THE CITIZEN JOURNALISM MANUAL…
15. Practices for citizen journalists
Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.
An impromptu radio interview with fish people with a message.
TO MAKE OUR JOURNALISM credible we can import practices from the journalism of the pre-digital era into our work.
Tabloid newspapers have degraded the practice of journalism through a combination of ignoring newsworthy material, ideological bias and alarmist headlines. In contrast, the so-called ‘quality press’, such as some of the long-running newspapers, follow journalistic ethics and practices that brought them public esteem and credibility among readers. Most of these practices can be brought over to the practice of citizen journalism.
To be fair to readers and regarded as a reliable source of information, our work needs to:
- be verifiable, so as to ascertain the accuracy or truth of what is reported; this we can do by providing or linking to evidence
- maintain its independence from external influence to avoid bias
- be accountable; this means taking responsibility for correcting errors and using reputable sources.
Following are guidelines, ethics and practices that will bring our journalism, whatever its form, and us, as citizen journalists, a positive reputation.
Practices for citizen journalists
Is our story and the facts it reports as accurate as we can ascertain at the time?
We can only report the information at hand. We can only report what is known at the time. With breaking news, full information might not yet be available and what is available may be erroneous. New information coming in can be reported in updates to our story. Expect numbers and other details to change as new information becomes available.
A few points about accuracy in journalism:
- accuracy is likely to be variable when we report eyewitness accounts because eyewitnesses interpret what they see through their beliefs, their values and their assumptions; they might not witness the entirety of an incident and report only the bit they saw — there may be more to the story
- accuracy in journalism is contingent on the adequacy and accuracy of what sources tell journalists; sources sometimes offer only partial truths, and sometimes they lie; they will pass on information as they interpret it, and this can bias the information; consulting more than a single source can help to corroborate what a source tells you
- journalists are sometimes accused of inaccuracy and bias when their reporting contradicts personal beliefs and values and where people disagree with what is reported; it is those beliefs and values that are the issue, not the journalism
- media releases issued by organisations may offer only partial information that is favourable to the organisation; where it is not possible to corroborate the information there is the risk that inaccuracies could be reported; think about what could be missing from the media release
- when we write about something that we have deeper knowledge of we are likely to discern what is not being said by a source, what is unlikely to be true and to ask more penetrating questions; it has been a practice in media organisation for journalists to develop a deeper knowledge by reporting a ‘round’, such the courts, government, finance, media, industry and so on.
Authorities such as police might not immediately release full information about an incident because doing so could compromise ongoing investigations. Names of victims might be withheld until family or relatives are notified. Best not to let them learn of some mishap from the media.
Accuracy, then, is contingent on getting the most reliable information available at the time from the most reliable sources and correcting erroneous, earlier information in updates. Perceptions of journalistic accuracy are influenced by personal point of view.
Complicating the accuracy issue in public interest journalism in Australia is government, the public service and business’ seeming default secrecy setting when speaking to the media. Much of what they say is confidential turns out not to be worth of that status that at all. While some claims of confidentially might be authentic, others can be attempts to cover up responsibility for some incident or to put off media scrutiny in the hope that the story will go away.
Adequacy is about reporting sufficient information so that readers/viewers/listeners can gain insight into what we are reporting.
Have we provided sufficient information so that readers gain an understanding of the topic? Have we placed an event in its wider context and linked it to related events? Is it something unique or is it the manifestation of some underlying, ongoing process, trend or issue?
An example of adequacy in reporting was the homeless peoples’ camp in Martin Place in Sydney CBD in July and August 2018. It would have been easy to report just the camp and the disagreement between the City of Sydney’s lord mayor and the state government as an isolated event. The better media reports linked the camp to the broader issue of the rising number of homeless people in the city and the reasons they were homeless, such as the high cost of rental accommodation, lack of state government emergency accommodation for people forced out of their homes, precarious employment conditions and poor mental health services. This wider context provided a more adequate story because it linked the event to the factors that gave rise to the issue, what the state government might do to address homelessness and positioned it as an ongoing social issue.
It is a bit like a mushroom. What forces its way above ground and becomes visible is the fruiting body of the plant. What remains invisible below is the bulk of the structure and the driving forces that produce the fruiting body. The fruiting body of the mushroom is visible but its casues are not. The homeless peoples’ camp was like a fruiting body of the mushroom forcing its way upwards into the public realm from the ongoing structural causes below. Events are often the signs of some hidden process, trend or malfunction the disclosure of which has an important place in adequate reporting of an issue.
