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The TUFF process for making ethical decisions


Students will explore ethical situations using the TUFF formula as described in the lesson. Students work in groups on six scenarios. This unit focuses on possible discussion points for inclusion in editorial policies.

TUFF formula citation:

Merrill, John Calhoun. Journalism Ethics: Philosophical Foundations for News Media. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. 174-80. Print. This section discusses the TUFF formula, and the battle between truth or consequences that reporters must navigate. Also referenced here:


  • Students will learn about the TUFF formula.
  • Students will evaluate and analyze ethical scenarios using the TUFF formula.
  • Students will understand basics of the TUFF formula and its application.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.


100 minutes (two 50-minute classes)


Quiz: TUFF process

Slideshow: TUFF formula

Handout: Scenarios

Teacher key: Scenarios

Rubric: TUFF scenarios

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Introduction — 10 minutes

Start the class with the following hypothetical situation: “A student on staff has overheard his father (a police officer in a neighboring town) talking about pulling over your high school principal for suspicion of drunk driving. The staff member heard his father report that the principal was barely over the legal limit. And then would ask the following questions:

  1. How do you verify the accuracy of this? Is the father a reliable source? Where else could you get the info you needed?
  2. Does the community deserve to know if one of their leaders engages in this behavior?
  3. How much does the school board know about this?
  4. Does the fact that the infraction was just over the legal limit influence your decision?
  5. Whose interest should prevail in this instance?
  6. How do you negotiate what is fair here?

2. TUFF formula slideshow — 10 minutes

Teacher should lead students through slideshow.

3. Group work — 20 minutes

Ask students to get into groups of no more than 5 students. Teacher should pass out Handout 1 to each group.

Students should work on the scenarios in groups. One student should take notes for the group. The groups should discuss and determine whether or not they would run the story based on the community’s right to know versus the consequences for the subject based on the TUFF formula as discussed in class specifically answering the question “Is this fair?”

Student groups will present this information in the class session.

4. Assessment/take home exercise — 10 minutes

Each student would come to class the next day with a statement asserting their journalistic freedom to run one of the stories. Additionally, they should provide up to three qualifiers that would cause them to withhold publishing a story or one or more parts of a story.

Day 2

1. Homework check — 5 minutes

As students enter the class, teacher should check off their homework by checking in the work. This work will be turned in at the end of today’s class. Teacher will use the rubric to evaluate the work. While students are waiting for the teacher to finish checking the homework, they should review their notes on what they did the previous day — including what they brought in for homework.

2. Group work (part 2) — 10 minutes

Students should resume their group work from the previous class. Please tell them each group will randomly be selected to present on one of the scenarios. (Teacher should see the talking points).

3. Informal presentations — 30 minutes.

Teacher should randomly select groups to present on each of the scenarios.

Students should take a note of these conversation topics for later inclusion in the editorial policy they will create.

4. Pop quiz — 5 minutes

Pass out the pop quiz. Students should get one point for each question they get correct.

Students also should turn in their homework, which was initialed by the teacher at the beginning of class.


Play the following: Press Rights Minute #12 – Ethics in editing news photos. Ask students to discuss the issues in the sound clip.