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Home > Reading Room > The call before the call

SPJ Reading Room


The call before the call
What journalists should know before recording phone interviews

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Denver Post

In 2005, a Miami Herald columnist was fired for recording a phone interview without first gaining proper consent. The incident prompted Kelly Yamanouchi, a business reporter for The Denver Post to ask, “What should journalists consider before recording phone interviews — particularly if those interviews involve sources in states with laws that require the consent of all parties?”

Yamanouchi did some homework, and here’s what she found.

Most states require only one-party consent to recording. However, 12 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico require the consent of two or more parties. Those states are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington.

For a more thorough explanation of recording law in every state, see the online guides compiled by the Radio-Television News Directors Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Kelly Yamanouchi is an SPJ member and a business reporter at the Denver Post. She has also worked as a business reporter in Honolulu, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It’s not enough to know a state’s statute. It’s also important for journalists to take great care when securing permission to record. Should journalists seek permission from a party before even turning on a recorder? Should journalists make sure to record people’s consent to being recorded? It appears the answer to both questions is, “Yes.”

Washington state, for example, specifies that consent is obtained when one party announces to all other parties in “any reasonably effective manner” that the communication is about to be recorded or transmitted. That announcement must be part of the recording, according to that state’s law.

And what if a reporter calls, or is called by, a source in a different state with different laws? Is the reporter subject to both states’ laws? Many media lawyers say the most prudent course of action is for journalists to presume they are accountable to the laws of other states. And that means they should not record such interstate calls without obtaining consent — and that they should record that consent to be safe.
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