Resources for citizen journalists & researchers

A deep collection of helpful pointers for anyone doing journalism

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, change-makers, media organizations, journalists, educators, students

JD LasicaBelow is one of the best collections of resources to help citizen journalists, nonprofits, businesses — and anyone doing research on the Web — learn techniques of accuracy, fairness, transparency, independence and thoroughness in online reporting. Seasoned professionals should find these useful as well. I led the Principles of Citizen Journalism project team that compiled this directory.

Click on the link to go to the desired section:

> Accuracy & fact-checking
> Fairness
> Transparency
> Independence
> Thoroughness

Accuracy & fact-checking

Tips for Fact Checking – Web style Guide
Northern Ireland’s government gives advice on fact checking and ways to improve accuracy. Specifically, tips are offered for self-editing and fact checking, with emphasis on providing documentation and correctly publishing sources.

Toolbox

American Press Institute Fact-Checking Resources
Here’s a collection of links to resources that aid in fact checking. Though mainly pertaining to political issues and politicians, also included are language, biographical and geographical reference tools.

Fact Checkers and Copy Editors
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Park Library offers advice on “smart, safe and efficient fact checking” to encourage greater accuracy. Offering advice on how to carry out research, websites to find resources and links to professional fact checkers, this presentation offers a wealth of resources.

My Research Needs Dot Com
Here’s a fee-based service for new and aspiring writers that offers them the chance to work with a professional fact checker. Katrina O’Brien offers fact checking, research, interview, image search and several other background investigation services.

factcheck

Fast Fact Check
The library in Arlington, Virginia, offers a list of resources for quick fact checking, mostly of a political nature. Categories of resources include political information, directories, and reference books and websites.

Poynter Online: Getting it Right – A Passion for Accuracy
Poynter Online offers not only many accuracy guidelines but also personal anecdotes and links to other websites to promote improved accuracy practices. In this article, Chip Scanlan offers practical advice to fellow journalists to increase the accuracy level of any piece.

O’Reilly Digital Media: 10 Journalism Tips for E-Writers
Even online journalists and bloggers sometimes need pointers on how to write a better story. These tips offer advice on accuracy and organization as well as several other related topics.

Publicity Hound’s Accuracy Tips
A short article that contains relevant tips for those engaging in interviews with contacts. Pre- and post-interview guidelines and checklists along with corresponding links to other helpful material are provided, as is a collection of suggestions about how a journalist should carry him/herself during an interview.

Is That a Fact?
Though designed primarily for students, journalists of any age can stand to benefit from the pointers and advice offered by Classroomtools.com. In addition, the site also offers 13 how-to examples of fact-checking and accuracy tests.

Accuracy in Media
Accuracy in Media strives “for fairness, balance and accuracy in news reporting” and posts several stories a week on various topics that illustrate this commitment. Unlike other sites, this page and its related content are best used as examples of accuracy in the media rather than as a collection of helpful hints and tips.

Fairness

Webdiary Ethics
An Austrialian blogger presents his professional journalistic code of ethics in this piece. Though placed in the “Fairness” section, this article could rightly be placed under almost any of our modules due to its emphasis on all five principles that we hope citizen journalists will internalize. The code of ethics as presented here is in the form of two lists: one that the author expects from himself as a journalist, and the other of what he expects from his contacts. All tips presented are useful and encourage respect and fairness toward sources and fellow journalists alike.

Journalism and Objectivity
Fairness, journalism and objectivity are deconstructed from the point of view of a journalist blogger in this erudite essay. A comparison between forms of objectivity and fairness in more traditional forms of media and contemporary, internet journalism are presented as well.

Fairness.com
Fairness.com is an overarching website that includes dozens of links to news stories with case studies in media fairness. In their own words, “Fairness.com provides database resources, message boards, and searchable article links for exploring virtually any fairness-related topic.”

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
This website features articles exploring fairness in several categories, with dozens of real-life examples of unfair or unbalanced reporting. Topics include the war in Iraq, the conflict in the Middle East, and immigration in the United States. In addition to these case studies, the site also serves as a repository for articles in the media that are critical of current mass media biases.

