow while on the digital platform. Our Curriculum Guide recommends a link by BrainPOP to specifically address Digital Etiquette.

Your students need to learn how to identify credible information sources and how to credit and cite those sources in their work

Digital citizenship in the classroom also brings up issues of compliance with copyright laws and fair use of material. Devise a worksheet or method of response to measure how well your students understand plagiarism and copyrights. Here is a link to the U.S. Copyright office for further information. Your students need to learn how to identify credible information sources and how to credit and cite those sources in their work. Curriculum & Resources No. 1, Yearbook Basics Instructional Guide offers a Digital Citizenship learning activity which asks students to engage with proper attributing practices guided by the Creative Commons website. The presentation in the learning activity is thorough and includes many examples. Whichever method you use to teach digital citizenship and journalistic ethics, the important factor is to get the messages across so the students internalize the material and practice it daily. Yearbook class provides multiple opportunities to interconnect and implement the material. We have the duty and privilege to develop students into integrous, fair-minded, honest, ethical journalists and mindful, informed digital citizens.


Contributor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.

Editor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.


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