BEST PRACTICES FOR COVERING CHILDREN AND TEENS YOUNGER THAN 18

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Stories about children and teens are a growing part of our report.  At the same time, young people are among our most vulnerable and inexperienced sources. This calls for special care in interviewing and capturing images of them.
 
The “privacy” section of the AP Stylebook describes our policies regarding children who are crime victims or witnesses, or under arrest themselves. Below are some best practices for many other situations involving children and teens. Because cases vary so greatly, these are general recommendations, not absolute rules. Our first duty is always to document history and to collect and disseminate vital news. But whenever possible, we should be sensitive to the well-being of our young sources.
 
When in doubt about how to proceed, always consult a supervisor. Some countries have strict privacy laws, especially regarding children, and AP staffers also need to be fully aware of them.

If it's not feasible to get parental permission before approaching a minor, AP journalists should attempt to get that permission before running the material.
 
There may be leeway, however, in some cases:
 
-- When the story is breaking quickly and is of extraordinary news significance. (In coverage of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, AP transmitted images of young students leaving the school. There was no time to seek the names of the students or parental permission, and editors made the determination that these photos had major news value.)
 
-- When talking to the parent might lead to harm to the child (e.g., in an abuse case). In that instance, permission might come from a case worker, attorney or guardian.
 
-- When children are not easily identifiable in a photo or video (e.g., they have their backs to the camera or are in the background of a photo in a large group). Such images make it unnecessary to seek permission.
 
-- When the subject is an older teen (i.e., of high-school age) and the story is not controversial. However, even for older teens, a reporter, photographer or video journalist still should provide the teen contact information so that the teen can share it with a parent. If a parent later asks that the content not be used, the reporter and supervisors should carefully weigh the news value of that content. If that content could be gotten elsewhere, or is not of high news value, or there is another compelling reason, it makes sense to respect the parents' wishes.

-- When the minor is speaking publicly.
 
  • When on school grounds, AP journalists should identify themselves to those in charge at the school whenever possible and, when feasible, wear a press pass -- unless doing so jeopardizes the collection of vital, newsworthy information or images. AP journalists also should find out which students have parental permission to speak to the media or appear in photo or videos. Increasingly, schools keep signed forms on file. These parameters should be respected at all times, unless there is an overriding reason not to do so that is tied to news value. Discuss this with a supervisor.
  • When approaching a young source, an AP journalist should explain -- both to the young person and the parent or guardian -- what the AP is and how widely the AP's content is distributed. Young people often are eager to talk to a reporter, and especially to be filmed or photographed, even before they know who a reporter is or what he or she is doing.
  • The AP's anonymity policies apply to interviewing young people. However, it may make even more sense to grant anonymity to protect a young source, to use a first name only or not to show the child’s face. Cases may include children who have been doing something illegal, are crime or abuse victims or otherwise fear retaliation or ostracism. Schools, hospitals and other institutions are often especially protective of young sources, so granting anonymity may be the only way we can get access to them. (The AP granted anonymity to a 13-year-old HIV-positive girl for a story about "AIDS babies" coming of age and to a 10-year-old child who was born a boy but is living life as a girl. In both instances, the parents only provided access to the children on the condition they not be named or their faces shown.) Do not use false names.
  • Even if a story includes a child's name and age, consider whether it is absolutely necessary to include the child's exact location in the story or photo caption. Even when the story topic has not been particularly sensitive, there have been instances when people with questionable intentions have contacted the families of young people who've appeared in AP stories and photos. If it doesn’t compromise the story, consider leaving out the name of a young person's school,where they work or the specific suburb where they live.
  • Photographers and video journalists also should be careful how and where they photograph and film young subjects. (In the cases above where families received unwanted contacts from readers, one girl appeared in an AP photo lying on her bed reading a magazine and another was photographed in a way that emphasized her short shorts. Other photo treatments would have been equally effective in illustrating those stories.)
  • We do not have to have parental permission to run a child's photo if we have obtained the photo and rights to it elsewhere, but parents’ feelings and the effect on the child should be considered. In the case of a Cleveland man accused in 2013 of kidnapping women and holding them in his home, photo editors decided not to try to get a photo of the young daughter of one of the man's alleged rape victims. A photo would have identified the child, and our policy is not to identify minors who have been subjected to abuse.
  • Decisions about using written material that a minor posts online -- tweets, blogs, status updates, etc. -- need to balance news value with the potential for harm. This includes giving minors’ online “handles.”
  • Although social media can be a good way to find children and teens for interviews, we should still seek parental permission before the interview gets underway.
  • Special care also should be taken when photographing the children of public figures, including politicians, celebrities and athletes, especially if the parent asks that the children not be photographed or filmed. News value should be factored in. But if there is none, the parents' wishes should be strongly considered.
  • The basics of these guidelines apply in any country. However, in the cases of extremely poor and homeless children in some regions of the world, it happens frequently that there is no parent to consult _ or a parent may be difficult to find. In these instances, the standards of respect for the child, balanced with news value, are particularly important.

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