School of Journalism Handbook for Student Reporters
Student journalists are working journalists. You enjoy the same rights as colleagues in other news media. You also have the same responsibility to act fairly, honestly and with sensitivity to sources and your audience.
The School of Journalism expects students to model their reporting and writing for school publications and course assignments on the best traditions of journalism. A number of organizations have produced ethical guidelines. You should familiarize yourself with all of them because you never know what your next story will be.
- Trans Journalists Association (TJA) style guide (external link)
- Discussing Trans and Gender-Diverse People: A Media Reference Guide (external link) (The 519)
- (PDF file) Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous Peoples (external link) (JHR) and Reporting in Indigenous Communities (external link)
- (PDF file) Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) (external link)
- Mindset Best Practices on Reporting on Mental Health (external link) -
- Use the right words: Guidelines for media reporting on gender-based violence and sexual violence (external link)
- Dart Style Guide for Trauma Informed Journalism (external link)
- The Canadian Press News Principles (external link)
- National NewsMedia Council on Police and Crime Reporting (external link)
- NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists’ stylebook
- Asian American Journalists Association’s Guidance and Resources (external link)
- National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Cultural Competence Handbook (external link)
- Street Sense Media’s Guide to Reporting on Homelessness (external link)
- Conscious Style Guide
- Disability Language Style Guide (external link)
Reporting guidelines evolve over time as technology and professional and cultural practices change. In some cases you will find that the ethical guidelines offer conflicting advice. In those situations, consult your instructor/editor.
Additional guidelines for covering stories on campus
- Do your best to find the right source with the best, most up-to-date and relevant information. Don’t settle for a less informed source just because the person happens to be available. You can also consult this database to find a prof at the university with expertise in a specific area.
- When deciding who to interview for a story, make sure you include people from diverse backgrounds as experts, main characters for stories and, if you are doing a streeter, for general comment. Work to ensure the sources in your story reflect the demographics of your audience.
- When seeking an interview, try to make an appointment by email or phone. If your requests for a comment/interview go unanswered, it is standard practice to approach the source at a public event or in their office to ask for a comment/an interview. Ask nicely. Be way more polite than you think is required, especially if you’re showing up unannounced. Do as much background research as you can before interviews.
- If you aren’t getting a response to your request for interviews with a professor or a staff person/administrator at the university, you can also try contacting Toronto Metropolitan University’s media relations department for help.
- When requesting an interview on the phone or via email, briefly outline your story and explain that it is an opportunity for the person to present their side of an issue. People love to tell their stories, and/or to defend their positions, but need to know what’s in it for them. So work to sell them on the idea of talking to you by thinking about it from their perspective. Then make it clear what information you need from them and when you need it. If it is an email request, use the person’s formal name and honorific where appropriate. For example: Dear Professor XXXX OR Dear Mr. XXXX OR Dear Ms. XXXX If you are uncertain what honorifics/pronouns the person uses, write out the person’s full name i.e. Dear Jane Doe…
- Approach interviews with an open mind. As a general principle, ask open-ended questions.
- Prepare your questions ahead of time, but don’t be wedded to them. Sometimes, an interview subject might reveal important information that requires a follow up question that you didn’t anticipate, or information they share might make questions you decided on ahead of time redundant.
- If a meeting on campus is deemed a private or in-camera meeting but your instructor and you think there is an important public interest in finding out what happens so that it can be included in your story, try to attend the meeting. If you can’t get access, work in advance to develop sources on the inside who can give you insight on what transpired at that meeting (See CAJ Sections on Transparency and Promises (external link) to sources).
- If a gathering on campus is billed as a safe space, participants expect and are entitled to privacy. Discuss with your editor/instructor whether there is a public interest in reporting on the fact of the event and whether you should be contacting organizers for comment.
