Reporting stories from project sites can be a wonderful trust builder among organizations and their prayer and financial partners. This requires care, because it’s just as easy to violate that trust if the people you interview or photograph are surprised by how the information gets used.
To keep those relationships healthy, here’s the process we follow at Seed Company:
Before your visit
As much as possible, communicate that you will be visiting and gathering stories. If you’re already a familiar face there, then convey specifically that you will be doing interviews and shooting photos and/or video, and how that material might be used.
During your visit
Use consent/release forms if practical (see below). At minimum, make a verbal agreement through an interpreter. Explain to everyone you interview why you are there, what information you are collecting and how you plan to use it. Field partners and people they work with tend to grant consent freely, sometimes without understanding the wide and long reach of online information. It is your responsibility to communicate this.
After your visit
Before anything is published, the field coordinator and, when possible, the field partner should review the material for accuracy and security concerns. This often involves give and take about security. The field partner always gets the last word on what may be published in print and online. No story or visual is worth damaging a partner relationship or making someone feel that their security has been violated.
The field partner should get to see the published work. When possible, send print copies and send links to online material. Knowing that the person will see the material is a good safeguard against exploiting them and their situation, or robbing someone of their dignity.
I won’t say this process is always perfect. We recently had a slip where the subject was surprised to see his photo published, and some of the information in the story was inaccurate. Something got misunderstood in translation. Once we learned of the problem we immediately took the story down and now are working with the field partner to correct the story.
When interviewing, photographing or shooting video of people on project sites, it’s a great idea to have consent/release forms handy. Here’s what the Seed Company’s form says:
I hereby give and grant to Seed Company the right to use my name and/or the right to photograph or videotape my physical likeness in any manner whatsoever and/or the right to reproduce and record my voice and other sound effects made by me. Also, I hereby consent to the use of my name, my comments and/or the recordings and reproductions of my voice and other sound effects, by Seed Company, their licensees, successors and assigns, in or in connection with the production, exhibition, distribution, advertising and exploitation and/or other use of any Seed Company’s print publications, websites, social media, events and/or otherwise.
Telephone and/or email:
If under age 18, parent or guardian:
We don’t always use these forms, especially in contexts where the people don’t speak English and would not know what they are signing. If possible before your trip, get the form translated into the local language. Sometimes, especially in extremely remote areas or oral cultures, a verbal agreement is enough. Simply make sure the person understands and agrees to how we are going to use the material. We also work closely with our field coordinators on this, so neither they nor the partner are ever surprised by what’s published.