Journalists and documentary filmmakers often follow parallel paths when stalking their similar prey. They interview witnesses, build stories around characters, dig into the past and compile facts. Along that landscape, they often encounter the same obstacles, and a common path can help get them to their destinations.

This guide is designed to help filmmakers find information and make decisions that journalists make every day. Whether it be questions of what rights the First Amendment guarantees, what rights to privacy people can expect or what ethical decisions must be made when telling the stories of someone else’s life, this guide lays out a way to find that information.

Each section begins with a brief summary of the topic, highlighting the main points to know and detailing some specific steps a filmmaker might take when encountering that topic.  Following the summary, there are links to resources to learn more about the topic, read additional opinions or different points of view or find forms or other tools to facilitate field work.

A wonderful companion to this guide is the one put together by Doc Society.  It’s called Safe + Secure and can be found by following this link.

This document is meant to grow and change with the times. Like any good journalism, the copy will continue to be edited and resources updated and expanded. A list of credits appears at the end of the guide. Please contact the editor with requests or suggestions for the future of the guide.

NOTE: This guide is intended to provide background and basic knowledge about journalistic norms and practices. It is not meant to be a legal handbook or a substitute for competent legal advice. Filmmakers should consult their own attorneys when they have serious questions regarding the legal ramifications of their work.


Part One: First Amendment Rights and Guarantees

  • General freedoms
  • Filmmaking as speech; Filmmakers as journalists
  • Recording in public spaces
  • Recording police activity
  • Recording in government buildings
  • Post-9/11 concerns
  • Media credentials
  • Shield laws and reporter’s privilege
  • Prior restraint and gag orders
  • Libel and defamation

Part Two: Public Information, Sunshine and the Freedom of Information Act

  • Public records, open meetings and freedom of information laws
  • Filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
  • Appealing an FOIA request
  • Open and closed public meetings
  • Courtroom access and cameras in the court

Part Three: Respect, Privacy and Freedom from Harm

  • Legal understanding of privacy
  • Hidden cameras and microphones
  • Entering private property
  • Accompanying police or other officials onto private property
  • Public disclosure of private facts
  • Appropriation
  • HIPAA
  • Ethical considerations of harm
  • Covering sexual assault
  • Working with juveniles and minors
  • Respect for the audience

Part Four: Transparency, Accountability and Independence

  • Journalistic transparency and accountability overview
  • Anonymous or confidential sources
  • Misrepresentation
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Data and documents
  • Preventing errors

Part Five: Copyright Laws, Fair Use, Licensing and Insurance

  • Copyright history and overview
  • Material that cannot be copyrighted
  • Using copyrighted material
  • Principles of fair use
  • Life rights and personal stories
  • Insurance needs

Part Six: Journalism Organizations and Resources

  • List of journalism organizations (web sites) with additional supporting material

Part Seven: Journalism Organizations’ Codes of Ethics

  • Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
  • Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)
  • National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)
  • Online News Association (ONA)
  • Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW)
  • The Associated Press (AP)
  • Society for News Design (SND)
  • ProPublica
  • The Journalists’ Creed

Credits


Next Section: Part One: First Amendment Rights and Guarantees

Part Two: Public Information, Sunshine and the Freedom of Information Act

Part Three: Respect, Privacy and Freedom from Harm

Part Four: Transparency, Accountability and Independence

Part Five: Copyright Laws, Fair Use, Licensing and Insurance

Part Six: Journalism Organizations and Resources

Part Seven: Journalism Organizations’ Codes of Ethics

Credits


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