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Citizen Journalism Publishing Standards

First Posted: 04- 7-09 11:57 AM   |   Updated: 04-14-09 09:26 PM

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All published pieces must meet certain editorial standards. You can help expedite the publishing process by following a few simple guidelines:

1) JUST THE FACTS

Stick to what you directly observe when reporting a story - never invent details or embellish facts.

Be stingy with your use of modifiers and adjectives - don't exaggerate or heighten the details. You're not writing a novel; you're reporting an event or situation as it really happened.

Interviews conducted by phone or in person will be an essential part of every story - after all, you're not writing an essay but reporting on an event.

When quoting people, it is essential to be meticulous and preserve their statements exactly as they were expressed. Don't add words, clean them up to hide poor grammar or slang. If you are concerned that a quote may embarrass a speaker, then paraphrase their comments without using direct quotes.

It is strictly forbidden to use fictitious quotations, composite people or phantom sources.

2) AVOIDING HEARSAY

Also, be very careful to avoid hearsay in your reporting, no matter how trustworthy the source may be. If someone tells you that their landlord refuses to turn on the heat, you need to make sure that you don't repeat that information as if it was a fact. You have to emphasize that the interviewee is making that claim either by paraphrasing their comments or through a direct quote.

The responsible journalist will attempt to verify such a claim by talking to the other side. In the above case, interview the landlord ("Do you refuse to turn on the heat in that building?") to get their side of the story.

Refrain from repeating or quoting someone's negative comments that are not relevant to the story ("He's ugly and stupid...")

If someone tells you negative information about another person that implies illegality, don't use their comments unless you can verify them with the appropriate law-enforcement agency. In the heat of the moment, people are prone to make all kinds of allegations.

3) OMIT IRRELEVANT OPINION

Again, stick to the facts. Though you may sympathize with the people you are interviewing, do not take a position. An injustice can be remedied by exposing the truth of the situation.

As Justice Louis Brandeis said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

4) PLAGIARISM AND GIVING CREDIT

Never plagiarize - it is the hallmark of a lazy journalist. Always attribute material when using material from newspapers, Websites, TV, radio, books or other outlets.

5) SPELLING AND GRAMMAR

Make sure you have checked for spelling and grammatical errors. We'll check again, but a quick run through for missing words can make a big difference. Be sure to get the spelling of names right.

6) INTEGRITY OF PHOTOGRAPHS

Just as the writing of a news story demands integrity, the same applies to photos. Never alter or edit a photo so that it could potentially mislead or deceive the reader.

7) ALWAYS IDENTIFY YOURSELF

Do not misrepresent yourself when you interact with a source. Before you start quoting them, you should tell them that you are reporting the story for Huffington Post. Always treat your sources respectfully.

8) IDENTIFYING SOURCES

Make the greatest possible effort to get your sources to go "on the record" - which means that you can use their quotes. But if they don't want to be quoted, respect their right not to be named.

In extreme circumstances - where the information is vital and the person has a legitimate fear of being named - you can use their quotes and respect their anonymity. But you NEED to verify that arrangement with them: "Can I use your quotes without naming you?" "I won't name you but can I quote you?" "If I don't quote you, how can I refer to you?"

There are varying definitions of "off the record" and "on background" but here is the most common interpretation of those terms:

"Off the Record" is generally meant to indicate that the information is provided only for informational purposes and is not meant to be attributed in quotes.

"On Background" is generally meant to indicate that the information can be paraphrased but not in direct quotes and is not to be attributed to a named source.

But since there are varying definitions of these terms, it is vital to first reach an understanding with the source on how they want their comments to be used.

9) FACT-CHECK YOUR SOURCES

As we emphasized before, make sure to fact-check your sources, many of whom may be prone to exaggeration or have an agenda when talking to a reporter.

Always strive to verify any information from sources, either through your own interviews, through trusted news outlets, or through legal documents.

Filed by Matthew Palevsky  |  Report Corrections