Best Practice Guides

What are Media Best Practice Guidelines?  In journalism, best practice or style guides are guiding principles, standards and methods to ensure that the reporting of certain topics and communities is fair, ethical and avoids harm.

Why do we need to use best practice guides? As journalists, we often encounter issues and communities that we have little experience of and know little about. Even with the very best intentions, the way we represent those groups can maintain stereotypes and/or cause harm.  For example, when interviewing children or people who have experienced trauma we need to be extremely mindful and interview in a way that causes no harm or distress – sometimes, it’s not appropriate for a journalist to interview someone at all. Let’s take another example, the language and terminology journalists use is very important. Previously the mainstream term for people living with disabilities in China was can fei” (残废), which means “useless”. Right now, a widely used term is “can ji” (残疾), which means “deformed”. A better term is the more neutral “can zhang” (残障). In English people living with a disability are often called ‘disabled’, but see the difference between these two written sentences: ‘The disabled girl‘ and ‘The girl living with a disability’. In the first phrase, ‘disabled’ becomes the primary identity of the girl, in the second it does not. Language matters!

We are humans, and we all have biases and stereotypes of our own, which we can never escape entirely. As journalists, we need to be aware of our own biases and assumptions and challenge them. We may not be able to be perfectly objective but we can employ a rigorous journalistic methodology to ensure our reporting is as fair as possible. Studying relevant best practice guidelines and educating ourselves on the issues and communities that we cover is a part of this process and methodology. We need to seek out and employ best practice guidelines relevant to the stories we report, especially when working with vulnerable and minority groups such as children, ethnic or sexual minorities. We also need to be mindful when covering certain topics, such as suicide or eating disorders.

Take a look at the best practice guides here that apply to you and try to find your own too – as there may be more up-to-date or region-specific guidelines that could be valuable. If you can find some local Chinese ones all the better (and please forward to me so I can post too!) You may follow single set of best practices or combine a few key points and into your own set of guidelines and ethical approach. You will need to clearly state your guidelines and approach in your production brief. Any student using best practice guidelines (most of you) will have a brief phone call tutorial before entering the field.

The key guidelines/resources on this page cover:

  • Children
  • Mental Health
  • Disability
  • Gender, and sexual minorities
  • Trauma
  • Suicide
  • Have something new? Let us know! (Refugees & Climate Crisis coming soon…)

Key points for any interviews with any vulnerable or minority groups include

Journalistic purpose and quality of information

  • What is my journalistic purpose in interviewing this person?
  • In what light will this person be shown? What is his/her understanding or ability to understand how viewers or listeners might perceive the interview? How aware is he/she of the ramifications of his/her comments?
  • What motivations does the person have in cooperating with this interview?
  • How clearly have you identified yourself to the person? Do they know they are talking to a reporter? Have you explained the purpose of the interview/story?
  • Have you gained permission from the person?

Minimize harm

  • What harm can you cause by asking questions or taking pictures of the person even if the journalist never includes the interview or pictures in a story?
  • How would you react if you were the parent/friend/family member of this person? What would your concerns be?
  • Are there legal issues you should consider, such as the legal age of consent of your state?
  • Interview the person in a safe/comfortable/private place
  • What are the potential consequences of this person’s comments, short-term and long term?
  • Give the person your contacts so they can contact you if they have any objection to the interview being used.
  • How will you justify your decision to include this person in your story to your newsroom, to the audience viewers, to the person’s family?

Explore alternatives

  • Is there any reason to consider alternatives to use instead of interviewing the person on camera? If so what alternatives might be more suitable?


It’s quite common for IMMJMA students to work with children. Children and young people have a right to be heard and participate in the news media but they must also be protected from harm especially for stories involving sensitive or personal information. (To be clear, I’m talking about a situation where a child will be featured in reporting rather than a situation where you are simply grabbing a little broll in a public place). If you will be working with children, read plenty of the guidelines below, pick out a specific guide or compile the points that are most relevant to your work and follow them. Ensure that you speak with your tutor before you go into the field.

In almost every case for children under 16, you must seek the consent of the parent or guardian and be sure that a responsible adult is present during interviews or filming. Also, be transparent and clear with the child, let the child know what you are doing and let them know that they should feel comfortable to answer or not answer any questions as they prefer. Keep checking in with them to ensure they are comfortable. Never interview children suffering from trauma.

The Golden Rule for interviewing children:

“Do unto other people’s kids as you would have them do unto your kids.” (From participants of “Children, Families, and Social Issues Seminar”-The Poynter Institute 1998)

Read them all and pick out the points that apply – make your own short guide.

