Ethics for the citizen journalist

INTRODUCTION

Fifteen years ago the path of a story was relatively simple. It traveled from an event, to a journalist, and then out to the greater community. This journey moved only in one direction, with few outlets for citizens to contribute, refute, or share their opinions.

The transition into the time of the internet has given birth to a tangled web of information.

Stories bounce from citizens to Twitter to Facebook to Buzzfeed, and if they gain enough fame or affect enough people, the larger newspapers will pick them up. The story that used to be controlled by a distinct elite, guarders of the rights to spread news, has become fair game for any and all. Our newfound ability to capture video, images and sound at the tap of our fingertips has created a new form of journalism where the consumer is now the center of a two-way sphere of information spreading and gathering. However, with the power of knowledge, and the potential to take ownership of information, comes the responsibility of deciding the right thing to do with it.

Is that your picture to share?

Does the person in that video know he is being displayed on the internet?

Does the quote on your Facebook post tell the whole story?

This is a code of ethics for the new information guru — the citizen.

Accuracy

With the multiplicity of news stories being shared and read across online forums, it is important that the stories citizens report on are as accurate as possible. One cannot count on, or expect, a reader to question whether or not a story is the truth, therefore spreading false or only partially true information can ruin people’s relationships, reputations, and even employment.

· Tell the whole story — Do not purposely leave out parts of a story or event in an attempt to be funny, shocking or newsworthy.

· If you don’t know the whole story, make that clear — Jumping to conclusions does not make for an accurate news story. Alert the audience that the story being shared is only a partial truth, or only a one-sided opinion OR just don’t tell the story.

· Use REAL material — Any images used should accurately represent the story. Yes. This means your waist goes un Photo-shopped in that bikini picture, and the Hawaii sunset maybe not as vibrant as your Instagram post suggest. These examples may seem harmless, but it’s a downhill slope from there.

Accountability

Along with accuracy comes accountability. Be accountable for the truth!

· Take responsibility for mistakes — or lapses in knowledge. It is okay to be wrong every so often, as long as you own up to it. To allow a false statement to float around the blog-o-sphere uncorrected is potentially damaging for numerous reasons (stated above).

· You are the owner of your story — going anonymous is NOT COOL. If your story is worth sharing, own it! Stand by your facts because if its all correct there should be nothing to worry about. Or if it is wrong, well the above stands.

Privacy

Privacy is the fine line between being a citizen, and a journalist. As a citizen journalist you are responsible for what you put out there! So what is the difference between investigative reporting, or recording a funny moment, and invading someone’s privacy?

· Get consent — Even if it’s a pain, even if they might say no. Consent to publish a photograph or video now is better than a lawsuit later. Now this does not mean that you should get consent for every quote, or even the story itself, as long as the interview or story was legitimate and the quote did not cut out the important backstory to make the speaker look bad.

· Know when you are told a story in confidence — This might seem like common sense, but some people tell you things about themselves that they actually don’t want the entire world to know about. It always goes back to consent and exercising your best judgment.

Transparency

It is important to be as clear as possible about your information. Provide sources, names, and dates so that a reader has no reason to question your legitimacy. When it comes down to it, you want your work to look the best that it can be, so the readers trust what they are reading. If you are transparent, it is a win-win scenario.

· Provide names, dates, and sources

· Give the backstory

· If you have a strong bias — make it clear!

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