AIM: Accuracy In Media
AIM is a citizen media group designed to encourage accuracy and balance in mass media as well as among grassroots groups. AIM provides case studies and commentaries as well as a host of regular columnists and blogs regarding the aforementioned journalistic practices. Though it lacks any list of tips for journalists seeking fairness and balance, the site makes up for this in the sheer volume and number of columns and examples presented.

rhetorica

Rhetorica: Media and Political Bias
Rhetorica is devoted to detecting bias in the media and in politics. The site offers a checklist of “Critical Questions for Detecting Bias” as well as a structural breakdown of types of bias in the mass media. In addition, a theoretical approach to bias prevention and a raison d’etre for the practice of fairness assertion are offered.

Common Dreams: Fairness and accuracy in reporting
Common Dreams offers another example of bias in the mass media from a political perspective. The media advisory presented here addresses problems with coverage of the Iraq War and examines the American response to revelations that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

The Free Press
The Free Press is an online news magazine devoted to promoting fairness in the media and to producing its own articles that meet a high degree of accuracy and balance. Putting out its own “columns and dispatches,” the Free Press addresses the issues of journalistic integrity while also presenting numerous case studies that demonstrate what to do and what not to do as a journalist.

Media Research Center
The Media Research Center offers not only case studies in media bias, but also assessments and extensive analyses of topics related to media balance and bias. Their “Media Bias Basics” walk users through the finer points of fairness in the media and each offers an extensive study on each topic complete with statistics and history. Notably, the site also offers a wealth of case studies in media bias through the use of posting videos, an exceptionally useful multimedia tool. The videos can be found here.

Fairpress.org: Citizens Coalition for Responsible Media
Fairpress.org examines bias in the media through blogs, case studies and the “Media Bias Outrage of the Week,” a column devoted to pointing out the most egregious acts of unbalanced coverage in the mass media. Notably, these also take the form of both video feeds and written articles, enhancing the multimedia quality of the site.

media-awareness

Media Awareness Network: How to Detect Bias in the News
Unlike other sites devoted to asserting and pointing out media biases, the Media Awareness Network instead offers guidelines and tips for aspiring journalists seeking to eliminate bias in their work, while also offering a checklist of ways in which both journalists and observers can find bias in the newspaper and online. Though the link here is only to a checklist/handout, other, similar articles are also available from the handout’s parent site.

AlterNet
AlterNet.org, a venerable site for exploring bias and accuracy problems with the mass media, has added a new dimension with AlterNet Video, a section of the site devoted to exposing bias from a multimedia perspective. The site may be useful not only in disseminating case studies in media biases, but also as a teaching tool, as the site provides a daily stream of articles and blogs devoted to the same ends.

Transparency

Our Media Voice: Campaign for Accountability
With a focus on broadcast television, Our Media Voice points out bias in the mainstream media, as well as instances in which transparency is absent. “Our media, owned by only a handful of conglomerates, has a profound influence upon our society. They have created a universal culture that shapes how we see our world and drives public opinion and public policy,” the site says. Unlike other media outlets, Our Media Voice also promotes citizen journalism through an emphasis on feedback from readers and journalists alike.

Media Matters
Media Matters is a progressive organization that aims to “systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation” and bias. To this end, the site presents numerous examples of conservative influence over the mainstream media through several different forms of presentation: video, audio and print. These case studies are integral to citizen journalists seeking to point out (or avoid) the biases inherent in the mainstream media.

FEMA’s Dirty Little Secret
A trailer park housing refugees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina serves as a backdrop for this case study, as it examines the topic of transparency in news reports originating with the federal government. As part of the interview, the issue of press freedom is delved into, and readers can choose mp3, streaming video or written transcripts as their medium of choice for learning more.

SPJ: Freedom of Information
This section of the Society of Professional Journalists’ website is devoted to opening government records to scrutiny. To this end, it provides links and resources to journalists regarding government cover-ups and the like. The site also provides a case study of reporters covering stories in prisons as a means of demonstrating a lack of transparency and how to get around it.

How Mass Media Simulate Political Transparency
This academic essay from Yale University examines the lack of transparency in the mass media. Through the use of case studies and examples (with special emphasis on political scandals), the site demonstrates the causes and effects of a lack of transparency in the major news reporting organizations in the United States.

