LAW & ETHICS

Frantic calls to the Student Press Law Center are all but a rite of passage on Verde. Frankly, it should come as little surprise given our commitment to pursue the truth, undeterred by controversy or taboo. In our efforts to bring Paly students the news they didn't know they needed, we hold ourselves to the highest degree of journalistic integrity. However, trailblazing reporting often entails exercising the fullest extent of our rights as students journalists. Below, you'll find that delicate balancing act omnipresent in my work as an editor and journalist.

Conscientious Coverage

Following Palo Alto University Professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony, Verde investigated our community's evolving culture of consent sexual assault, examining the experiences of Palo Alto students from the ’80s and today. Due to the stigmas surrounding sexual assault, our student sources feared retaliation should they use their real name in the story. After numerous conversations between the writers, editors and our adviser, we decided granting some sources anonymity would be the most ethical course of action. Even so, we advised the writers to critically examine the source's testimony and verify whether the facts lined up. In addition, they took a self-directed "Reporting Sexual Violence" course provided by the Poynter Institute to ensure their reporting was as accurate and compassionate as possible. We also heavily relied on the Student Press Law Center for legal and ethical guidance during the process, both in terms of conscientious reporting and concerns about being asked to reveal confidential source identities. Given the sensitive nature of our content and moderately graphic quotes from one source, my co-EiCs and I decided to include a trigger warning at the beginning of the article as well as hotline resources at the end (shown below). 

Warning: This feature deals with accounts of sexual assault and may be a trigger for some readers.

 

Editor’s Note: While we recognize the sensitive nature of this piece, we believe that stories like this are paramount in destigmatizing conversation surrounding sexual assault and misconduct, especially in light of recent local and national events. To ensure our reporting was as accurate and compassionate as possible, all three writers took a self-directed “Reporting Sexual Violence” course provided by the Poynter Institute. In addition, the following content has been approved by the survivors and sources who shared their stories. Finally, we would like to thank the Student Press Law Center for their guidance throughout this process and for reviewing a substantive draft of the article prior to publication.

Know Your Rights

Based on the sheer amount of legal and ethical topics we encountered in covering "Asking for It," my co-EiCs and I decided to create a "Know Your Rights" presentation to inform all members of the publication on the fundamentals of covering controversial subjects and the associated press laws (hooray for CA 48907). To keep it engaging, we began with a Kahoot quiz, used local case studies and ended with a class discussion about related Verde applications.

Ethics Policy

While the presentations and class conversations were an appropriate temporary measure, to ensure future generations of staff members had a clear legal and ethical framework, we also revised the Verde ethics policy for the first time in years. After leading a class comb-through of the previous ethics policy and collective brainstorming session, we added new sections for controversial topics, anonymous sources, profanity, accountability, prior review and online commenting (added text is highlighted to the right).

Keeping Our Facts Straight

When I wrote about the four-year Office of Civil Rights investigation into my school district, it was challenging for my co-writers and I to maintain a clear mental inventory of the numerous community complaints, Title IX allegations and OCR measures that had taken place. Moreover, we couldn't afford any factual errors in such a contentious story — one wrong account would be enough to undermine Verde's credibility, tread into the nebulous territory of unprotected speech and perhaps even invite libel suits.

 

To keep our facts straight, both for our own purposes and for that of the exposé, we created a comprehensive timeline of events and data bank of technical terms (shown below). While our initial intention was merely to hold ourselves accountable and ensure our portrayal of events was accurate, I ended up turning our notes into a print and digital sidebar for the story. You'll find our notes directly below, and even further below that you'll find the print sidebar (left) and digital accompaniment (right). You can read the story itself, "CASE 09-13-5901," here.