Mental Health

On nearly a daily basis, journalists find themselves covering stories about crime and violence in their communities. When reporters starting looking for the “why” behind the story, they sometimes discover the people involved have a history of behavioral health problems, including mental illness and substance abuse. Advocates say it is important for journalists to avoid stereotypes when covering these issues, and report fairly and sensitively about those affected. RTDNA links to several resources to aid in developing coverage. There’s a ton of resources included in this article from The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) – a professional organization devoted exclusively to broadcast and digital journalism.


There are many guidelines for covering disability, some of the best are from The National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University who have developed a style guide for journalists who report or write about people living with disabilities. The guide offers information and advice on commonly used words or terms, from “able-bodied” to “confined to a wheelchair.” In addition, the guide provides a brief background on each word or term and touches on instances in which disability organizations disagree on usage. It also notes whether or not the word or term is addressed in The Associated Press Stylebook. Two-thirds of the entries in the NCDJ guide are not covered in the AP Stylebook. Along with the guide, the NCDJ also has created a companion piece, “Terms to Avoid When Writing About Disability.” The article offers advice to communicators on why they should avoid using terms such as “epileptic fit” or “senile” and directs them to more neutral language. NCDJ’s disability style guide is available on the organization’s website or as a printable PDF at
There are actually many great guidelines for covering disability, search around and find one you like. Try to get specific, for example, if working with intellectual disabilities rather than physical disabilities then find more specific guidelines. If working on the subject of Autism or other disorders you will are very specific guidelines. Here are a couple more to get you going:
Media Content Analyses
It’s also interesting and responsible to look at media content analysis relevant to your area of reporting. (Disability, Suicide, Refugees, Gender, etc). A Media Content Analysis refers to research studies conducted on how issues and communities are represented in the mass media.  For example, this media content analysis in the UK finds that:
  • There 
  • They also found that articles

  • Focus
 reality. Participants 

There has been some very interesting media content analysis of disability in China. In 2013, One Plus One teamed with the Media Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to issue Observation Report on China Print Media of Disability Reports from 2008 to 2012.

  • Studies showed that the themes of 1,468 reports from 2008 to 2012 were mostly focused on disabled people’s health or rehabilitation and the help they received from others.
  • The voices of people with disabilities were rarely represented and there were very few reports on education, employment and the participation of disabled people in public life.
  • Most of the news reports failed to introduce disability rights concepts, such as inclusive design or discrimination or reference any of China’s disability laws.

Here is a content analysis on the Representation of Autism in Leading Newspapers in China 

Gender and Sexual Minorities 

The first thing you need to decide on is if someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation is even relevant to the story you are telling. If it’s not, leave it out entirely.


The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma – a global resource for journalists, journalism students and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, tragedy, and conflict – has produced this practical online guide for covering trauma. It is intended for journalists and journalism students who are untrained in trauma reporting (or who want to enhance their basic training). –

Again try to source both general and specific guidelines if possible. for example 5 resources for journalists covering domestic violence


Best Practices

Media Analyses

  • This research shows WHY it’s so important to report responsibly
  • “A substantial body of research suggests that media reports about people who have died by suicide, as well as the topic of suicide in general, can influence vulnerable people and is associated with higher subsequent rates of suicide. Emerging evidence also suggests that reports about people overcoming suicidal crises may lower suicide rates”.

Concealing Identity when filming or photographing

Occasionally it may be necessary to protect the anonymity of the people you document. Here are some tips from Witness Here are some more Techniques for Protecting Anonymity in Videos.

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Also, take a look at these examples:
Adam Furgeson’s work about girls abducted by Boko Haram.
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Giulia Marchi made several portraits of a Chinese woman who accused her university professor of sexual harassment. It’s a very different approach from Adam Furgeson’s work. She uses a lot of natural elements from the environment to cover her face. (You can also see the full set of photos in her FB post:
Indian photographer Smita Sharma did a series of portraits of women survivors of sexual violence:
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Another project is this one by Swedish photographer Asa Sjostrom: Shot 2018-02-25 at 00.00.22
Here’s a reportage about a prison in the US. All the inmates’ identity is protected by not showing their face:
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Katherina Hesse’s work is another example, where protecting sources was imperative.
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Another story on victims of Boko Haram by Paulow Pellegrin.
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Glenna Gordan gives an entirely different approach by photographing objects. 
 See this behind the scenes article
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