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Getting source consent when handling sensitive issues


Because some student journalists have had issues, including facing litigation, with identifiable sources claiming they did not give consent for the publication of information attributed to them, JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission recommends student media organizations follow a consistent process to help prove consent was obtained and to avoid potential legal conflicts.

The Commission recognizes that thorough reporting sometimes requires obtaining private or intimately sensitive information to give credibility to a story. It also recognizes that journalists want to avoid unwarranted invasions of privacy and related legal claims.

The Commission does not discourage reporting of sensitive topics, but urges student journalists, when they pursue such stories, to rely on more than verbal consent any time identified sources provide information that would normally be considered private and intimate.

The Commission recommends student journalists obtain consent for such information in writing or via audio or video in which the source explicitly states he or she understands the information is intended for publication.

Additionally, if journalists believe a source who is a minor is incapable of appreciating the consequences of giving such consent, they should obtain consent, also in writing or via audio or video, from a parent or guardian.

The Commission believes scholastic journalists should always be sensitive to the lives and needs of their sources – and audience – as they engage in the information gathering and reporting process.

The Commission recommends students contact the Student Press Law Center with legal and ethical questions about this process.

For more information on the use of consent, handling anonymous sources and other reporting issues, please go to the Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s news update on its website.

See Quicktime ethicsaejmc of the PowerPoint on source use presented to the Mile High Teach-In in Denver Aug. 3.

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