2018 - Spring

Journalism Ethics and First Amendment Law

Course Number: JOUR-UA 502.001

Day & Time: Monday 6:20pm-8:50pm

Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 653

Instructor: David A. Kaplan

Presidential threats! Melania sues for libel! Gawker goes bankrupt after losing in court! Online revenge porn and other social-media intimidation! Praise for terrorists, leaks from government, making fun of “The Cat In the Hat”! What are journalists allowed to say? What shouldn’t they say! That’s what “Journalism Ethics and First Amendment Law” is about.

Welcome.  This course is an introduction to how American constitutional law affects journalists and why that matters – all the more in the Age of Trump.  It’s also a course about journalistic ethics and how such professional notions as fairness, objectivity, responsibility, and credibility intersect with law – and how they don’t.  Other courses cover how journalists do things – report, write, edit; this course will often be about how they avoid problems.

I aim for the material to be intellectual and practical and historical; I aim to raise more questions than we wind up answering; and I aim for us to work hard and enjoy class.  We’ll watch a lot of film clips! A few of the topics we will cover have bright-line do’s and don’ts – most do not; critical, skeptical thinking about the topics is essential in this class.

We will cover the law of the First Amendment, the values our system places on free expression, the imprecision of legal principles and the problem this poses for journalists (and their lawyers), the changing nature of journalism and the changing nature of law in the digital age.  This is not a law course as such, but a survey of the protections and restrictions that the legal system places on journalists.  And we will be mindful that legal constraints alone do not govern how a good journalist behaves.  Careful and honorable and valuable journalism comes not only from mere compliance with civil and criminal requirements, but attention to ethical principles that transcend law or are outside its boundaries.