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Why have citizen journalists

By   /   February 18, 2013  /   Comments

I’ve had a couple of people contact me, interested in providing content for our new offer to citizen journalists.  However, there have also been a couple of questions about why we’re doing this.  Well, that’s fair enough, and we’re more than willing to answer those questions.  However, since a couple have come up repeatedly, we figured why not answer those right here?

Why have these citizen journalists in the first place?

Well, as we said when we announced this, we have very limited resources.  There are a lot of great stories out there, but we just don’t have the means to cover them all.  We’re covering what we can, which isn’t a whole heck of a lot.  However, there are a lot of people with stories out there that can tell the stories just fine.

A lot of these stories are the kinds of things we would love to run, but as I’m the only full time staff member we currently have, it’s just not feasible to expect me to hit everything.  I’d love to cover all of those stories, but I can’t.  However, if enough Albanians step up, we can get those stories out there.

What kind of proof do I need for my story?

Some people want to write some investigative stuff, and that is awesome.  However, they want to know what kind of evidence, or proof, they need for what they want to write.  Honestly, this is a great question to ask, because I’m going to ask for copies when I go to edit the story.  Investigative stuff need as much evidence as humanly possible.  Anonymous sources are fine as a tip off point, but unless that source will let you introduce them to me, we don’t need to run them.  It is the Journal’s policy to not use anonymous sources unless they are known to the publisher or editor in a personal manner.

That said, an anonymous source can often tell you what to ask for regarding public records.  For the City of Albany, all public records requests need to go through city attorney Nathan Davis.  In other jurisdictions, you go through the head of the department that would maintain the records.  You do need records, and not just the word of the source.  Why?  We want to be able to post those records should a governmental entity claim that the report is false.

But what if it’s a private organization that you’re wanting to investigate.  Well, there are still records, and you need copies.  However, do not do anything illegal to get those copies.  If we find out you did, we willnot run your story.  I’m sorry folks, but there are lines we are not comfortable in crossing.

Can I use a pen name?

Yes, you can.  However, I will still need your real name.  This is for legal reasons.  However, we have no interest in “outting” anyone.  We have run stuff for people under pseudonyms before, and thus far their names have never been revealed.  We want folks to write stuff for us to run.  If we gave out personal information they didn’t want out there, we wouldn’t keep people’s trust very long.

So, if we’ll use a pseudonym, why did we offer to use their name in a byline?  Because that’s all we can offer right now.  We don’t have a lot of cash sitting around, so paying writers just isn’t something we can do right now.  However, we can give someone a byline.

Is anything off limits?

Only people’s personal life.  Folks, I know the Journal of yesteryear didn’t care.  If someone prominent was messing around on their wife, then it was likely to appear on the front page of the Journal.  Those days are gone.  Unless there is something that really is everyone’s business – like a city official taking his mistress on a trip at taxpayer expense, as a hypothetical example – I’m not interested in running it.

I’m sorry folks, but to me, that’s not news.  If you disagree, then I’m sorry.  I know that scandal sells, but my own standards won’t permit crossing that line.

I don’t want to run write investigative stuff.  Is it OK if I write features?

Absolutely.  While the Journal was known for investigative stuff, features are always welcome.  Honestly, I don’t really care what it is at that point.  There are tons of interesting things here in Albany, from people to places, and we want folks to know about them.

Who owns the rights to the piece?

We will own the rights to the story, but that is mostly as a means to prevent plagiarism.  We have had a problem in the past with a website running our stories without our consent.  This wasn’t malicious (they had been running just parts of our stuff with a link to us for the rest, and the code started running the whole story), but it was still a problem.  If we don’t retain the rights to this stuff, we couldn’t tell who was stealing content.

However, if we run a story that you would like to have run somewhere else, we’re open to that and are willing to work with you on that.  We’re not wanting to own your hard work, we’re just wanting to make sure it doesn’t get stolen, and that’s easier if we know who has permission to run it.

 

I hope this clears up some things, and I look forward to seeing what all the people of Albany can come up with.

Tom Knighton is the Editor and Publisher of the Albany Journal.

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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