Ethics in Audio Reporting and Slideshow Publishing

A student in my online news bureau posed an interesting ethical question last week: He's doing a Halloween-pegged story and slideshow about purported "hauntings" at the Surratt House in Clinton, and he wondered if when he plays the audio interview of the museum director talking about alleged ghosts if he could insert sounds of his own footsteps and opening and closings of doors.

It sounded a bit too much like manufactured sound, rather than the capturing of real sound, to me, so I consulted friend and former colleague Keith Jenkins, who now leads a multimedia team at npr.org.

Jenkins' take: If the narration on the slide show made it clear it was the reporters' footsteps we were hearing, it would be OK; but if there was any ambiguity, it would not be ethical. That sounded like a good solution to me. Perhaps the same clarity could be achieved through captioning under the photos, rather than narration.

I'll post a link to the finished stories as soon as they're ready this week.

BTW: Sound issues on slide shows have come up in the past. I agree with purists, including Jenkins, who argue that no background music should be heard in a news slide show, unless the music was playing at the time of the interview. But I've heard others in the business argue differently.

--Chris Harvey


Lauren said...

I don't think its appropriate for the student to use the sounds unless they are sounds he does not fabricate and he plays them as "Nat sound" with the video. Otherwise, the student will slant the story.

Jenna Shulman said...

I don't even think that the sound is necessary! I think it could even make for a distraction. It definitely is not appropriate because the viewer might think that the museum director may be making those sounds. The reporter needs to make this clear.. he may be able to show himself making these sounds than drag that out in the slideshow. This works for a broadcast news piece with stand ups. Stand ups can be staged and fabricated because the reader is usually aware that stand ups act like this. If the student was treating this sound insert as a standup and maybe acted upon it in the beginning than that could work. It would be made clear that he was fabricating this. However, I think it poses as an ethical issue if it was not made clear. Even though it is something minor such as a "scary sound", you never know what the museum director may think..