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Four rules citizen journalists need to know
April 26, 2018

Journalist training in Ethiopia (USAID)

Technology and the reach of the internet have made it possible for citizen journalists to find large audiences. Although they don’t need print-distribution systems or the financial backing of a newspaper publisher, citizen journalists do need to know the principles good journalists have followed for decades.

Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic, who served as news editor for The Daily Princetonian and is currently a fellow at the the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, shares some imperatives for journalists to follow:

  • Disclose conflicts of interest. A potential conflict of interest is a reporter’s affiliation with the subject matter, source or media outlet. “Occasionally, I or another reporter got too close to our sources,” she explains. “At those times, editors found another reporter to interview the sources” or disclosed their conflicts of interest.
  • Get both sides. Reporters should seek a response from the people or institutions involved, especially if the coverage is negative.
  • Follow interview ground rules. “On the record” means anything a source tells a reporter can be fully reported and attributed. “On background” means a reporter can use the information a source tells him or her but cannot include the source’s name. “Off the record” means a reporter cannot publish the information at all, but can use it to enhance his or her contextual knowledge. Journalists should strive for on-the-record interviews and then confirm information with additional sources.
  • Correct mistakes. When The Daily Princetonian makes a mistake, it publishes a correction in both its print and online versions and offers an apology. “Admitting mistakes is crucial to gaining readers’ trust,” she says.

A free press plays a crucial role in making complex issues intelligible to the average citizen. To learn more about the standards U.S. journalists strive to achieve, see the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.