Guidance on creating a policy about reporting in-person during COVID-19

As student journalists prepare for reporting this semester in the midst of major uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, many are wondering what policies to institute concerning in-person reporting. Below you’ll find suggested language crafted by the SPLC to guide you should you decide to implement newsroom policies regarding how staff members and contributors conduct their reporting. 

This language is not meant to encompass every possibility, nor should it be used in every scenario. This is largely meant to help you think through what things you want to talk over with your staff and what protocols to establish for reporting in the midst of this global crisis. This language makes clear that when possible, reporting should be done remotely, but the decision to do in-person reporting is up to the individual reporter and will not be mandated by the publication. It is an informal agreement that memorializes your mutual understanding of an important conversation and can be adapted as appropriate. 

Should you have questions regarding a specific situation, please contact the SPLC Legal Hotline.

Suggested Model Language: 

I acknowledge that as a staff member of [your student publication name here], it is not a condition of my work to do in-person reporting, including but not limited to, conducting interviews, taking photos/video, or attending events. It is the policy of [student publication name] for student journalists to do as much reporting as possible remotely for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic or until the editors decide, in consultation with public health officials, that it is safe to return to in-person operations. If I choose to do any in-person reporting, I will first have to discuss and agree to safety protocols with my editor and determine if alternatives may be available that would minimize my risk of exposure to the virus. Ultimately, the decision about whether to voluntarily engage in in-person reporting during this time is mine alone. If I choose to do any in-person reporting, I understand that I am voluntarily assuming any and all risks related to becoming ill with COVID-19 and/or to exposing others to the virus. I understand that exposure to the virus may result in personal injury, illness, temporary or permanent disability, or death.