Several journalism blogs have been abuzz with a controversy over a DePauw University’s use of a student’s arrest for underage drinking into a class assignment.  Prof. Mark Tatge, a visiting professor at DePauw, in Greencastle, Ind.,  gave copies of public records dealing with the student’s arrest to his investigative reporting class (without the student’s permission).

Media blogger Joe Romanesko recaps the flap.  Emily Richmond, who blogs for the Education Writers of America,  includes an assessment from Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist for the Poynter Institute (a journalism think tank).

In the past, I’ve assigned a public-records profile, in which I ask students to gather as much publicly available information on someone in the community – usually a faculty colleague who has given permission in advance.  But using a student who isn’t a public figure raises red flags.  What do you think? Is this a legitimate teaching tool?  Is there a better way to learn about how easy it is to find the unflattering details of other people’s lives?

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