Editor’s note: This post is the first in an ongoing series of student opinion pieces about issues in communication ethics. Check back on the #LifeasaJStudent Blog for future posts in the series. Know of a journalist or news organization that made ethical decisions while publishing a story in 2020? Nominate them by February 15 for the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.
Zoom has become one of my favorite tools to conduct socially distanced interviews. It allows me to connect with people on a deeper level as I’m able to get a peek into their worlds that I wouldn’t be able to see if we were speaking over the phone.
As we’re almost a year into a pandemic that doesn’t show any signs of letting up soon, the video conference service continues to play an integral role in the reporting process. No longer are we able to cover a story in a large crowd without a mask or spend hours with someone in their home, trying to uncover who they are as a person.
While Zoom has its kinks, it has proven to be the most reliable of all of the video applications available. This raises the question, what are the ethics of Zoom reporting?
It’s easy to see why Zoom reporting may conflict with the journalism ethics we are taught by the Society of Professional Journalists. Specifically to “seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.”
The ethics we learn in school don't outline how to communicate during a pandemic, so a little flexibility is needed to keep all parties safe. Even though all of our reporting has to be done from a distance—through using a telephoto lens to get accurate images or by taking video calls—we still have to protect everyone and minimize harm while reporting.
The initial use of Zoom raised concerns about what the video conference platform was doing with our data. The Washington Post reported potential security flaws within the app that could leave unsuspecting users open to security breaches.
Eleven states, including California and Florida, require everyone to consent before being recorded. Only one person has to consent when recording telephone conversations in Oregon. When recording a conversation in person, everyone has to give their consent.
Since I conduct my interviews through Zoom, I tell all of my subjects I will be recording the meeting for note-taking purposes to give them all of my attention during the interview. Once we are done, I only revisit the recording to ensure all of the information I use in my article is correct. Whenever I have a question, and I’m not able to find the answer in my notes, I will follow up with the person.
When conducting a news interview over Zoom, it’s important to be transparent with the other person since there is little research on Zoom ethics. I treat the interview like a conversation and get to know the person before asking them the tough questions. A Zoom interview shouldn’t be any different than an in-person interview.
I had long talks with professors in the UO School of Journalism and Communication about whether I was breaching the code of ethics by relying on Zoom to conduct all of my interviews. They encouraged me to follow the ethical code, and, right now, Zoom is the safest option for everyone.
The only thing that has changed in my reporting process is I’m doing fewer in-person interviews, and most of my reporting occurs via Zoom. I have found people are more open to talk to me and share information they wouldn’t normally share if we speak in a public place because they are in their comfort zones.
Journalism is all about adapting to ever-changing situations. Using video applications like Zoom should be seen as another tool in our box as long as we continue to follow the ethical practices as in-person or phone interviews.
— By Alli Weseman, class of '22
Alli Weseman (she/her/hers), class of '22, is a first-year student in the SOJC’s multimedia journalism master’s program in Portland. She has freelanced for Portland Monthly Magazine and hopes to work in a newsroom one day. You can find more of Alli’s work at alliwesemanphotography.com.
Know of a journalist or news organization that faced an ethical dilemma while publishing a story in 2020? Nominate them by Feb. 15 for the SOJC's 2021 Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. This year’s 21st-anniversary winner will receive a $10,000 prize.