Media Transparency: The Money Behind Conservative Media
Media Transparency lists articles citing sources of funding for Republican and conservative Christian groups, and demonstrates through case studies the negative effects this funding has on mainstream media outlets. Additionally, the site provides a history of conservative manipulation of the media and a database containing hundreds of grants given by conservative organizations to media groups and think tanks.

Transparency Now
An eclectic mix of video, sound and written articles, Transparency Now examines the issues of funding and bias in film/TV as well as the press. Composed almost entirely of former journalist Ken Sanes’ essays, the site also contains examinations of pop culture in relation to American society as a special section devoted to simulation and transparency in the mass media.

AsiaMedia

Accuracy, Transparency and Fairness
Using Indonesia as a case study of a nation in which the accuracy, transparency and fairness journalism are not present in journalism outlets, UCLA’s AsiaMedia institute gives tips and pointers to journalists in the United States through the use of the Indonesian media as a foil. Though brief, the article also chronicles why bias occurs as well as its effects on the public when media transparency is non-existent.
Case Study in Media Corruption
Though difficult to understand for those not directly involved with internal medicine, presented here is a “case study of media corruption” with regards to the pharmaceutical industry and Readers Digest. It examines the links between funding of advertisements and the featuring of books that promote advertisers’ products in the magazine.

Methods and Bias of the Media
In this essay, Kuro5hin.org poster Michael Leza examines bias in the media through a comparison of mainstream sitcoms and other fictional, staged television programs. “What many of these same people are not aware of (and how could they be?) is that when they sit down to watch the nightly news, or their favorite artificial news-flavored product, they are in fact watching a show that has been just as managed, planned, and scripted as any episode of Seinfeld was.”

Center for Media and Democracy
Investigative journalism and the influence of politics on mass media are the focus of the CMD. As part of its PR Watch tool, the CMD presents case studies of journalism in which bias and a lack of transparency are both evident and detrimental. The site says, “The nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media ‘of, by and for the people.’”

Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Both accuracy and transparency are of paramount importance in citizen journalism, and this site attempts to tackle both these issues in regard to journalism and the Middle East. Despite its geographic focus, the site is a virtual repository for case studies of mass media biases.

MediaLens

Media Lens
Similar to many other sites on this list, Media Lens focuses on “correcting the distorted vision of the corporate media” in major stories around the world. Specifically, the site targets the BBC, though it also offers criticism of the U.S. news media and offers tips and insights from a number of bloggers whose works are posted on the site.

What’s Wrong With the News?
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting offers a critical assessment of the mainstream media, dividing examples of bias and a lack of transparency into nine categories as well as case studies and analyses of bias, though the site does not offer any specific tips for citizen journalists regarding transparency.

Podcasting as a Weapon for the Right
From mediatransparency.org comes this single case study that analyzes the possibility that the media, while embracing new technology on par with that of citizen journalists, is simultaneously falling prey to the same conservative groups who exacerbated a lack of transparency in radio. The issue should be of concern to citizen journalists not only because it deals with the compromising of a medium long known for its progressive outlook but also because it demonstrates the inability of mass media to escape bias regardless of technological advancements.

Journalism, Transparency and the Public Trust
Here’s an academic analysis of transparency in the mass media, and its effects on the public. Most importantly, the study deals with the issues of blogs and transparency. It also includes recommendations for improving transparency in the media and examines the implications of a public that has no access to a dialogue with the mass media.

Independence

The Memory Hole
The Memory Hole is a collection of case studies dealing with government shortcomings and corporate fraud and whose goal is to preserve information for journalists that would otherwise be either lost or unreleased. To this end, the site contains numerous “government files, corporate memos, police reports, congressional testimony” and similar documents. Additionally, the Memory Hole seeks to preserve independent journalism that is allowed to be critical of the government and those in power.

