Citizen journalism involves those who aren’t professionally trained in journalism to take part in one of the foundations of democracy by conducting their own reporting and interviewing. The rise of social media has allowed the number of citizen journalists to exponentially grow where information and visuals can be attained and shared in mere seconds. But there’s been skepticism regarding the growing number of citizen journalists and how they contribute, such as the accuracy of information, how that information is portrayed, and a lack of standard training unlike their professional counterparts.
If you want to report news and label such information as factual and journalistic, then you should have a grasp on the foundation and basics of journalism.
Aidan White, Director of Ethical Journalism Network, describes the five core values of journalism, which include: accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity, and accountability.
Media LawWhat may be considered one of the more complex journalism areas, media law involves learning how past cases were handled and how such legal outcomes influence how journalists practice and report today. Understanding the bigger and more historical significant court cases allows citizen journalists to not only understand their legal rights, but also knowledge of how to handle any issues that may arise from obtaining or publishing information.
From copyright to libel and slander, to invasion of privacy and first-amendment rights, journalists must know where the law currently stands with such areas, and how journalism and freedom of press evolved before and during those court cases.
Resources on media law for journalists:
Journalists even have their own writing style that citizen journalists should adapt in order to maintain consistency and professionalism.
When I was accepted into UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, all students were required to take a news-writing class that involved learning the do’s and don’ts of AP Style and other areas. I remember studying various parts of the AP Stylebook—literally—and being tested on them, such as when to write out names of cities and states.
Purchase the most recently published AP Style guide and read through the more common sections to familiarize yourself with the proper forms of words and grammar. This, in turn, will increase your professionalism as well as the likelihood that a media outlet, professional organization or person will share or re-publish your article.
Resources on becoming familiar with AP Style:
Being able to find, interview, and successfully include direct quotes and/or paraphrases into your story is a vital and strong skill to have as a journalist. Also, as discussed earlier in the ethical standards of journalism, ensuring the story has the whole story instead of only one side will not only make your story stronger, but will also seem more impartial.
One of my first interviews I ever conducted happened my senior year of high school as an intern at my hometown’s local newspaper, The State Port Pilot. I was very nervous and tried to write down every word the source said, which I successfully did—although my notes were almost illegible! However, the more I interviewed, the more confident I became in my ability to find great sources and record the discussion. You don’t need to record every single word, but instead, be able to note the main topics he/she talks about as well as quoting one or two very strong quotes; this method worked well for me. Also, always ask if you can contact them again in case you need to confirm anything.
Another method involves using a recording device while interviewing; however, there may be some limitations in recording sources, which you should review prior to using one. It’s also polite to let your source know that you would like to record them prior to the interview.
Resources for bettering your interviewing skills:
Double-—no—triple-check the facts: names, places, quotes, and anything else that may slip by. By fact checking your work prior to publication and having a different set of eyes on it, if possible, you’re setting yourself up for success. Ensuring the names of people, places, organizations, etc., are spelled correctly will not only uphold your professionalism but increase the likelihood of no potential conflicts.
Resources on fact-checking:
Citizen journalists who understand and practice these journalistic standards will find their reporting, ability to handle conflicts, and overall reputation become more confident and professional.
Have another tip or technique that all journalists should know? Please share your thoughts in the comments!