Responsible Citizen Journalism – Article Writing

Picture 4Deb 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.

Well Sourced.

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 [email protected] and have it answered right here at FWJ!


  1. says

    Yes I have some issues with what some people consider to be plagerism, when you visit ten news sites all writing the same IDEAS, such as the death of Michael Jackson, since it is all the same idea, does that mean news journalists according to some people are plagerizers?

    Now I understand stealing paragraphs and sentences etc..But ideas?

    So what happens when 1000 writers write about gardening? It is all the same idea?

    the idea part I am not understanding, because many writers write about the same topic, is the same topic mean the same idea? It could constitute as such according to some,

    so I am having issues with what people consider journalism to be, I work for Newsblaze, and I write about green technology and business, but many people write about green technology, and I get pretty upset when people consider us stealing an idea?

  2. says

    An important tangent of the well-sourced point is proportion. While it’s important to give “both sides of the story”, you should avoid giving a misleading impression about how widely-supported/credible a view is.

    For example, if 99.9% of doctors believe treatment A can help condition B, and literally a handful of doctors say it can’t, you should quote both sides but avoid using phrases such as “the medical community is split” which might suggest the two viewpoints carry entirely equal weight.

    That applies even more strongly if one viewpoint is being made by accredited respected experts and the other viewpoint by cranks.

  3. Phil says


    I actually did uncover a school boards scandal about 25 years ago. The amount of back and forth on confirming information, checking and rechecking was something else (this was for a small-town school board, though the paper was large). Today, too much of the press, even some well-respected pubs, runs off with half-checked (if that much) information — remember when Richard Jewel was a hero, then a suspect, then exonerated in the Atlanta Olympic bombings? He never should have been highlighted as a suspect (more by the press than by the police) without more information.

    • says

      The funny thing about journalism Phil is it’s like everything else, to get it right is hard work! The rush to get the story first sometimes makes journalists, bloggers, etc., take risks, hoping everything is accurate.

  4. says

    Another “tip” for writing responsible journalism: don’t fall into the he-said, she-said trap. Along with information, readers are looking for guides to help them navigate complex stories. Simply rushing back and forth, getting comment from both sides of a controversy is a disservice. There is this mistaken notion about “objectivity.” Objectivity doesn’t mean a science journalist with 40 years experience gives equal weight to comments that the world is flat in order to be “objective.” This is where perspective comes in. Take your specialized knowledge, filter the events and provide an informative report. You aren’t some flag-waving Communist if you help readers sift through a story.

    • says

      Ed, GREAT advice! Journalist, since the early 2000’s have gotten confused by what objectivity means, when you have one side saying the sky is blue and the other side saying the sky is actually polka dotted they now often give as much validity and attention to the polka dotted crew in order to show their fair. Putting things in perspective is incredibly important. Thanks.

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