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Consent (informed and ongoing)

Informed consent is a key principle of journalism. If someone is going on the record as a source, it’s the reporter’s job to make sure they understand the possible legal, professional, and personal consequences they may face as a result of speaking out publicly.

“That’s one thing that’s really, really important with the undocumented community or with someone that is undocumented: allowing them the space to say no. And allowing them to have an informed decision of if they want to participate in a story or not,” said Juan Pablo Garnham, a former reporter for the Texas Tribune, and the communication and policy engagement manager at the Eviction Lab — a Princeton-based organization that publishes nationwide eviction data.

  • Check in early and often. Consent is not a single event — it needs to be ongoing. A person’s initial consent might not be based on a full understanding of what the project will entail. This could be things like the project taking up more time than expected, or the direction of the story changing as it’s reported. It’s important to reaffirm participation as production moves along and respect a participant’s decision to change their mind. (This advice applies predominately to community members and not to government, public officials, community leaders, etc.)

While working at City Bureau, a Chicago-based local journalism lab, Alejandra Cancino said, “if it’s a person that has never dealt with the media, they may not understand the impacts or the ramifications of speaking in a story…Then it is important for me to go above and beyond to explain to that person, ‘here is what the story is going to say. Here is what it might look like. Here is what the tweet is going to say. And here’s how it might impact you in your daily life.’”