Wick Communications

Let’s go to the tape

In Reporting on 3 Apr 2014 at 12:51 pm


The email from David Rupkalvis began like this:


We have a strange situation here in Williston …

Suffice to say, the managing editor of the Williston Herald had my attention. It seems the local ambulance crews had unionized. A meeting was called between the paramedics and one of the city councilmen. David got his hands on a tape recording of that meeting and he said it contained, “some heated discussion, cursing and a lot of information.”

David’s question: Can he put an edited version of that tape on the Herald’s website?

He subsequently told me the city councilman didn’t know he was being recorded but had been told about the tape and didn’t have a problem with being quoted from the tape, so long as the expletives were deleted. It wasn’t clear to me whether everyone else in the room that day knew they were being recorded.

North Dakota is one of 38 states that allow “one party consent,” meaning that as long as one party to a conversation knows it is being recorded, then he or she may record it (or otherwise allow it to be recorded.) I don’t know who recorded the conversation in question, but if it was one party to the conversation, I think the Herald is free to use it. I’m not a lawyer and you should check with your state statutes or perhaps state press association before you start recording phone conversations willy nilly.

Just because it is legal to do so, doesn’t make it ethical. I’m of the opinion, in the vast majority of circumstances, that you shouldn’t tape a conversation unless all parties to that conversation know they are being taped. It’s the law in California and just seems fair to me, regardless of the law in your state.

If you choose to disagree, make sure you know the law where you live. I know of at least one reporter – for the Miami Herald — who was fired for recording a conversation surreptitiously in an “all party consent” state.



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