Answers to your most pressing COVID-19 coverage questions

In addition to helping student journalists through our always-free legal hotline and Virtual Speakers Bureau, the Student Press Law Center has been proactively answering your top questions about covering the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some you may find helpful:

Q: A source who has tested positive for COVID-19 has consented to be interviewed. Can I identify this person by name?

A: Legally, journalists have the right to use the name of sources (including minors) in newsworthy stories as long as the information is lawfully obtained and truthfully reported. In invasion of privacy and defamation cases where information to be published is private or damaging to the person in question, courts have ruled that a minor can provide valid consent if the minor is sufficiently mature and capable of realizing the possible repercussions of the consent.

But there might be ethical reasons for not publishing names. Journalists also have an obligation to minimize harm. One concern with this type of story is a lifetime of stigmatization. Even if your source unambiguously consents to be interviewed, make sure that they truly understand the future implications of having their name connected with COVID-19. SPLC encourages you to obtain the minor’s consent in writing, and it would be even better if you can obtain the consent of a parent or guardian too. You may find our sample consent form helpful.

If your newspaper staff decides to promise a source anonymity, make sure that you and the source are on the same page about what exactly going off the record means. Remember that even without dropping a name, certain descriptors of a person can still make them identifiable.

Other COVID-19 FAQs:

See more COVID-19 FAQs
With schools shut down and more than 55 million students learning remotely, student journalists are on the frontline reporting about the impact of the pandemic on their generation. Their work is essential, and our work, supporting and defending them is too. Please support the Student Press Law Center with a donation of $17 or whatever you can afford as we provide emergency tools and assist student journalists reporting on the story of their time.
Donate now

Register today: Leadership roundtable with student journalists

  • Time: Friday, April, 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Description: Join SPLC and PEN America's Campus Free Speech Program in a roundtable with student press leaders from eight universities as we discuss ways to navigate this crisis and safeguard free expression and a free press in these turbulent and uncertain times.
Register now

SPLC's Coronavirus Toolkit

SPLC has created resources to help you protect your newsroom and understand key legal issues while reporting on the coronavirus. It contains a letter reminding administrators student media is an "essential service" as defined by federal guidelines, plus guides for fighting censorship or other threats to your program, covering the coronavirus, managing your newsroom remotely and teaching online.
See the toolkit

Open journalism internships

Many newsrooms have temporarily cut their internship programs because of the coronavirus, but here are some with open applications for their (paid) fall internships.
See internships

Help us recognize courageous student journalism

Nominate students by May 22, 2020 for SPLC's high school journalism and college journalism awards to recognize exceptional efforts in fighting for student press freedom.
Entry details
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