MSU journalism COVID-related reporting guidelines

Developed by faculty of the Michigan State University School of Journalism, in consultation with various university procedures and guidance.

We prioritize safety over story. No story is worth compromising your health or the health of others. Students will not be penalized for an inability to get information because health precautions somehow make that impossible. Students will not be rewarded for risking their health and the health of others to get a story.

Find creative ways to get a story while staying safe.

Uncomfortable is not unsafe. Learning journalism is uncomfortable. You’re learning new skills. You may ask strangers sensitive or tough questions. That’s journalism. It is not unsafe.

These reporting guidelines may change as the semester progresses and circumstances warrant. If you ever anticipate that an assignment may be unsafe, immediately consult with your instructor to develop a safety-first reporting plan. Or find another story.

General interviewing guidelines

  • Seek alternatives to face-to-face interviews, whenever possible.
  • Use the phone, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or other interactive communications platforms. Note that email, IMs, social media and texts are a poor way of verifying who is answering your questions, for collecting spontaneous quotes and for creating interaction required of news reporting.
  • Attending press conferences is OK, as long as there is room to socially distance. Students should take advantage of Zoom alternatives to press conferences when offered.
  • If the interview is in-person, the reporter, source, equipment operators and everyone in the room must wear a mask and remain at least 6 feet apart. More is better. This is true if you are on campus, off campus, indoors or outdoors. Interview outdoors when you can.  
  • If sources decline to comply with our safety guidelines, find another method of interviewing them or find another source. Let your professor know why you didn’t speak with the first source. 
  • Ask sources if they need additional accommodations to be comfortable with an interview.
  • Avoid acting on the natural urge to shake hands when meeting sources. Also, take care to avoid crowding situations.
  • Avoid when possible traveling with someone to and from assignments. 
  • We will maintain journalistic and medical ethics, by not publishing the names of persons who are suspected for testing positive for COVID or are suspected of carrying the virus. We will not speculate in our stories who has tested positive. Only exception:  if the person discloses their status, and we can confirm it is true. 

Guidelines for video, photo and audio work

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer often before, during and after handling equipment.
  • Set equipment bags down so that handles and straps don’t touch anything but the bag.
  • Disinfect equipment with wipes, especially camera viewfinders and eyecups.
  • Minimize equipment contact with surfaces. Interviewees don’t need to touch equipment. 
  • Use a shotgun mic or one on a boom pole or stand when possible. Always wear a mask or face shield. Avoid sharing objects.  
  • If using a lavaliere mic (one that clips on to a subject’s clothing), wipe with disinfectant the mic, mic cord and transmitter pack before and after use. After the mic is cleaned, place it on a clean surface for the subject to pick up. Explain how to properly clip the mic on WITHOUT helping them do it.
  • If using a lavalier mic is uncomfortable for either the interviewer or the subject, use a shotgun microphone on a boom pole. Some classes can check these out in our DMAT equipment checkout system. You can also mount the lavaliere on a boom pole or makeshift stick and position it close to the subject. Work with instructors to critically think about creative alternatives.

Face coverings on camera

  • Students anchoring newscasts or other shows may remove their masks when on camera, provided they are 6 feet away from others during the production. (This is consistent with WKAR guidelines)
  • Masks should be worn by anchors up until the production begins. 
  • If a student anchor feels more comfortable with the mask on, that is completely OK. 
  • For live shots or stand-ups, be aware of local health regulations.  For instance, masks must be worn on-campus and in East Lansing all of the time. Other communities may have these or other restrictions.
  •  If there are people nearby, masks must be worn.

Studio use

Checking out equipment

·         Studio assistants will sanitize all equipment before it is checked out, but students will have the option to wipe down the equipment when they receive it.

  • Students must wipe down all equipment before returning it. There will be wipes at the prep table stations outside of DMAT

Guidelines for covering sports

  • Must stay socially distanced, and in designated media areas at practice/games, at all times. No “moving to get closer”. 
  • If shooting, you must stay in the media area. If getting sound/broadcasting, you must stay in your area. If writing, you must stay in your area. 
  • Do all interviews by plugging into the audio box or by a socially distanced mic.  
  • Do not put your iPhone/digirecorder on the podium/table to get sound during an in-person interview. It can pick up viruses, and cannot be totally sanitized. Again, keep it in your hand or get sound a different way. 
  • If you are doing a podcast/broadcast, you must socially distance all parties. Does not matter if you are friends or roommates. 
  • MSU Athletics will provide a Zoom option for all interviews. Must designate if you need just audio, or video too, for an interview. 
  • Masks/shields are to be worn at all times at practices and games, even if you are outside. 
  • Sanitize your hands after touching doors, benches, etc. Do not shake anybody’s hand. 
  • If MSU Athletics is in isolation, they will try to get Zoom access for interviews. 
  • MSU will not release names of athletes/coaches who are testing positive for COVID due to medical privacy. We will not speculate in our stories who has tested positive. Only exception, if the athlete/coach discloses their status, and we can confirm it is true. 
  • If you do not feel well or have concerns about a situation, you will NOT go to practice/game/interview. No exceptions, even if it is the National Championship. You must safeguard your health and others before reporting. Let your professor/editor know. There will be no penalty for acting in safety. Communication is a must.