An example of inadequate media reporting occurred when the Eastern Courier, a Sydney local newspaper, failed to contact Randwick Council to clarify why some small trees, poor specimens of no botanical significance, were removed to make way for construction of landscaping works. Instead of finding out why the trees were removed the newspaper reported the comments of a complainant local woman, a critic of the council, quoting her allegations. Left unsaid was the fact that councils planting plan would improve the biodiversity of the area where the pergola was being built and that the pergola would provide shade and shelter to park users. On being contacted by the council the newspaper later reported more adequately on what was actually going on. It would have made a more inclusive and adequate report to seek comment from council and from others knowledgable about plants and landscape design and include that in the original story along with the complainant’s concern. In this case there was factual error in what the woman claimed as well as inadequate reporting by the newspaper.
Have we attributed facts, figures, photographs, graphics and information to those providing them?
For all but common knowledge, non-attribution could be taken as intellectual dishonesty if information appears as though it is our own when it is not. When dealing with the photographs, illustrations and writing of others, attributing them to their source enacts the Moral Rights provision of the Copyright Act 1968.
Attributing facts, statements and ideas to their originator is an ethic in traditional as well as citizen journalism. For example:
According to Yvonne Gluyas, organiser of the national performance poetry slams and herself an award-winning performance poet, “Performance poetry is more than a stage act. The best of it is social commentary. It uses satire, sarcasm and humour to make some point about something happening in society.”
Here, a direct quote is identified by quote marks, signifying these are words spoken (or written) by someone. The source is attributed to its source by name and by role. Stating her role establishes her authority in making the statement and gives it, and her, credibility.
Sometimes we make assumption based on facts and information at hand. We might also report the assumptions of others. It is valid to do this, however when making assumptions make it clear that they are assumptions.
Be prepared to replace assumption with fact when that becomes available. Be wary of assumption when interviewing people because they may well report their own assumptions rather than tell us what they actually saw or know.
The best way to deal with this is to get several accounts so that points of commonality can be identified, areas of probable fact, and so individual assumption can be filtered out.
Another assumption we encounter in journalists is that people are all like the writer. People are not all like us. Judging people this way can lead to a them-and-us polarisation and to positioning those we perceive to be different as deviant folk devils.
For example, it can be erroneous to assume others share our values or beliefs, that they have a similar life experience to us, similar aspirations or subscribe to the same social norms. Not everyone, for example, might share the middle class attitudes of a journalist because they might not identify with being middle class and might have had a different upbringing to middle class people. Assumptions negate personal outlooks coming from life experience.
Avoiding assumption based on the lifestyle and other characteristics of the journalist is important when reporting about people who live outside the social mainstream.
Opinions are not facts
Sometimes when we ask a person about an incident or a trend, hoping to gain some understanding of it, what they give us is less factual information and more what they think about it — their opinion. The two are sometimes blended together, making it to tell one from the other. This can happen even with people who actually know the facts because they blend them with deductions based on their attitude to the topic.
Opinions are made of facts blended with beliefs and assumtions. When they are formed from factual information they are more accurate and reliable. When they reflect unfounded or biased beliefs they are not a good source of information.
There is noting wrong with holding opinions and it is valid to report them, especially when they come form someone with knowledge of the topic. Make sure we identify what they say as opinion. As citizen journalists we can learn to identify opinion and to separate it from fact by the questions we ask. In reporting an incident, questions like ‘tell me what you actually saw’ can help.
Corroboration provides evidence that something is authentic — or not.
How accurate is what we are told? Is it true? Are there witnesses? Can anyone else verify that something happened? Are there facts or other reports to confirm something? We are asking for corroboration. When we confirm the details of something it improves the accuracy of what we report. This is why, where possible, it is good to go to the original source, whether that is a person, organisation or document. Doing this can verify or disprove assertions that are made.
Talking to a number of witnesses or people knowledgable in some topic can help to corroborate what someone has said.
Citizen journalists, as well as others bring their own assumptions, values and beliefs to their writing even if this is done unconsciously. We need be aware of this and to offset it so we can write about something without these things unconsciously shaping our story.
