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5, Must-Know Standards Citizen Journalists Should Know and Practice

Citizen journalism involves those who aren’t professionally trained in journalism to take part in one of the foundations of democracy by conducting their own reporting and interviewing. The rise of social media has allowed the number of citizen journalists to exponentially grow where information and visuals can be attained and shared in mere seconds. But there’s been skepticism regarding the growing number of citizen journalists and how they contribute, such as the accuracy of information, how that information is portrayed, and a lack of standard training unlike their professional counterparts.

If you want to report news and label such information as factual and journalistic, then you should have a grasp on the foundation and basics of journalism.

Five, Must-Know Standards Citizen Journalists Should Know and Practice:

  1. Journalism Ethics
  2. Learn about journalism ethics for citizen journalists and why upholding ethics while reporting information is vital.
    Image from Journalism Degree.
    Journalists are given or discover powerful information for a story at one time or another. Knowing how to ethically handle such information is important as the main role of a journalist is to report confirmed, factual information to the public while maintaining one’s reputation.

    Aidan White, Director of Ethical Journalism Network, describes the five core values of journalism, which include: accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity, and accountability.

  3. Media Law
  4. Learn about media law for journalists and why citizen journalists should understand the major and most impactful cases.
    Image from Our Lady of the Lake University: Comm 2340 Media Law.
    What may be considered one of the more complex journalism areas, media law involves learning how past cases were handled and how such legal outcomes influence how journalists practice and report today. Understanding the bigger and more historical significant court cases allows citizen journalists to not only understand their legal rights, but also knowledge of how to handle any issues that may arise from obtaining or publishing information.

    From copyright to libel and slander, to invasion of privacy and first-amendment rights, journalists must know where the law currently stands with such areas, and how journalism and freedom of press evolved before and during those court cases.

    Resources on media law for journalists:

  5. AP Style
  6. Why citizen journalists should know AP Style.Journalists even have their own writing style that citizen journalists should adapt in order to maintain consistency and professionalism.

    When I was accepted into UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, all students were required to take a news-writing class that involved learning the do’s and don’ts of AP Style and other areas. I remember studying various parts of the AP Stylebook—literally—and being tested on them, such as when to write out names of cities and states.

    Purchase the most recently published AP Style guide and read through the more common sections to familiarize yourself with the proper forms of words and grammar. This, in turn, will increase your professionalism as well as the likelihood that a media outlet, professional organization or person will share or re-publish your article.

    Resources on becoming familiar with AP Style:

  7. Interviewing Techniques
  8. Learn how to interview sources and other resources for citizen journalists.
    Image from journalism.about.com.
    Being able to find, interview, and successfully include direct quotes and/or paraphrases into your story is a vital and strong skill to have as a journalist. Also, as discussed earlier in the ethical standards of journalism, ensuring the story has the whole story instead of only one side will not only make your story stronger, but will also seem more impartial.

    One of my first interviews I ever conducted happened my senior year of high school as an intern at my hometown’s local newspaper, The State Port Pilot. I was very nervous and tried to write down every word the source said, which I successfully did—although my notes were almost illegible! However, the more I interviewed, the more confident I became in my ability to find great sources and record the discussion. You don’t need to record every single word, but instead, be able to note the main topics he/she talks about as well as quoting one or two very strong quotes; this method worked well for me. Also, always ask if you can contact them again in case you need to confirm anything.

    Another method involves using a recording device while interviewing; however, there may be some limitations in recording sources, which you should review prior to using one. It’s also polite to let your source know that you would like to record them prior to the interview.

    Resources for bettering your interviewing skills:

  9. Fact-Checking
  10. Fact-checking and journalism: Jon Stewart quote.
    Image from AZ Quotes.
    Double-—no—triple-check the facts: names, places, quotes, and anything else that may slip by. By fact checking your work prior to publication and having a different set of eyes on it, if possible, you’re setting yourself up for success. Ensuring the names of people, places, organizations, etc., are spelled correctly will not only uphold your professionalism but increase the likelihood of no potential conflicts.

    Resources on fact-checking:

Citizen journalists who understand and practice these journalistic standards will find their reporting, ability to handle conflicts, and overall reputation become more confident and professional.

Have another tip or technique that all journalists should know? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Benefits of nature for health and creativity.

Why You Need More Nature in Your Life

Benefits of nature and enjoying the great outdoors can help your mental health among other factors.
Image from Fix.com. Click to open full image; expand for better legibility.

The idea that spending time in nature and taking a break from technology increases your well-being shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The benefits of nature are not only great for your health, but allow you to build a different perspective of the world, as well.

A 2014 study at the University of Michigan found that nature walks were associated with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental well-being.

Research is being conducted in Japan on the physiological effects of shinrin-yoku—also known as “forest bathing,” which means to take a walk in the woods.

According to this 2011 study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, the benefits of nature “may lower blood pressure by reducing sympathetic nerve activity (reducing urinary noradrenaline levels) and increasing parasympathetic nerve activity. In addition, habitual walking in forest environments may have beneficial effects on blood adiponectin and DHEA-S levels, and habitual walking exercise may have beneficial effects on blood NT-proBNP levels.”

Whenever I have the luxury of being outside, I take in all of the natural colors, types of plant and animal life, and sites that nature has to offer. Living in Colorado, it’s almost second-nature for everyone to be passionate in hiking, camping, etc.