FreedomForum

Freedom Forum
Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to a free press and free speech, collects and analyzes articles gleaned from the mainstream media. Its utility as a repository of articles is aided in part by the fact that the site also has a separate set of links related to the upholding of First Amendment rights and journalistic independence. With additional links to the First Amendment Center and Newsroom Diversity Programs, the site provides services to journalists aside from research tools.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Focusing mainly on journalists themselves rather than the stories they cover, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press promotes journalistic integrity and independence in the face of intimidation from the mass media and the government. Mainly a collection of articles related to journalists and their exploits, the site also provides guidelines on how to access juvenile courts and electronic records, a guide to state-by-state phone taping laws and other sections that may be helpful to journalists seeking greater independence.

Poynter Online: The Value of Independence
Poynter author Bob Steele gives advice and pointers to journalists seeking to promote a higher degree of independence in their work. Pulling from two sources, including from the Society of Professional Journalists, Steele offers citizen journalists advice on what it means to be an independent reporter and steps that can be taken to enhancing credibility while also upholding ethical journalistic standards.

The Ethics of Civic Journalism: Independence as the Guide
The relationship between journalists and the public they serve is examined in this article, which raises the questions, “Should reporters be investigators of system failure or initiators of solutions? Should journalists be detached observers or activist participants?” and gives advice on how journalism can best meet the needs of an author’s home community. Through championing an approach that is independent both of the government and the petty disputes some journalists become bogged down in, author Bob Steele hopes to reinvigorate public trust and faith in journalists.

Journalism Tools
Journalism.org has an extensive section of tools for citizens, professional journalists, students and teachers on independence and the other foundation topics. While not focused on citizen media, these link provide advice and examples from professionals and major media organizations such as CBS that are easily adaptable.

Inside BBC Journalism: Independence
As part of its series on journalistic integrity and ethics, the BBC presents this module on independence, which chronicles the importance of the ideal as applied to the BBC’s many reporters. As related through numerous case studies, the section “examines how BBC journalists strive to make programmes independently of commercial, political and other interests” in order to provide the public with a factual, unbiased view on world events.

Journalistic Integrity and Independence of the Press
Journalistic independence is applied to Africa through two case studies in this document from Stanhopecentre.org that chronicles the struggle to first create and then preserve an independent media in three east African nations. The document contains a list of duties for independent journalists.

The Fund for Independence in Journalism
A non-profit organization aimed at providing for and supporting investigative reporting, the Fund for Independence in Journalism helps fund various programs designed to counter the efforts of the mainstream media to introduce bias into journalism. The site provides a list of facts, each of which chronicles an instance in which politics took precedence over journalistic integrity and the news story that emerged was steeped in bias. The site also chronicles press intimidation, control of information and sponsored news.

A Handbook of Reuters Journalism
Reuters provides its own guidelines and advice for journalists seeking to provide balanced and independent reporting of current events. Independence is “crucial to Reuters’ ability to report on companies, institutions and individuals in the financial markets, many of whom are also their customers, without regard for anything other than accuracy, balance and the truth.” As with the guidelines set forth by CBS, these are not originally designed with citizen journalists in mind, though they are readily applicable.

digital independence

The Media’s Independence Problem
As part of the World Policy Journal, author Jonathan Mermin uses the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an example of non-independent media and the problems associated with having journalists colluding with the military and government when writing their stories or reporting. Focusing on the First Amendment’s provision for an independent press, Mermin explores the journey of the American mass media from an independent entity to one dependent on the government for its information and funding.

The Rise of Media Independence
This article by blogger-journalist Doc Searls in the technology publication Linux Journal is important for its examination of media as a one- or two-way interaction between journalists and the public. While the author encourages efforts to increase media independence, he also recognizes that today’s media is anything but that and makes suggestions for reforms. The article is also important for its emphasis on news that can be consumed or produced with equal ease, a topic of definite interest and importance to citizen journalists.

Media Independence: Is Self-Regulation an Answer? (PDF from worldbank.org, article on p. 32)
In light of the problems associated with government-regulated media, the World Bank explores the possibility of self-regulation among media outlets as a means of creating a responsible press corps in developing nations. Though not aimed primarily at U.S. citizen journalists who focus on domestic issues, the article does make a number of insights into citizen journalism in the developing world and the need for a responsible cadre of journalists to accurately and responsibly serve the populations of developing nations.

berkeley daily planet

Celebrating Media Independence
An editorial in the alternative publication the Berkeley Daily Planet, this piece decries criticism of articles in the New York Times that are themselves highly critical of the Bush administration’s policies after 9/11. The author calls for greater oversight of politicians and a loosening of the reins currently used to keep the mass media in the service of those in power. Though it features no pointers or tips, the essay is valuable for its insights into the contemporary media’s role in restricting public information access.