Objectivity in journalism presupposed that journalists are completely logical and rational people. We know that isn’t true. What they can do is to be aware of their prejudices and beliefs so that they can avoid their influencing the questions they ask and what they write.
The old notion of objectively reporting ‘just the facts’, as if that were somehow possible, is often the argument politicians and the powerful trot out in responding to the critical reporting about them. This can be an attempt to deflect the argument away from them and onto the journalist. In the year following his election, Donald Trump did this when he blamed the media for America’s ills rather than disfunction in the economic and political system. This is documented in The Fourth Estate: The NY Times and Trump, a series broadcast by Australia’s SBS TV in June 2018.
“There’s a reason they say that eyewitness identification is unreliable: People are suggestible. Memory is a reconstruction, not a record.
…Watch me disappear, a novel by Janelle Brown.
It may be alarming that courts of law rely on eyewitness accounts as evidence. Eyewitness accounts can be misleading and inaccurate. We need to keep this in mind in our work.
People notice different things. They miss details because they overlook them or because they are out of sight. In putting together a report from eyewitness accounts we may find the accounts variable, even contradictory. This might simply be due to people noticing different things or to part of an incident being out of someone’s field of view. It may be due to people including assumptions in what they report rather than reporting just what they saw. They might include heresay, what others said.
People filter and understand things through their own attitudes, beliefs and assumptions, potentially biasing their information and making what they say variable and inaccurate. For these reasons it is best to get a number of eyewitness accounts and draw out what is common to them. This gives us a basis of what is more likely to be true. We clearly state in our article that these are eyewitness accounts.
An example of the danger of assumption by eyewitnesses is this report of a court encounter, an extrapolation of a real event:
Cross-examining the prosecutions eyewitness, Robert Hall, defence lawyer Charlene Lisbon asked him what he saw.
“I saw the woman… the defendant… come out of Birchalls stationery shop with a can of spray paint in her hand”, he said.
“Did you see her paint over the sexually abusive art work on the van”, asked Ms Lisbon.
“Well, not exactly”, replied Mr Hall.
“So tell the court what you did see”, said Ms Lisbon.
“I saw her carrying the spray paint towards the van as if to use it”, Mr Hall responded.
“But did you actually witness the defendant spray over the art work on the van”, asked Ms Lisbon is a more assertive tone.
“Well, no”, Mr Hall said. “But she had the can of spray paint and was heading in the direction of the van and was close to it when I saw her”.
“So, let’s be clear. You saw the defendant with the spray can walking in the direction of the van but you didn’t actually see her spray the sexually abusive graphics on the van?”, asserted Ms Lisbon.
“Well, I assumed she sprayed the art work because she was holding the can of spray paint although I didn’t see her actually do it”.
“Could the defendant have been carrying the can of spray paint to her own vehicle that was parked in the parking space just beyond the vehicle with the sexually abusive art work, and which would have necessitated her walking past the van with the sexually abusive art work”, Ms Lisbon asked.
“Um… I guess so”, responded Mr Hall.
The defence based its case on discrediting the eyewitness account linking the woman carrying the can of spray paint with the spraying of the sexually abusive art work on the van as assumption. It demonstrates how assumption can bias eyewitness accounts, something journalists need to look out for.
Here’s a report based on an actual incident in which a small child was frightened by a large dog in a public park. It demonstrates the unreliability of eyewitness accounts and how an eyewitness does not seeing the entire incident can make false assumptions:
Commenting on the incident, eyewitness Patty Barker said, “I saw the man chasing the dog. He had been behind some shrubs and was now running after it as if trying to catch it or chase it away. The dog owner rushed towards him calling on him to stop. I don’t like cruelty to animals and seeing the dog being chased distressed me”.
The man and the dog owner had a heated exchange before the dog owner attached a leash to the dog and walked away.
May Campbell was another eyewitness to the incident. She was walking on the opposite side of the park when she heard a child screaming.
“I looked over and saw this dog jumping at the child”, she said. “I think it was just being friendly but it was nearly the same height as the child and was clearly terrifying her. The owner was some distance away and started walking towards the child and the dog.
“When the dog jumped at the little girl the parent pushed it away with his foot then chased it away”.
