During an instance where if I was gathering natural sound for a story and I wasn’t recording when someone dropped a tip in the tip jar, I wouldn’t stage the sound. I would wait until the next customer came by and dropped a tip in the tip jar. In some cases, people might be hesitant to tip if they see someone hovering by the jar with an audio recorder. They would be afraid to approach in the event that they would disturb the recording. However, that is something that can be resolved with transparency and communication.
An audience is greatly affected by the way an audio journalist edits sound for stories. Adding sound and music that wasn’t part of the story has the power of setting the tone and can sometimes even change the meaning of a story.
The Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics says: “Professional electronic journalists should not manipulate images or sounds in any way that is misleading.” The Code also says journalists should not: “…present images or sounds that are reenacted without informing the public.”
If we add sounds that did not exist then we are modifying the story in a way that is deceiving to your audience. Unless you make it clear to your audience that you had to reconstruct the scene, it is not recommended to add a sound that was not originally recorded. If you wouldn’t stage a scene in print or video, then the same ethics goes for audio. To do so would be unethical and a misrepresentation.
As journalists we should hold ourselves to the same ethical standards we would have for any other form of communication. Reporting with sound is a technical challenge in itself, there is no need for it to also be an ethical challenge.