"When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that is citizen journalism." - Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism at NYU

The concept of citizen journalism (also known as "public", "participatory", "democratic", "guerrilla" or "street" journalism) is based upon public citizens "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information."

Citizen journalism should not be confused with community journalism or civic journalism, both of which are practiced by professional journalists. Collaborative journalism is also a separate concept and is the practice of professional and nonprofessional journalists working together. Citizen journalism is a specific form of both citizen media and user generated content.

New media technology, such as social networking and media-sharing websites, in addition to the increasing prevalence of cellular phones, have made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. Due to the availability of technology, citizens can often report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters.Mashable.com 

Citizen Journalism Ethics Guide

When writing a journalistic article, it is important to adhere to the principles and ethics of the field. When an individual reads a news article, it is assumed that what he or she is reading is an unbiased delivery of facts and statements.

It is the duty of the journalist to convey the details of their story in a way that is both compelling yet factually honest.

Here are some tips and guidelines to follow when writing a journalistic piece.


Avoid Exaggeration and Choose Your Words Wisely

While using descriptive language in a news story can, on the surface, appear to liven up an article, it can also falsely lead the reader to certain conclusions. In addition, the right word choice is imperative when writing an article. Take for instance these two variations of the sentence "The President responded to the protesters with an official statement." :

  • Ex. 1: "A frustrated President responded to the protesters with an official statement."
  • Ex. 2:"The President retaliated with an official statement."

In the first example, the President has been described as being frustrated. While one may think that is the case, there may be no real evidence of frustration. In order to properly attribute frustration here, the President would have needed to explicitly state his frustration in his statement or during the discussion of his statement. It's also important to note that even if you feel that the President appeared visibly frustrated during a video or audio interview, the conclusion can often be a subjective one.

The second example shows that proper word choice is critical when writing an article. Retaliation is defined as "an attack or assault in return for a similar attack," which leads the reader to believe that there is a certain level of animosity expressed in the President's actions.

You should always be cognizant of the connotation carried by words.

Leave Your Opinions Aside When Reporting The Facts

Trying to pass off biased or opinionated articles as objective journalism is detrimental to both your reputation as a journalist and the media outlet that you are representing. The inclusion of one's personal beliefs in an article can lead to the person or piece being discredited, which will ultimately have an adverse impact on what you are trying to accomplish.

A journalist should use his or her sources, facts, and information to guide the story. Whenever a conclusion is made, proper citation and evidence needs to be included. This should not discourage an individual from investigating matters which they have a passion for, but it is imperative that the individual report the story from all perspectives to be taken seriously.

Opinion pieces and reviews are welcome and encouraged. However, it is important to distinguish between opinion and fact.

Be Careful When Using Quotes

A common mistake of citizen journalists is the failure to present quotes in a proper manner. For example, if the President states in an interview "I would like to go to war with Iran if we find weapons of mass destruction are being made":

  • Ex. 1: Headline: President Declares War with Iran
  • Ex. 2: The President shocked the country yesterday by announcing that "weapons of mass destruction are being made" in Iran.

In our first example, The President's statements were paraphrased in a way that makes it seem that war has been declared. Paraphrasing must be done when a source has clearly articulated a point, and should typically be supported by additional quotes.

In our second example, the omission of the first half of the President's statement changes the quote from a hypothetical to a factual statement. Keep in mind the original intention of a quote. If the intention is distorted after you have pared it down, the quote needs to be reworked.

Identifying Sources and Building Relationships

As a journalist, it's always best to have your sources provide their information "on the record". This means that the individual you are quoting is willing to have their name and possibly other information published. Having sources on the record saves you from having your article questioned.

Another complex issue is the inclusion of comments made that may be overheard and told in a confidential manner. While you are technically able to use these quotes (the former example is more justifiable than the latter), you should also realize that the betrayal of trust in a source could lead to the loss of that source for information in the future and a possible bad reputation by others.


Copyright,  Attribution, and Plagiarism

With the vast amount of information available to us through the internet and other means of technology, it's important to use proper attribution.

Let the reader know where a quote came from if it wasn't directly given to you. If, for instance, you are working on a story about the President and he is quoted in the New York Times, you will need to include this piece of information if you use the quote.

While quotes are not owned by anyone in particular, media such as pictures and videos are typically copyrighted by individuals or organizations. Videos can typically be embedded from another news outlet, but generally speaking the use of both pictures and videos without permission can lead to copyright infringement.

A nice alternative for finding generic pictures rather than waiting for permissions is using Creative Commons (CC) licensed media. A Creative Commons license allows an individual to use a picture, video, or other piece of media free of charge as long as they adhere to the guidelines set forth by the owner. This usually means attribution, but may also include restrictions to commercial use and the creation of derivative pieces of work. For more information about Creative Commons click here.

In regards to plagiarism: DON'T DO IT. With today's technology, it's likely that you will be caught. Plagiarism and copyright infringement can have serious consequences, and it's best to always obtain the proper permissions to avoid any penalties or legal actions.

Note that your articles will be submitted to an editor who may make minor changes in spelling, grammar, clarity, and formatting.

Fact Checking and Researching

Before publishing a story, a journalist needs to make absolutely sure that the information they have included in their article is true. This applies to everything from documents to quotes. Researching the topics beforehand will also allow you to be more informed and have better questions when covering a certain story. The more informed and meticulous you are with your facts, the less likely it is that your work will be called into question.