The eyewitness seeing the man chasing the dog interpreted it as an act of cruelty. Her view of the dog’s harassment of the child was blocked, out of sight behind the shrubbery. She could not see the extenuating circumstances, that the dog was harassing a small child and the parent was defending the child by chasing the dog away. Both commentators accurately reported what they witnessed, however the assumption of cruelty was based on an incomplete witnessing of the incident. This is why more than a single eyewitness should be interviewed.
Hearsay is the passing on of information that a person has learned from others. It is secondhand information reported by people who are not directly involved in or did not witness something.
Hearsay can be unreliable. Remember that what we are told by people not present at some event or incident might have been distorted in transmission.
Sometime, hearsay might be all that we have. We need to think about whether we report it or not. That depends on our assessment as to its probable accuracy. If we include it we should say that we are reporting hearsay. Doing that is only fair to our readers. It is us saying that we have no first-hand reports, that this is what others believe. It exonerates us from reporting incorrect information as we have made it clear that we are uncertain of the facts. If it is inaccurate we should update the story when reliable information becomes available.
As citizen journalists we look for evidence of allegations or to verify or disprove claims. There are three types of evidence, and we report them differently:
- direct evidence is what we witness ourselves or what our interviewee has themselves witnessed
- indirect evidence is that coming from other people who have been told of something and relate it to us; it is second-hand, whether reported directly to us or to an interviewee, so we need to be cautious of reporting hearsay as indirect evidence
- circumstantial evidence comes from the probability that some things are closely linked; it is not direct or indirect evidence and is based on proximity in space or time; it is the lest reliable type of evidence because it can involve assumption.
In our writing it helps readers to know how reliable evidence is. That is why we say how we came by it and whether it is circumstantial or otherwise.
For example, part of a report on another case based on an actual event:
I interviewed May because her’s was another case in a spate of garden ornament thefts in the area over the past month. The incident in May’s garden involved the disappearance of a Chinese lion garden statue that had sentimental value to her. Other thefts involved garden gnomes and a heavy statue of a stork that stood a metre in height.
Now, May thinks she might know who is behind the thefts.
“The lion statue was in place when this person came to my house that afternoon because I noticed it when I went out to pick plums from my trees in the morning”, May explained, a bitter tone evident in her voice.
“No one else came by that day. Okay, I didn’t see her take the statue but noticed it missing when I went into the garden later in the afternoon. That was a couple hours after she had left.”
May’s evidence implicating the woman is circumstantial, based on the presence of the garden statue in the morning, the woman’s later visit and the absence of the statue in the afternoon. I put it to her that someone could have come into her garden after she noticed the statue that morning and taken it, because much of her driveway is obscured by fruit trees and shrubs that would offer concealment to a thief.
“Well, I suppose so”, she replied. “But that woman is sneaky. I once saw her pick up a $5 note that a man dropped in a carpark and she pocketed it. Isn’t that evidence of her probable guilt in stealing my garden statue?”.
Since interviewing May, additional thefts of garden ornaments have been reported to police. No arrest has been made.
“You know what she is doing, don’t you?’, May said. “She’s collecting all those garden statues to ransom to their owners all at the same time so she can collect the money and skip town.”
What we see here is a link being made based on the timing of the presence of the garden statue, the accused’s visit and noticing the absence of the statue that afternoon. Suspicion of the woman’s guilt is based on the circumstances of her visit. The supposed link between her pocketing the dropped $5 note and the missing garden statue is tenuous at best and is more of an assumption about character.
Although the accused was mentioned by name in the interview, her identity is not mentioned in the story because it could result in defamation action.
Are we being fair to people we write about? Do we accurately report what they say? We can still be fair even while being critical.
Advocacy journalism writes in support of a certain course of action, however it can include counter-argument and often will do so, so as to refute it. This clarifies the issue and makes the citizen journalist appear fairer in their treatment of the topic.
Media organisations sometimes seek fairness in how they report, however this can degenerate into a he-said-she-said type of reporting in which the notion of fairness is merely to interview spokespeople for-and-against. This type of journalism omits other points of view and leaves audiences with only a partial understanding of an issue. It is journalism oversimplified and seldom leads to a solution.
An example was reporting climate change by national broadcasters, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) some years ago in which the notion of fairness was ‘balancing’ the opinion of someone warning about the consequences of climate change with that of a climate change denier.