- Determined pursuit of a story is part of journalism, but insensitivity and reckless disregard for privacy destroys trust. Exercise good judgment. If you need to do any filming, videography or photography in the SLC please refer to these guidelines before making any plans. Do not shoot video/photos in the following campus locations:
- the Early Learning Centre: Children should not be interviewed or photographed without the permission of their parents or guardians
- the Student Counselling Centre (privacy reasons)
- the Student Financial Assistance office (privacy reasons)
- the Good Food Centre (privacy reasons)
- Consent Comes First office (privacy reasons)
- Informed consent is a crucial part of every interview. Informed consent means doing your best to ensure that the people you interview understand the possible ramifications of being in your story. You have to be particularly cautious with vulnerable people including:
- Persons with mental health issues
- Persons suffering trauma
- Always identify yourself as a journalist. Say which publication you’re working for or state the nature of your class assignment. To avoid having to go back and secure the source’s permission if you later decide to submit your piece for publication/broadcast, you should make it clear from the start that you are doing the story for a class assignment but that you are hoping it will be published/aired. Present your press pass if needed. If you know that your story will be published, give that information to your source.
- Sources should be informed that they may be contacted by an instructor or another student for fact-checking purposes.
- Where/when possible, corrections to published stories should be posted in a timely manner and in a space that is equivalent to where the original error appeared.
- Ask the person you are interviewing what their pronouns are and then use those pronouns throughout your story.
- Sources are giving you their time, so respect their deadlines and schedules.
- Before interviewing/reporting on a friend, relative, employer, former teacher or anyone else with whom there’s a relationship that could lead to conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest, you must consult your editor/the assigning instructor before going ahead. If permission is granted, this relationship should be identified in the story you produce. If you are uncertain whether the relationship might be a conflict of interest, consult your editor/assigning instructor.
It is your responsibility to understand basic Canadian copyright laws when it comes to the use of other people’s videos, images and content in your reporting and production work. The university library has a solid primer on Canada’s Copyright Act as it pertains to fair dealing. Students should take a professional journalist’s approach with regards to copyright practices, out of fairness to the original content creator and to protect themselves against incidents of infringement. Some key aspects of the law to be mindful of:
- Just because you credit the original creator or copyright holder in your use of their work does not mean you can use it without permission.
- Fair dealing allows journalists and media creators to use some copyrighted content without permission for the purposes of news reporting, criticism and satire. However, this does not completely protect against infringement, as factors such as the amount of the copyrighted content used and the reasons for using it greatly matter. Educate yourself!
- Proper citation is important, even if the content you are using is in the public domain or under a creative commons licence.
- Content on social media is generally considered to be in the public domain but if there is an image or video involved, find out who actually owns the image/video and obtain permission to publish. An added benefit is that this also allows you to verify the content of the photo/video. (Example: CP24 may have received permission to tweet out a breaking news image captured by a member of the public. While you can retweet CP24’s image or embed a social media post in your story, you don’t have permission to use that image on your own social media or publish it on another platform).
- If you are unsure on how to approach copyrighted content for a course assignment, please consult with an instructor.
It is your responsibility to understand defamatory libel as it is defined in the Criminal Code of Canada and the defamation laws in the province where you are working and/or in the provinces where your published work will appear. The Canadian Press Stylebook (external link) online is one resource for this information.
Student safety while reporting
You are all adventurous journalists who want to get the story, and a basic best practice for reporters is to go to where the story is happening. But please always keep your personal safety in mind while reporting. Always leave a situation or interaction in which you feel unsafe or harassed. Avoid going into private residences on your own, and make sure someone always knows where you are while you are reporting. If you are reporting a story that involves listening to accounts of traumatic events, be sure to check in with yourself often and take regular breaks. Be sure to consult your editor (instructor) if you have a story that you think requires some planning around health and safety.
Reporting during the pandemic brings unique challenges. Be sure to follow all public health recommendations in effect where you are reporting and consider the added risk of reporting in locations where groups of people are unmasked. Additionally, journalists are being targeted at protests (external link) , particularly women and racialized journalists (external link) . Some of these professionals are working with security teams. As a student journalist, you do not have this kind of support. In situations where you think there is heightened risk, consult with your instructor. If that is not possible, avoid situations where you might face heightened risk.
You will be held responsible for any inaccuracies in your work, whether intentional or merely careless. Fabrication — the making up of information — is the most serious form of academic and journalistic dishonesty. Nothing justifies it. In journalism, it destroys the public’s faith that what is presented is true. At this university, it is a serious offence against the standards of the School of Journalism and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Student Code of Academic Conduct.