Libel and yearbook publishing do not seem to mix considering that the individuals behind these annual publications are young amateur high school journalists. But a keen understanding of libel laws should be acquired by these journalists so as to avoid putting the publication including the reputation of its publishers, editors and writers at risk. As unfortunate as it sounds, the media is rife with lawsuits related to the libelous statements and photos on high school yearbooks with most parents taking the initiative in defending their children’s honor, dignity and pride against the alleged attacks.
Here are tips for high school journalists and their mentors in avoiding a mix of libel and yearbook publishing on their annuals.
Be Aware of Journalism Ethics
Both the young journalists and their mentors (i.e., teachers, principals and staff of the schools) should be aware of the ethics in journalism. Attendance in seminars and workshops, updates via books and other printed resources, and regular meetings on the matter are essential in significantly lessening the possibilities for libel lawsuits in relation to published yearbooks.
The burden usually lies with the mentors considering their authority positions in the yearbook publishing process. Keep in mind that young journalists can and will use the annual publications for their own vested interests instead of in the promotion of the community’s welfare in general. Utmost vigilance in reviewing the articles, captions and descriptions as well as the photos and images on the high school yearbook is of utmost importance in this regard.
For more information, go the official website of the National Scholastic Press Association for its Code of Ethics for student journalists and their mentors. Make said code an essential part of the yearbook office.
Be Educated on the Basics of Libel
The difference between what is unethical and what is illegal can be both subtle and obvious. What may be ethical may not necessarily be legal and vice versa so it pays to be aware of both ethics and libel as these concepts apply to journalism.
Basically, libel pertains to the defamation of an individual, group or nation in any published communication including words, photos and symbols. The intent is to falsely harm the individual’s or group’s reputation either in an express or an implied manner. This definition applies to all publications including the products of the yearbook publishing process.
It should be emphasized that, if the allegedly libelous statement is true, then there is no legal basis for libel as it is defined by law. Then again, it is best not to flirt with the legal definition of libel because it is a matter beyond your capacity and ability to deal with at a young age. Take note that jail time and penalties will arise from libel convictions.
Even when you are aware of the ethics in journalism and the libel laws in the state and federal levels, it is still important to apply your understanding of these matters at all phases of the yearbook publishing process. Safeguards must always be in place so that potential libel red flags can be spotted even before the final draft reaches the publishing company. Review, edit and review again and again just to be on the safe side.