A Reminder About Dealing With Those Who Are Vulnerable: Read It : Memmos Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott writes occasional notes about the issues journalists encounter and the way NPR handles them. They often expand on topics covered in the Ethics Handbook.
NPR logo A Reminder About Dealing With Those Who Are Vulnerable: Read It

A Reminder About Dealing With Those Who Are Vulnerable: Read It

There have been a couple times in recent weeks when people we've interviewed asked that we remove their names from the stories we posted on the Web. We have issued guidance on this topic several times before. Reminders seem to be in order about how to avoid getting into such situations and how to handle them if they arise.

Click on these headlines to see our guidance:

– 'This Story About You Is Going To Be On The Web Forever And You May Come To Regret That'

Reminder: Whether To Go With 'First-Name-Only' Needs To Be Discussed And Explained

How To Explain Why We Won't 'Take Down' A Story

When We're Asked To Remove A Photo, Here's What We Do

Here are some important points from those notes:

– We're not saying that Sen. Doe or Mayor Smith or CEO Jones need to be reminded that what they say to us is on the record and will be available to anyone with a Web connection. They should know what they're doing.

– The notes don't cover "reporting done in war zones or situations when stopping to have a long conversation about the long tail of the Web isn't safe or practical."

– But the guidance does cover other situations involving people who are vulnerable. Those include survivors of sexual assault, people with serious medical conditions and those whose lives may be put in danger if they are fully identified. As the handbook says, "we minimize undue harm and take special care with those who are vulnerable or suffering."

We do not preview our stories for those we interview. But it is essential that vulnerable individuals understand in general how we will be using the information we get from them, how we will identify them and whether any images of them will be published (remember: visuals are important parts of our journalism and we treat them that way). There may be times when people say we can use their full names and photos and we are not comfortable doing so.

It must be made clear to such individuals that our stories do not only air on the radio — they live on various digital forms and will be searchable on the Web.

How such individuals' names, biographical details and images will be handled must be discussed with a senior editor well before anything is aired or published. That means a supervising senior editor, a deputy managing editor or the standards & practices editor. In reality, they'll all probably be involved.

One other reminder (because we're asked about it at least once a week):

"When we decide to withhold a source's name from a story, we don't invent a pseudonym for that source."