AJ490 Media Law & Ethics

When I took Media Law back at Cal State, Northridge, it was taught by an accomplished, sadistic media lawyer who spent his entire life working with rock musicians, crazy artists, megalomaniacal actors, gonzo journalists; the whole horde of creative vagabonds fueling the media industry in LA. He ruled the class with an iron glove, was a brilliant lecturer, had tons of funny stories, and relied incredibly heavily on our textbook on media law. There were zero writing assignments in the class—it was all tests based on case history (Sullivan vs. NYT, Falwell vs. Hustler, etc.), and if you didn’t know the material like the back of your hand, you shrekked the tests. The class had a forty percent fail rate, and that’s just the way it was—you either knew your stuff or you didn’t.

That’s exactly the type of class I’m trying not to teach at OSU, and precisely why I think the hybrid edge will benefit the delivery of materials. I have nothing against whip-cracking sadists who demand the sky and expect the moon—I get along well with those types—but based on years of observation on our campus, I am convinced this is the least successful mode of delivery.

The best way for OSU students to lock into this material will be for them to engage in hard core classroom discussions once each week, interspersed with guest visits from distinguished figures in the profession, like Steve Clark, Candace Baltz, and Bill Reader of the Seattle Times, and Becca Gose, the General Counsel for OSU.

The class will be divided in two halves: the first will treat media law, the second media ethics.

First Half: Media Law

Following three intensive seminars and interactive quizzes on The First Amendment and libel law, we will move through five important case studies, beginning with Sullivan and moving through Galella v. OnassisBranzburg v. Hayes, Blumenthal v. Drudge, and Hustler, Inc. v. Falwell.

Each week, students will have an assortment of instructor video lectures, required open-source readings, and two objects to view: 1) A mainstream film that focuses on one of the themes of exploration (ck, The People vs. Larry Flynt), and; 2) A slick interactive YouTube presentation on the case studies at hand.

Based on these readings and viewings, the students will have a quick preliminary discussion online, perhaps through a multimedia platform; I’ll decide that a bit further in the game. Then they will come to class primed to engage in fast-paced team discussion scenarios, either holding their own mock trials, doing a pro-con conference forum, things like that. We will spend the entire class in this discussion mode, with a period at the end of the class to synthesize our findings.

Second Half: Media Ethics

I will conduct the second half of the course in a very similar way to the first: readings, viewings and preliminary discussions online, with ancillary viewings of applicable mainstream cinema. Topic matter will underscore the difference between ethics and law; namely, that legality requires us to do things under threat of penalty, while ethics merely requires us to exercise our discretion (if we have any). Do we place pictures of dead bodies on the front page of the paper? Do we take photos of semi-nude film stars sunbathing on a public beach? Do we go through the trash of popular politicians looking for “dirt” to use against them? When do we release the names of minors involved in the news, and how do we protect our sources in general?

On a logistical level, the difference here will be the guest speakers. Thinking this through, I think what I will try to do is cover thematic issues during the first three of four weeks of the back half, and then devote the final week or two of class to the guest speakers, who can present a short 15-minute presentation and then enjoy the experience of being grilled by advanced journalism students. Students can discuss the guest speakers’ presentations online in short, graded discussion board forums.

Conclusion, For Now …

I don’t imagine there’ll be many people taking this course besides the journalism minors (for whom AJ490 is required). It isn’t a Bacc Core class and it isn’t part of the WRII regimen. The students populating the class will be folks who intend to get actual jobs in the media when they graduate from OSU—and I truly love that rowdy gang. Their level of academic maturity is incredibly high, and I have been with most of them for a long time, so our rapport allows for plenty of interpersonal exchange. I think teaching the course through the hybrid platform will be just perfect.

French actress Brigitte Bardot [surrounded by paparazzi] during 1958 Venice Film Festival. Venice, Italy, 1958. Are paparazzi legal? Is what they do ethical? These types of questions will be fundamental for discussion in AJ490.

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2 Responses to AJ490 Media Law & Ethics

  1. Inara Scott says:

    Sounds like a fun course! I’m very interested in those “slick” Youtube videos. Are those things you’re making yourself or linking to existing content? I’m also wondering how much you get into the legal standards and how to apply them in a hypothetical context? In my experience, it can be very difficult for students to take the abstract legal concepts that we study and apply them in new situations, but that’s of course where a lot of the fun upper level thinking happens.

    In any case, sounds like a great course!

  2. stjacquj says:

    Thanks for your comments, Inara! Yes, there are some very interesting YouTube videos about media law content; I get the feeling they are made by legal professionals to help law-oriented students (not necessarily law students). This 5-minute animated video is one solid example:


    I would’ve enabled this URL as a hyperlink, but I don’t see that option available through our blog. What I like about these videos is that they bust down complex legal jargon for a younger crowd, while making a nod to historical periodicity. And the blue note jazz music is easy on the ears, too 😀

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