Deb had a great post today from the Freelance Writing Jobs mailbox: FWJ Mailbox: What is a Citizen Journalist? tackling what defines a citizen journalist, is there money in the field and the types of citizen journalist gigs available. It got me, a journalist by trade and education, thinking about how writers can engage in responsible citizen journalism through article writing.
There is a serious debate going on right now about all things journalism. When it comes to citizen journalists, those in media circles debate the effectiveness and reliability of these writers. In fact, many are simply stuck on whether these writers are journalists at all. All of those issues are a debate for another forum – actually Deb’s post is a good place.
If a writer wants to be taken seriously as a journalist, citizen or traditional, there are a few key components each article should contain:
Each article should contain an unbiased view. The article’s purpose should not be to tell people what you think – that’s a blog. An journalistic article contains information and facts to explain a topic, break news or uncover information.
The article should not contain any leading phrases or wording. If you’re passionate about environmental issues, report on them, but don’t try to make the reader’s mind up for them, give the facts and let them speak for themselves.
A basic journalism article must have sources and those sources should come from all parties involved in the story. Blowing the lid off of health code violations at a local eatery with political connections means you attempt to interview the owner, the politician in question, health inspectors, department heads, patrons, etc.
Giving voice to both sides of an issue is not a luxury – it’s a responsibility. While many news outlets are using commentators and even journalists to portray only one side of an issue, this is not the norm or standard.
You’ve got a source who has information on a school board scandal – big whup. Unless you’ve got a source with proof of a school board scandal – paper trail, recordings, etc, all you have is a juicy rumor. Sources and information for articles are vetted. This means you know who the source works for, their ties to the story, background information and proof the information is concrete – statistics, official studies from unbiased groups, etc.
Sounds like a lot of work huh? It is. Journalists – real ones – work hard to iron out a story. It’s not just learning information and reporting it. There’s more to being a responsible citizen journalist which is why I’ll tackle this portion of article writing more in the coming weeks.
What do you want to know about writing articles? Email your question to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and have it answered right here at FWJ!