There are circumstances where hearing the views of young people can prove valuable in our understanding of how they see the world around them. Adults need not be the only ones who express worthy views of news events. It is the method journalists use to collect the views of young people that raise the most challenging ethical questions.
Journalists should exercise special care when interviewing juveniles. Especially in breaking news situations, juveniles may not be able to recognize the ramifications to themselves or to others of what they say. Journalists should be especially careful in interviewing juveniles live, because such live coverage is more difficult to control and edit. Juveniles should be given greater privacy protection than adults.
The journalist must weigh the journalistic duty of seeking truths and reporting them as fully as possible against the need to minimize any harm that might come to a juvenile in the collection of information.
When interviewing juveniles, journalists should consider:
Journalistic Purpose and Quality of Information
- What is my journalistic purpose in interviewing this juvenile?
- In what light will this person be shown? What is their understanding or ability to understand how viewers or listeners might perceive the interview? How mature is this juvenile? How aware is he/she of the ramifications of his/her comments?
- What motivations does the juvenile have in cooperating with this interview?
- How do you know what this young person says is true? How much of what this young person says does he/she know first-hand? How able are they to put what they know into context? Do others, adults, know the same information? How can you corroborate the juvenile's information?
- How clearly have you identified yourself to the juvenile? Do they know they are talking to a reporter?
- What harm can you cause by asking questions or taking pictures of the juvenile even if the journalist never includes the interview or pictures in a story?
- How would you react if you were the parent of this child? What would your concerns be and how would you want to be included in the decision about whether the child is included in a news story?
- How can you include a parent or guardian in the decision to interview a juvenile? What effort has the journalist made to secure parental permission for the child to be included in a news story? Is it possible to have the parent/guardian present during the course of the interview? What are the parents' motivations for allowing the child to be interviewed? Are there legal issues you should consider, such as the legal age of consent in your state?
- If you conclude that parental consent is not required, at least give the child your business card so the parents can contact you if they have an objection to the interview being used.
- What alternatives can you use instead of interviewing a child on camera?
- What are the potential short-term and long-term and consequences of this person's comments?
- What rules or guidelines does my news organization have about interviewing juveniles? Do those guidelines change if the juvenile is a suspect in a crime and not a victim? What protocols should your newsroom consider for live coverage that could involve juveniles?
- How would you justify your decision to include this juvenile in your story to your newsroom and to viewers or listeners, to the juvenile's parents?
The Golden Rule for Interviewing Children:
Do unto other people's kids as you would have them do unto your kids.
(From participants of "Children, Families and Social Issues Seminar" - The Poynter Institute 1998)
Created through RTDNA Foundation's Journalism Ethics Project by Al Tompkins, broadcast/online group leader at The Poynter Institute