Code of Ethics for Citizen Journalists
Journalism has evolved over the years with the rise of new media technologies and news sources that have changed the way journalists write and consumers perceive the news they read. New media is any form of audio, visual or written material found online either on the Internet, on smartphone and tablet apps or online radio shows and podcasts. Journalism methods of old may still apply to how news is recorded and shared today, but media’s constant evolution always finds ways to create new forms of news and storytelling — some trustworthy, others questionable. As a result, citizen journalists who involve themselves in the analysis and dissemination of such news must be held accountable to the public for their discussions of news topics, lest the public may consume inaccurate or biased forms of news stories. This code of ethics aims to address the principal codes of conduct that citizen journalists of new media should abide by. Although not every possible journalistic scenario will be mentioned in this code, it hopes to provide a rough but dependable guide for citizen journalists to be able to make sound judgments when reporting or analyzing news.
Report The Accurate Truth
· Citizen journalists are accountable to their readers, many of who depend on their reports for new perspectives on news stories from a regular citizen’s perspective. In order to be reliable to them, we must ensure our sources are verified, accurate and not based on mere rumours and/or speculations. Do not ever take unconfirmed reports as facts due to fear of misleading readers into thinking those are absolute truths. Always credit sources.
· Whenever possible, include excerpts, clips or direct quotes from sources. Paraphrase only when necessary and state when you are doing so. Too much paraphrasing may lead readers to interpret a quote wrongly and this may not be in line with what the actual quote meant to say. Additionally, provide readers with enough background information on the topic of report so that quotes from sources are read in an appropriate context.
· When reporting on a controversial or national topic, be sure to include a diversity of sources in order to avoid bias, especially when reporting on nationwide or global issues. A one-sided view on the topic may result in unfair coverage and/or ill treatment of other parties interested in the issue. To give the public an all-rounded and inclusive news report, sources need to cover a range of people’s views from various backgrounds, social status and demographics. Give coverage to both the powerful and the powerless, but more towards the latter, because part pf a citizen journalist’s job is to give a voice to the voiceless.
· Clearly state if you have made an update or correction to your article either at the beginning of the article. Grammatical and spelling corrections need not be noted but content changes or corrections must be made mention of.
· Never delete news posts unless they may cause potential harm to the public. If the article contains outdated information, append “This article contains outdated information” and provide a link to an up-to-date article on the topic.
· Never plagiarize. Plagiarism is cheap, unoriginal and a journalistic sin. You will lose your reputation as a citizen journalist if you plagiarize.
· Do not make condescending remarks towards a party or group of individuals. Opinion pieces may include your views and opinions for or against an issue, but arguments must be sound and written in a professional manner. Represent your thoughts fairly, backing them up with credible and verifiable sources. As much as you can, display both sides to an argument for purposes of fair treatment and in this way, avoid bias. This way, readers will be able to form their own opinions, and not simply follow that of the article’s.
· Swearing or use of profanity towards an individual or company generally looks unprofessional and is prohibited unless absolutely necessary or if the article is obviously meant to be a satirical or humourous one.
· Always credit photographs, quotes, video or audio clips and statements to the owners of the material, whether from official or amateur sources, including those from social media.
· Ensure that all your sources approve of you publishing their names in a news report. There may be cases where an important but sensitive matter is brought up and sources feel uncomfortable with disclosing their identities. In such cases, keep anonymity by stating said individuals’ position in context of the situation they are being reported in (e.g. “… a first year resident at Walter Gage said”, “… states the janitor of [company]”). This applies to information gathered from social media as well. Read more on that in social media below.
· Don’t disclose certain information on companies or organizations unless it proves to be of valuable importance for the public to know. Consider this, if you happen to have insider information on a company, brand or business that may potentially jeopardize them for the wrong reasons, opt not to publish such information for the sake of integrity.
· Respect victims of tragic events, gathering information from them with great sensitivity, care and respect. Do not force information out of a person unless they are willing to share it. However, get as much information from subjects of an event as possible (again, not forcefully) in order to get a wholesome perspective on what you are reporting on.
· Avoid subscribing to Facebook or any other social media pages or groups that will make you seem biased towards a certain side of an argument — politics especially. Instead, subscribe and stay active on multiple discussion groups and pages so as to not practice favouritism. As a citizen journalist, there is a thin line between your private and public lives. As such, be aware of the actions you take both in and out of your work. Think before casually posting images or opinions on your private social media accounts.
· Social media is a great source of information, be it to analyze trends, gather topic-related photos or to quote. However, be sure to obtain permission from the source before using any social media content in your article. Also, ensure that the sources are credited. In the case of sources being uncomfortable revealing their usernames in the screenshots displayed in an article (tweets from Twitter, for example), kindly blur out their usernames in the article and mention their position in context of your news report (e.g. “A local Facebook user posted…”.)
· Don’t accept payments for any form of news coverage. If paid, make a note of it in your article. Similarly, do not pay for information.
· When writing an article that promotes a certain product or service, credit the brand/company that asked you to write the said article. However, do not allow them to use you to simply advertise a product. Genuinely review it with your own personal views — positive or negative. Do not receive money to review a product or service. If so, state it clearly in the article.
· When writing opinionated pieces, make it clear in the beginning of the article that the arguments expressed in the article do not reflect those of your sources and that it is solely your personal take on a particular issue.
· In the case of having to include provocative or graphic images in articles and reports, be sure to only include them if absolutely necessary. Even then, provide readers with a warning at the beginning of your article that the images the article contains may be unsettling and/or disturbing. If possible, blur out such images for readers who wish to read article but not to see the images. The images should be made viewable through an external link or by double-clicking on the blurred image.