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Email and texting: digital information-gathering

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sprclogoFoundations_mainEthical guidelines
Journalists should conduct interviews and gather information in person as often as possible.

Because it is sometimes necessary to use electronic methods such as email and text messaging, students should make clear their identity and intentions openly and professionally before using these methods.

Staff manual process
Students should understand that face-to-face interviews offer the best opportunity to have conversations with sources and ask questions as part of the information-gathering process.

Only when an in-person interview or phone conversation is not possible should reporters rely on electronic communications. Editors should devise a policy with clear expectations for email and text message use in reporting. This may include drawing distinctions between personal and media staff email addresses.

Suggestions
• When using email or text messages to communicate for journalistic purposes, students should identify themselves by name and media staff. It’s important to make clear the nature of the communication and indicate the purpose of the questions or conversation underway.
• Given the multitude of email programs available and the ease of creating a new or fictitious account, students should establish a process by which they can verify a sender’s identity. Just because an email address says a person’s name does not mean that person sent the message. Similarly, sources may leave email accounts open and cell phones unattended; it’s possible that a different user responded to questions or posed as someone else by using his or her account.
• Students should have a policy in place to determine when to use electronic communications provided by a third party, which may include considering the method by which content was obtained as well as the nature of the content.
• Students should make every effort to ensure material is not taken out of context or cut in a way that changes its meaning.

Resources
Lesson: With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility, Journalism Education Association
Email Interview Advice, The Poynter Institute
The Email Interview Debate, American Journalism Review
USF’s The Oracle bands email interviews, following other student newspapers, The Poynter Institute

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