Mobile recording apps raise questions of transparency

Mobile apps now make it easier than ever for student journalists to record interviews and phone calls. Several resources available online can assist students in considering the legality and ethics of doing so.

One of the six principles of news literacy holds that news and information are more meaningful, trusted and credible when the process of gathering and reporting is transparent.

Questions about whether a journalist can and should obtain consent before recording an interview or phone call depend on the laws of each state and the code of ethics for each publication.

Federal law permits the recording of phone calls and other electronic communication with the consent of at least one party to the call.

In 38 states and the District of Columbia, individuals are permitted to record conversations to which they are a party without having to inform the other parties that they are doing so. Twelve states require the consent of all parties in most circumstances.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a Reporter’s Recording Guide that contains a breakdown of laws state-by-state.

Even where one-party consent is the rule, journalists must consider whether recording without consent violates their professional codes of ethics with regard to transparency.

News organizations differ in how they treat the issue of recording. NPR, for example, fully discloses its methods to readers and listeners.

NPR’s ethics handbook says its journalists would secretly record an interview only in the “rarest of circumstances” and only if all other ways to get the information were exhausted. The handbook also lists several questions journalists should consider before making that decision.

A variety of mobile recording apps are available for Apple and Android devices, and’s Mobile Apps page lists several options.

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