Photograph by Alex Steffler
What exactly is a citizen journalist these days and where do ethics lie when retrieving information?
“The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others,” according to Mark Glaser of PBS.
The video below discusses how powerful citizen journalism can really be. Take a look:
So does this mean a regular person like me can go out on the streets and report a car accident that happened in front of my workplace and upload videos, pictures as well as a story to my own personal website? Yes.
Does this also mean I can report news events I was not present at but use information, quotes, photographs and videos, collected from publications as my own reporting? No.
Citizen journalism maintains itself well, especially in smaller communities where large publications or even small ones do not cover. My example of a car accident could be of journalistic value to a small neighborhood or other things like little league sports or school plays.
The information collected in journalism like previously mentioned is usable and doesn’t deal with copyright infringement. If a citizen journalist who ran a small community blog wanted to possibly comment on something like The Academy Awards and used information derived from a media outlet like The Los Angeles Times, that information would be taken without permission.
Most citizen journalists use blogs as an outlet for their journalism because it’s easy, fast and can reach a large audience if you utilize social networking like Twitter, Digg and StumbleUpon avidly; however, authors can come across problems when publishing their work online and that problem is copyright infringement.
How can a person avoid copyright errors? For starters, you can writing your own news, avoid using pictures that you don’t have permission to use (be your own photographer, use Flickr creative commons or Getty Images), make sure you attribute and link back articles if you quote anyone and do not plagiarize.
You can also protect your own work from having its own copyright infringement; if you write anything on the Internet—even for a publication—it may likely end up elsewhere with or without credit to your name. If your income comes from your written works, this can be detrimental to your career as well as your bank account.
There are websites (like copyright.gov which lends helpful information on the topic) that will allow you to register your work for a small fee preventing this type of problem from happening.
So keep reporting local news and covering events you attend, you don’t have to be a staff writer to write about something just remember: it’s perfectly okay to be a citizen journalist, just not a citizen plagiarizer.