Great Sand Dunes view from backcountry campsite.
The Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, CO, where I backcountry camped and hiked in 2016.

The sand dunes were an amazing place to explore. The colors changed according to the sun’s position—as shown in the above image where the sun was starting to set. This place was captivating where it was so quiet during evening and nighttime that you could perfectly hear your own heartbeat due to the lack of ambient sound as well as a jaw-dropping view of the stars. Not being bombarded with city sounds and getting the chance to see every spec of the Milky Way visible to the human eye are definitely some benefits of nature that I experienced those two nights in the Dunes.

Sunflower center shows the logarithmic spiral occurring natural in nature.
From Jim Wilson at the University of Georgia.

More benefits of nature include seeing how everything comes together in the details. How do colors interact when leaves are changing due to the changing seasons? What shapes form when the wind relentlessly pounds against a rock? When it snows, what shapes are formed by individual snowflakes?

You can find the answer to such questions by taking the time to explore the intricate details of the outdoors and not just the big picture. Time and time again I strive to examine as many things as possible while hiking. Because of this, I observed how balance plays itself out in both symmetrical and asymmetrical ways—similar to best practices and techniques in the design world. After seeing such wonders, I was able to observe the outside world in a completely different point-of-view—along with a newfound respect for nature.

According to this American Scientist article, “Twisted Math and Beautiful Geometry,” mathematical and geometric concepts occur naturally in nature and influence how we see and experience the world around us.

“Of the numerous mathematical curves we encounter in art, geometry, and nature, perhaps none can match the exquisite elegance of the logarithmic spiral. This famous curve appears, with remarkable precision, in the shape of a nautilus shell, in the horns of an antelope, and in the seed arrangements of a sunflower.”

We all need a break from reality once in awhile, so take to the trail, or even your backyard, to discover the benefits of nature for—not only your well-being—but your creativity, as well!

Why You Should Volunteer Your Journalism Skills

This post was published on First Draft, the Society of Professional Journalist’s Generation J’s Committee blog: blogs.spjnetwork.org/genj/2016/09/01/volunteer-journalism-skills/


In a society where both new and seasoned journalists are expected to keep up with the digital revolution and competition, feelings of being overwhelmed are commonplace. How are you expected to land a job if:

  1. You just graduated and don’t have any years (or decades) of professional experience, or
  2. The skills required include either a few or ALL of the following: produce videos, manage social media, write stories and blogs, build graphics, build a rocket ship to the moon, etc.

That’s where volunteering for just a few hours a week can save you in more ways than one.

Volunteering Can Help You With Your Career

If you volunteer, you'll have a 27% higher chance of finding employment than those who don't volunteer.
Image from Non-Profit Quarterly.

According to a Forbes article, “The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes volunteerism, tracked more than 70,000 jobless people between 2002 and 2012 and found that those who volunteered had a 27% better chance of finding a job than those who didn’t.”

My first journalism-related, volunteer experience was with Citiwide Pre-Vocational Center in Washington, DC, which seeks to improve and foster employment opportunities for low-income families in the metro. I had a quick email and phone interview with the founder and became the Social Media and Website Coordinator from 2012 to 2013. While there, I cleaned the website’s HTML and CSS, managed social networks, and designed a new logo for them.

One of my first logo designs I did for Citiwide Pre-Vocational Center as part of my volunteering experience.

Image above: The logo I created for Citiwide Pre-Vocational Center back in 2013, which was one of the first logos I helped design.

Another experience involved volunteering at Fuzzy Faces Refuge in North Carolina, which provides a sanctuary for common and endangered animal species and works to promote safe interaction with humans. While volunteering, I helped maintain their website and social networks, photography and videography, and even helped market a few events.

Above: Here is a video I quickly produced for one of Fuzzy Faces Refuge’s annual events. This video isn’t perfect, but to visually show and brand this event for the non-profit was worthwhile as they were extremely appreciative and it was fun! (youtu.be/i3VtAIzgSPI)

U.S. News wrote, “5 Ways Volunteering Can Save Your Job Search,” where volunteering can increase your morale, grow your network, upgrade your resume, teach you new skills or improve on existing ones, and even help you choose a career.

Every time I had an interview with a company during or after these experiences, the interviewer would be very interested in my volunteering background. Those experiences became a unique part of my background and helped me land two different jobs after college. Volunteering also helped me increase my network and skills.

Volunteering is Great for Your Physical & Mental Health

Volunteering makes people feel good about themselves because they help without expecting anything in return. People donate their time and efforts to a non-profit whose mission they believe benefits society. According to a post on Harvard’s blog, “Participants who volunteered with some regularity lived longer, but only if their intentions were truly altruistic. In other words, they had to be volunteering to help others—not to make themselves feel better.”

Searching for a job right out of college can be hard and challenging. You may be left with feelings of low self-esteem as well as a fear of the unknown, but volunteering can benefit you! According to a study from the University of Exeter Medical School in England, volunteers have lower levels of depression, enhanced well-being, and are more satisfied with life. There’s also evidence “of an approximately 20 percent reduction in mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers.”

Regardless of whether you’re just starting out in your career or are a seasoned journalist, you should consider volunteering your journalistic skills as it will benefit you in some way. I couldn’t wait to help at events or to promote content for the non-profit because I knew I was benefitting their mission while expanding my own skills and network!

If you’re interested in volunteering, I recommend the following sites to get started:

Sources:

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