Expectations of Students

We understand that students in the Department of Journalism have certain goals in mind when they choose to join the program. While we can help you meet your academic and career goals, you must also be an agent of your own success. That means being engaged in learning.

We believe that an essential trait of a good journalist is curiosity. Your curiosity can lead you down many interesting paths. Use this same curiosity in the classroom. This means coming to class prepared, having read assigned readings, meeting deadlines, and having good questions for the instructor during class time. Be the agent of your own success. The faculty has established rules and policies that are well established in the journalism profession. We see our job as preparing you for real world experience. So understand these rules and policies in that context.

Review the information below but please refer to the the Department of Journalism Student Handbook as well.

View the Journalism Student Handbook (pdf)


The documents on this website/webpage might not be fully accessible to persons with disabilities. We are working to fix these accessibility barriers by January 2022. If you experience difficulty in accessing this content, please contact the Department of Journalism by email at jour@sfsu.edu and we will provide you with accessible alternatives.

Journalism Expectations

The First Amendment assures freedom of speech and with that privilege comes great responsibility. Journalism plays an important role in our democratic society and therefore must uphold the highest ethical standards. Protecting the integrity of journalism also means protecting the journalistic credibility that audiences expect from reputable sources of news. As an institution of journalism education, it is our obligation to demand journalistic excellence from our students, following best practices of the profession and a code of ethics. This document is to guide students as they may struggle with ethical dilemmas that may present themselves routinely in their position as student journalists and interns.

This department abides by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and in its broadest terms that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. While this document cannot be all-inclusive, it will touch on the most important aspects of ethical behavior as a member of the Journalism Program, a coveted and privileged position. If you are ever in doubt about what to do in a situation, do not hesitate to consult with a Department of Journalism faculty member. Saying that you didn’t know is not a good enough response to a breach in ethical standards. It is your responsibility to find out if you don’t know or are unsure.


Be professional. Always represent yourself as a SF State Journalism student, particularly before an interview. This can be tricky in social situations where conversation is casual. There have been instances when people have revealed things not realizing they are speaking to a journalist. If such a situation occurs and what’s revealed to you may be important for a story, it’s important that you tell the person who you are and that you want to use the information in a story. Remember you are representing not only yourself, but also the Department. Make us look good. Dress appropriately when on assignment. A guide to use is dress as your interviewee will dress.

Always strive for accuracy and fairness. It is difficult to be completely unbiased, but your safeguard against bias is checking with a variety of sources. Get outside of your circle and make sure you talk to people other than the usually cited experts or sources. Look for the shades of gray, for those are usually the most interesting places to dig into a subject. Go out of your way to check, then check again, then check one more time.

Ask, don’t assume. Don’t be afraid to ask what may seem to be an “obvious” question. Journalists can sometimes get into trouble because they assume rather than ask. Better to ask than to print or produce the wrong information.

Correct your errors. We all make mistakes, but the best journalists admit to them and correct them publicly. Check with your professor or student editor to find out how best to proceed.

Expose injustice, and give voice to those who rarely have one. This is the motto of some of the best journalists in the profession.

Avoid conflicts of interest. These conflicts include but are not limited to preparing journalism assignments on subjects or institutions in which the student has a financial, family, or personal involvement, or a personal stake in the outcome. Do not become part of the story. In some cases the appearance of a conflict is just as real as an actual conflict of interest. When in doubt, ask your professor. Disclose all potential conflicts to your professor or editor before you begin your assignment.


Do not fabricate anything. If you do, ultimately you will be caught and the fall will be mighty and great. Department of Journalism policy on fabrication: If you are caught, you will receive an F on the assignment. But worse than that, such behavior will call suspicion on all of your work and you will be tainted as a liar and a fake. Usually people get themselves in these situations because they are unprepared and deadline pressure weighs on them. Don’t corner yourself. Prepare for interviews ahead of time. Do your research ahead of time. Locate sources ahead of time. If you have trouble with any of these things, faculty are ready and happy to help.

Do not plagiarize. This is another self-destructive path because you will get caught. Department of Journalism policy on plagiarism: Assignments found to have copied work without citation of the source will receive an F. But again, if you are caught, you have made an unattractive reputation for yourself. People get themselves in this situation for a variety of reasons. Sometimes students think it’s OK to copy and paste from the Internet if it’s common knowledge. The best practice to follow: Whenever in doubt, cite the source and if you want some guidance, ask your professor.

Do not cheat. We expect academic honesty. Check with your professor about what exercises and assignments are for your eyes only.

Do not engage in conduct unbecoming of the department during class, while online or while on assignment. Such misconduct includes but is not limited to disruptive behavior, physical or verbal abuse, property damage, theft, lewd or obscene behavior, and discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or place of origin.