While this might have met the requirements for what the organisations believed to be fairness and balance in reporting, critics pointed out that in giving a small number of deniers the same credibility as the overwhelming majority who study the science, the media corporations misrepresented the balance of opinion about climate change in which the overwhelming scientific evidence is that climate change is human-caused and a real danger.
In seeking fairness and balance through a simple for-and-against binary interview, the media organisations misrepresented the proportionality of informed opinion.
Let’s continue with the report on dogs in a park as an example because it is the sort of issue that citizen journalists reporting local news will encounter. The report goes like this:
The park was originally designated as dog-free, however Council decided to allow dogs on-leash as a concession to local people after they requested it.
Now, dog owners want the entire park made off-leash. They say the nearby off-leash park is unsafe for their dogs because it is unfenced and their dogs could run onto the street. There was one such incident when a dog was killed by a passing car, they say.
The state government’s Companion Animals Act says that dog owners must keep their animals under control at all times, including when off-leash. This includes in parks designated by council to be off-leash. It is the owners’ responsibility to ensure their dogs do not run onto the road where they risk injury to themselves and to drivers.
Dog owners continue to ignore the arguments of those wanting the park to remain on-leash. The adjacent preschool centre uses the park and does not want children stepping on dog droppings that dog owners fail to clean up. The volunteers maintaining the gardens say that dogs deliberately let off-leash dig in the garden and uproot plants. Dogs also scare off wildlife and their droppings and urine can damage native vegetation and contaminate the adjacent nature reserve.
In advocating for the park to remain dog-on-leash, the writer thought it fair to include the argument of those wanting it off-leash, then went on to provide evidence to refute their argument. The story moved beyond the to-and-fro, polarised argument of the off-leash and on-leash protagonists to include legal and other park user’s opinion. The breadth of the story provides a more comprehensive appreciation of the issue and is thus fairer on all concerned.
Issues are complex and often involve more than for-and-against opinion. Failure to report reasonable opinion other than that of the main protagonists risks only partial reporting and disallows alternative voices.
Don’t become a mouthpiece
Journalists risk becoming a mouthpiece when they continually respond to statements made by someone, whether in a complementary, neutral or critical manner. This inadvertently gives the people or organisations making the statements greater speaking rights and prominence that others.
An example would be a politician who is frequently reported. Repeated reporting amplifies their voice, giving what they comment on greater prominence than other points of view and denying the public alternative information. This gets back to the principle of fairness.
Covering prominent people and organisations is necessary. Rather than simply repeating what they say, including it within a fuller treatment of the topic they raise contexts their statements and introduces other points of view.
Let’s revisit the homeless peoples’ camp in Martin Place as an example. Rather than give the state government most coverage and becoming its mouthpiece, some reports situated their and the occupiers’ action within the context of homelessness in the city and so created a broader understanding.
Just as picking ripe cherries provides us with a tasty snack, so does selectively choosing facts and information provide us with an article supporting our point of view. Omitted is contradictory evidence.
That is cherry-picking, the deliberate selection of some information and the deliberate exclusion of other, possible contrary information so as to support a point of view.
Usually done to push some agenda, it can be done unconsciously when individuals choose to read and believe only those reports that agree with how they think. This results in confirmation bias, the publishing of only the information that supports a particular point of view.
Cherry-picking facts and reports is a common tactic of those pushing some agenda. What it does is leave readers unfamiliar with the argument with a partial and biased understanding.
We should understand that cherry-picking is not a good tactic for citizen journalists wishing to be seen as credible. What they can do is point out cherry-picking by protagonists.
The thing with so-called altenative facts is that there aren’t any. There are facts and there are assertions, claims, beliefs and lies.
The idea of alternative facts came to public notice with the election of Donald Trump.
Let’s be clear — there are no alternative’facts. There are facts and there are non-facts. Facts are demonstrable truths. All the rest are untruths.
Follow the money
Wealth is frequently a motivator of untruth. ‘Follow the money’ is an old journalism saying that suggests that in investigating a story we follow how money flow between people or organisations and see where it ends up. It positions financial gain, legal and illegal, as the overt or hidden motivation behind an action.
It can be difficult to follow the money trail because it is usually hidden and deciphering accounting data calls for expertise. Follow the money trail might not apply in most reporting, however it can disclose winners and losers and highlight corruption.
Shake the tree and see what falls out
This an old journalism saying that suggest we publish something controversial and see what comes of it. It is used to generate new leads in reporting an issue when current leads have reached their end.
