An on-air cable news reporter said recently, “Send us your photos and videos of the flood but be careful out there and stay safe.” It was a worthy warning for citizen journalists who want to get the big story and bust into the cable news show with an exciting video, image or report.
But putting yourself in danger is only one of several warnings citizen journalists should heed. Here are ten BAD IDEAS for citizen journalists:
It’s a bad idea to be a photo forger – the manipulation of any digital image is a big mistake. It is NEVER right to Photoshop someone in or out of a picture or otherwise change the true image. It makes you a liar and a fraud.
It’s a bad idea to put your self in any kind of danger. Just because the river is rising doesn’t mean you have to walk out to the levee for a great shot of the breach! It could kill you – as could walking into the middle of a street melee for a better view of the brawl.
It’s a bad idea to trespass. If you don’t have permission to walk across the field or into an office, don’t go there. To trespass is a criminal act so get permission first or you may get acquainted with your local police!
It’s a bad idea to mislead. Tell the truth – even if it’s not what you wanted to write about. “Spin” is just a nice word for hoodwink. Make sure your photos, videos, cutlines, headlines and news stories deal with real facts presented in an honest sequence for the most accurate story.
It’s a bad idea to fabricate news. Don’t invent events, create characters or make up quotations. If you want a quick and certain end to your career as a citizen journalist, just make up some news and you’ll soon be on your way back to your old dead-end job.
It’s a bad idea to hurt people for the sake of a story. Some news hurts innocent people so be careful when doing a story on a tragic situation. Have some human compassion for victims and/or their loved ones.
It’s a bad idea to identify certain people. Juvenile suspects or victims should NEVER be identified. Adult or child victims of sexual abuse should NEVER be identified.
It’s a bad idea to take bribes. Bribes can come in the form of special favors, gifts, fees, travel expenses, or special treatment for covering an event or for spinning the story a certain way. All are wrong and must be avoided.
It’s a bad idea to plagiarize. Research is one thing – plagiarism is something else. Many journalists (citizen or professional) have ruined their careers because they couldn’t bother to write the story their way but just lifted it word-for-word from someone else.
It’s a bad idea to disregard common sense. Don’t get so caught up in an event or a story that you lose a sense of right or wrong, safety or danger. Pay attention to your gut feelings. If it feels wrong or dangerous – it probably is. It’s your career and sometime it’s your life that is at stake.
Ron Ross is the co-author of Handbook for Citizen Journalists, the only book written FOR aspiring and active citizen journalists. www.citizenjournalistnow.com