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Tips For Doing Quality Citizen Journalism

Use These To Make Sure You're Producing Topnotch Work

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As a citizen journalist you're essentially an independent operator, free of the constraints and bureaucracy of a professional newsroom. But working on your own can make it difficult to gauge whether you're really doing the best work possible. Here are some tips to help ensure you're not just a citizen journalist, but a good citizen journalist.

1. Follow a Code of Conduct

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If you wanted be respected as a journalist, you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner when covering stories. Always be upfront with people about the fact that you're a reporter, and be courteous. Keep your opinions to yourself. And don't take bribes.

2. Be a Thorough Reporter

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Journalism starts with reporting, not writing. A lot of legwork is necessary to produce solidly reported stories. Gather as much information as you can about your story, and then some. Double-check everything. Get all sides of the issue. Think of the questions readers will have about your story, then see if you've answered them. If not, keep working.

3. Be Objective And Fair

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Anyone can vent their opinions. It takes real professionalism as a journalist to keep your own views out of the story, and to be fair, even to people with whom you disagree. Remember, a news story isn't about what the reporter thinks - it's about what the people involved in the story have to say. And when you start to write your story, resist the urge to editorialize.

4. Avoid Libel

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The United States has the freest press in the world, but with that freedom comes responsibility. Every reporter, citizen or otherwise, needs to understand the basics of libel law, and how to avoid producing stories that are libelous. It all starts with good, solid reporting, and finding the facts.

5. Avoid Plagiarism

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With all the resources of the internet at your fingertips, it's tempting to take others' work and use it as your own. But that's a temptation any reporter with integrity has to avoid. Do your own reporting, and when you need to use information from other news sources, be sure to credit it to its source. In the end, what you'll find that is that it's much more satisfying to dig up your own stories than to crib the work of others.

6. Learn The Newswriting Format

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You can gather terrific, compelling information, but if you don't present it in a way that makes it easy for your audience to digest, your work will be for nothing. So use the the inverted pyramid format for your hard news stories. It works because it stresses putting the most important information at the top of the news story. Readers with limited time will appreciate being able to get the gist of your story in the very first paragraph.

7. Learn Associated Press Style

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Associated Press style is the gold standard usage for print journalism. Learn it - and use it- to give your stories that extra bit of professional polish that will get attention. Get into the habit of checking your stylebook whenever you write a story, and pretty soon you'll start to memorize some of the most common style points.

8. Find A Mentor

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Working on your own can make it difficult to tell whether you're producing good work or not. So why not seek advice and input from a professional journalist? Call your local newspaper, TV station or website and see if you can arrange a meeting with a reporter, editor or producer. Explain what you're doing and see if they have suggestions to offer. Or read profiles and articles about professional journalists on this website. Taking tips from the pros can only help your own work.

9. Get Feedback

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In the end, the best way to know if you're producing interesting, well-reported stories is to see what others think. You can get this kind of feedback by showing your stories to friends or family, by seeking comments on the website or blog where you post your stories, or from journalism forums like the one on this site. Or check your local college or university to see if they have a journalism professor you can show your work to. And remember, praise is great, but criticism - especially the constructive kind - usually teaches us more.

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