Journalists and media organisations need to be cognisant of deformation in taking this approach because people involved in some shonky activity can use defamation law, or the threat of it, to try to silence critics and media attention.
Nothing may come from shaking the tree. Noting might fall out, either because there is nothing to fall or because it is well hidden in the foliage. People involved could realise that saying nothing is the best policy so as to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
Shaking the tree and spending journalist’s’ time examining what falls out is mostly the preserve of big media organisations with the resources, including legal resources, to follow a story to see where it could lead.
Reporting community groups: a word of caution
Before we wind up this chapter it might be worthwhile looking at the behaviour of some community groups and how we can report what they say. We will do that through a real incident that serves as an example of how misinterpreted observations and ignorance can lead to false beliefs and misleading statements.
It went like this…
Members of a local resident group alleged at a public meeting that a council was draining a wetland to take the water for itself. What the council was doing with the water was never disclosed.
The group’s comment was most likely based on its members’ observation that the level of water in a wetland varied over time. Sometimes during dry times the water disappeared completely. Rather than asking why, the group assumed it was council’s doing despite the absence of a pump that would be needed to remove the large quantity of water involved.
The reality was that evaporation in the shallow wetland depleted the lake, as did it being an ephemeral wetland the waters of which infiltrated the sandy soil into the aquifer below. This accounted for the wetland emptying during dry periods. Also ignored by the complainants was the large and clearly visible drain pipe that took water from the wetland when it reached a certain level so as to prevent local flooding. A lack of scientific knowledge fed their false belief, however a little research could have disclosed the ecological processes at work, as would have speaking directly to the council.
The example demonstrates that a little scientific understanding trumps assumption, erroneous belief, misinterpreted observation, false deductions and wild allegations that do nothing more than embarrass those making them.
Citizen journalists do well to question such claims rather than report them as-made. An added factor in this example was the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) group’s long-running hostile attitude to council and its staff. Also active was a phenomenon we see among some people who live close-by some contentious landuse — a sense that proximity brings a sense of ownership over what is a public facility for all. Thos is an issue of power and control.
In reporting local news, as citizen journalists we realise that what we are told might not be the whole story and might be more fictional than factual. We should be cautious when it comes to information from local groups as some will have formed around a disagreement with a council or other body and provide selective information in supporting their case. Always put what they tell us to the council and, where possible, with some external source such as an expert who can provide a more-detached point of view than can the contestants.
We need to apply this to reporting public meetings as well. I have witnessed community groups with a grievance stack public meetings to ambush council staff who were attending to speak, and watched as the meeting degraded into shouting, accusation, argument and ganging-up on opposing voices. It achieved absolutely nothing in addressing an issue.
Knowing the tactics of aggrieved community groups, people with different opinion might avoid public meetings. This risks their not being heard or their point of view going unreported. Not all public meetings are like this of course, and many community groups do good work and support council decisions, however it is why public meetings should not be the only source of information on an issue.
A few questions
Many of these points come to us from the days when print and broadcast journalism was all there were. The media world has now been muddied with the babble of voices in digital media, some of which disregard these points and present highly-biased articles reporting only half-truths or untruths.
Whether we abide by these points in our work depends on our motivations in becoming citizen journalists. It also depends on whether we are the mental prisoners of some ideology, are running some organisational or personal agenda or whether we really are the free agents of a democratic media.
When presented with a story, readers might ask:
- is this a reasonable report based on facts as presently known?
- has the writer issued updates to the original story and has the writer discussed how these affect the story?
- does the article provide us with enough information to form an understanding of the topic and how it links to other news?
- where comments have been reported and where documents and other incidents are mentioned, does the writer tell us who wrote or made them or link to them?
- are there weblinks to articles and reports?
- is what is reported as first-hand information actually from people who have been involved in the incident or event, from others present when it happened, or is it information they have been told by those who were there? is second-hand information identified as such?
- are reported comments attributed to the people making them or to documents in which they appear? are quantities referenced? how can we verify them?
- does the writer include counterargument in the article? how is this treated? if it is criticised, is the criticism fair? does the writer report counterargument accurately? do they link to original sources of the counter-argument?
- does the writer appear to be selective in choosing information that supports their assertions? have they left out information that would counter those assertions?
The Citizen Journalism Manual…
- Citizen journalism: A few definitions