Highlights (pulled from Amy’s piece) for those who might be contacted by or interact with a citizen journalist/blogger and his or her forum:
- Don’t discriminate. Sadly, many organizations (especially corporations and government agencies, but some nonprofits also) only respond to info or interview requests from established media outlets. This not only can backfire (having someone post: “XYZ Association refused to talk to me” sometimes can be exactly the worst thing to happen in a crisis); it also can vaporize non-obvious opportunities to communities you might really want or need to reach. If you tend to field many similar requests from citizen journalists or bloggers, it may be a good idea to start your own blog and use that to post responses to the most common questions. That not only increases efficiency — it looks savvy in this medium and builds goodwill.
- Give the benefit of the doubt. Citizen journalism is definitely a mixed bag — some people are more responsible and skilled than others. Chances are if a citizen journalist is contacting you directly (rather than simply pondering aloud in public or making assumptions), he or she is at least trying to be responsible and fair.
- Smart: Don’t post traditional press releases to citizen journalism or community news venues. Please, just don’t. Even if the venue says it’s OK. Traditional press releases, even if well written, come across as stilted and less valuable. (Which is, like it or not, why most journalists loathe them.) If you’re going to write a story, write a real story. Make it engaging, and use an appropriate, non-fake tone.
- Transparent: If you’re employed by or affiliated with an organization or posting on its behalf, say so clearly. Never try to conceal that sort of important context — you can bet it’s the first thing you’ll be outed for, probably publicly and unpleasantly. In my experience, the people who are attracted to citizen journalism care more about having all the context they need to judge the merits of a story than about insisting that all sources of stories be “objective.” The fact is, since most citizen journalists are unpaid, they only publish on topics they care about or are involved in, so transparency is a higher value than objectivity in this realm.
The last two are biggies and can waste a bloggers time and, frankly, sour us on a particular source of info. Even when they are big sources.