Guidelines for Using Telephone Calls On-Air
When using a caller on the air, it is imperative to determine the person's relationship to the story and establish a confidence that the caller is in a position to offer legitimate witness or insider information about the news event.
Consider these guidelines before putting a telephone call on the air:
- Witnesses are more reliable if the station initiates the call. In breaking news, use the Internet, a criss-cross directory or other resource to find people in the area of the news event who might have an first-hand witness account of what is happening.
- If a telephone caller contacts the newsroom with breaking news information, the staff person must try to establish the motive of the telephone source and take those motives into account when evaluating the integrity of the call.
- If you receive a telephone call from someone who claims to have urgent information, ask for a telephone number so that you can return the call in an attempt to verify the information.
- Be skeptical of a caller who contacts the station and is asking or willing to go live. Most callers are actually searching for more information when they call the station in a breaking news event.
- Ask questions that will verify the telephone caller's proximity to the breaking news and investigate if the telephone caller can identify individuals who might be involved the news event.
- Remind all callers not to use names of individuals on the air and not to implicate anyone as a suspect or victim during the course of the telephone call.
- Do not let telephone callers make inflammatory statements on the air. If they do, challenge the accuracy of the statements.
- When in doubt, DONT! If you are not sure about the authenticity of the caller, get the information and a return telephone number. Pass the pertinent information along to the control booth. Find someone in the newsroom that can further research the validity of the telephone call.
- Evaluate whether the caller is putting himself or others in jeopardy by talking on the telephone or by going on live television with information.
- Do not let the pressure to get on the air affect the decision-making or validating process. Accuracy is everything!
Guidelines developed by 9News, KUSA-TV, Denver after the Columbine school shootings