Treatment of minors
All sources deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, but there are special legal and ethical situations that apply to minors. In general, minors are anyone under the state’s legal age of adulthood, usually 18. This poses some special concerns because often a student who is a senior may no longer be a minor but is still in a setting (school) considered protective of minors.
Student media should be aware of their state laws regarding publishing information about minors without parental consent, including photos and names. Student journalists should always remember their mandate to “minimize harm” when dealing with the subjects of stories while recognizing their obligation to report the truth.
Staff manual process
All relevant state laws and district policies should be kept on hand in the student newsroom. If a minor is involved in a crime, the police report is the guide. In most cases, if a police report provides the name of a victim or perpetrator, those names may be legally used in the press.
However, that doesn’t mean that this choice is ethically sound. Publishing the names of victims of a crime may be traumatizing and cause unwanted ostracizing or attention. While some administrators say student media – especially online versions – cannot use full names, this may not be a legal issue. Check to be sure.
• Be sure to ask sources for their age during each interview.
• covering sensitive topics that involve minors, it is sometimes advisable to connect with that student’s parents to inform them of the news coverage. (This is not only ethical but might provide additional information.)
• When in doubt about whether a minor respects the potential gravity associated with being named in or interviewed for a certain story, asking the student to sign a permission slip can help to highlight the seriousness of the issue.
• When in doubt about whether a minor understands the potential risks associated with being named in or interviewed for a certain story, asking the student’s parent to sign a permission slip gives the publication permission to use his or her child’s name.
• Seek legal advice from the Student Press Law Center or other legal experts when questions arise about invasions of privacy.
• Is potential harm to a minor because of a story worth the risk? Some stories will be so important they justify the risk. Others are not likely to be worth it.
Naming Names: Identifying Minors, Student Press Law Center
Interviewing Children, Guidelines for Journalists, Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
Best Practices for Covering Children And Teens Younger Than 18, Associated Press
From the Hotline, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Guidelines for Interviewing Juveniles, Radio Television Digital News Association
Guidelines for Interviewing Juveniles, The Poynter Institute
How the Tampa Bay Times Reported on a Transgender Kid’s Prom Bid, The Poynter Institute
Lesson: Reading, Writing and Discussing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Journalism Education Association
Lesson: SPLC Media Law Presentation: Freedom of Information, Journalism Education Association
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