Do not pitch the same story to multiple publications or classes unless it’s clear such a practice is allowed. When in doubt, ask your professor or editor.

Missed Deadline

To set the tone of what is expected for journalists in the professional world, faculty have established a policy that penalizes missed deadlines, factual errors and misspelled names. If you miss a deadline, you will receive a zero on the assignment. If some unforeseen emergency like death or illness in the immediate family occurs, let your instructor know and he or she will work with you. But the reasons have to be pretty grave for missing a deadline. If you are having trouble tracking down sources, it is up to you to communicate this with your instructor before the assignment is due.

Misspelled Names and Errors of Fact

Mistakes are bound to happen, but in journalism, a mistake can be costly. It can cost you, the reporter, and the news organization, their credibility. Unfortunately, these kinds of errors are often repeated digitally or in print several thousand times. So take care with the details. Any story submitted for a grade with a misspelled name or major error of fact will receive an F for that assignment.

The department discourages the use of anonymous sources except when the story cannot otherwise be done. When journalists use anonymous sources it allows those sources to be unaccountable for what they say. In some cases, the only way to get a difficult story is with the use of anonymous sources. But even then, a good journalist will try to corroborate information from another independent source. When journalists rely too heavily on anonymous sources, people question the credibility of the story. The department discourages the use of anonymous sources except when the story cannot otherwise be done. Some circumstances call for the use of anonymous sources, such as if the sources name is used, he/she will suffer retribution from an employer, or family, friends or acquaintances. If physical harm is of issue, this too is a reason to consider using an anonymous source. Before you use an anonymous source in a story, check with an instructor or faculty adviser first. Perhaps there are other avenues you can follow without having to rely on an anonymous source.

One of the hardest things for aspiring journalists to do is approach strangers and convince them to reveal their deepest secrets, desires, and worries. It’s hard to ask strangers personal questions. But this is what journalists do. What better way of getting used to this difficult task than to do it over and over again. Repetition is the best cure in this instance. If you’re serious about journalism, you must talk to people outside of your circle. This may mean getting outside of your comfort zone, but you can look at this positively as an adventure. Trekking territory you have never seen before. The most credible stories are those in which the reporter has wandered out of her own perspective and examined a multitude of other perspectives.

Journalism students cannot use family members or friends as sources in stories. We recommend at least two degrees of separation from your sources. We also recommend you pull from a diverse pool of sources. In diversity we’re talking about diversity in beliefs and political ideology, in race, culture and heritage, in religious background and practices, in class, in sexual orientation, and in family background. Your stories should reflect the community we are in. If you need help diversifying your stories, ask an instructor or faculty advisor.

Some courses are dependent on technology, while others are not. Be aware that instructors may have different rules about the use of cell phones and computers in their class. There’s nothing worse than an instructor looking up trying to make an important point about the subject at hand and seeing 20 students clicking away on their cell phones or computers, checking their emails, or sending off text messages. Stay engaged in the class, be alert, pay attention, or you might miss an important point. If the instructor allows you to use cell phones and computers during class, you still need to pay attention. Sending emails to friends during a lecture is not only inconsiderate to the instructor, but it shows a lack of respect to the subject, which are part of your academic goals.

Yes, Muni is unreliable. Cars break down on the bridge. And traffic jams are plentiful. But that just means you need to plan ahead, give yourself a little bit of extra time get to school, class or your interview. Be on time to class and appointments. If something happens, make sure to let your instructor or adviser know as soon as possible. Attendance is also essential to success in the classroom. When you miss a class, you miss important information and lessons that can affect your understanding of subsequent lessons. If you have to miss a class, let your instructor know. Each instructor has his own rules on handling absence. Make sure to read the syllabus, and keep your absences to a minimum.

Illness is just a part of life. We understand this. But it is important to let an instructor know about any long-term illnesses that may affect your ability to attend class and perform well in the class. If you are sick for a long period of time, sometimes it is better to drop the class and start fresh the next semester. Incompletes are discouraged in this department, and the university requires students complete at least 75 percent of the work for the semester to get an incomplete. The reason the department discourages incompletes is we find it is very difficult for students to make up the work. The university requires students complete the final work within one of the class. That seems reasonable, but generally students get so involved in their current course work, that it is difficult for them to find the time to complete the make-up work. All of this should be discussed with your instructor to come to a reasonable solution to the problem.

There are also instances when a student dealing with an illness or family issue has missed so much of his or her classes that it makes sense to withdraw from the entire semester. If this is the case, you should visit the department chair in HUM 305 to discuss your options.