Independent Media Center
The Independent Media Center describes itself as “a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage.” The site both encourages and provides examples of independent news media that are not part of larger media conglomerates, and also features an option that allows users to publish their own stories or videos on the site, a priceless tool for citizen journalists seeking to get their story out.

Thoroughness

J-Lab
J-Lab says it “helps news organizations and citizens use new information ideas … to develop new ways for people to engage in critical public policy issues.” To this end, the site provides case studies of political issues from the media (many of these are multi-media and interactive), as well as blogs and podcasts with a similar function. Additionally, a half dozen examples of participatory content on websites are listed as a means of providing an example for those seeking to take the Web to the next level.

Brandeis University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism
Brandeis University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism provides case studies for citizen journalists who seek to promote thoroughness and accuracy in their work. Additionally, the site offers a special section for students, along with areas of emphasis that include political/social/gender justice projects and an examination of flaws in the mainstream media. Offline, the Institute also has internships devoted to budding citizen journalists, and offers programs in which students can learn more about investigative journalism and research techniques.

Diversity toolbox

Diversity Toolbox
The Society of Professional Journalists provides a list of tips and recommendations for journalists trying to provide fair and balanced coverage of any story. “This is not at all about being politically correct; it’s about doing good journalism. Fair, accurate, balanced, solid and thorough journalism.”

Journalism and Mass Communication Resources
Combining links from dozens of websites and listing them under several distinct categories (CyberJournalism, Gender relations, Media Law, etc.), this site at the University of Iowa is an excellent starting point for citizen journalists who seek to learn more about the subjects of their stories. The wealth of links listed here provide a useful resource for the promotion of thorough and accurate writing.

Research Databases from CSU Long Beach
Though designed primarily for CSU Long Beach students, this site serves as a guide for various internet resources, databases to locate articles, and other research tools. The goal of the site is to “provide a comprehensive starting point for research in the field of journalism,” and to promote thoroughness in citizen journalism.

Research in Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon
This site is a repository for other databases that can help journalists in researching the topics of their stories. Pointers include not only web resources but also links to databases for finding scholarly articles, contacting experts and doing basic background research on almost any topic.

Journalistic Research at University of Oregon
Research is integral to maintaining journalistic thoroughness, and this site provides (in PDF form) a list of tips as well as a walk-through of how to compile information that can be used to write an article or story. The document contains not only a list of questions that can be used as a guide for obtaining relevant and practical background material but also a list of potential research tools and tips.

Journalist Express
The Journalist Express serves as a central collection of links to various news organizations and websites that can be used to obtain background information for a news article or story. Though the sources presented here are mainly in the mainstream media, a few citizen journalism and other sites are also present.

CyberJournalist.net SuperSearch
CyberJournalist.net’s SuperSearch feature allows users to easily comb through encyclopedia, major news sites, citizen journalist sites or major search engines to find out more about a subject. By condensing so many resources into a single page, the SuperSearch tool can be extremely useful for performing background research on almost any topic.

Web Resources for Journalists
Unlike other resource mongers, this site has links to online resources only. These range in type from search engines, to reporting tools, to legal resources to the Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB). All are potentially useful tools for ensuring a greater degree of thoroughness and accuracy in citizen journalism.

Completeness and Exclusion in Journalism Ethics
This site provides a case study in which journalistic integrity and thoroughness were not maintained, and serves as an example of “what not to do.” While the article itself originates from the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, its implications and high regard for journalistic integrity are universal and equally applicable today.

Gannett web resources

Web Resources for Newsrooms
Though ostensibly designed with TV news reporting in mind, this site provides a plethora of online research tools to aid journalists in any field to better find what they need. The databases include UC’s Datamine, guides to almanacs and encyclopedias, and the requisite search tool for use with mass media news sites.

Journalism Publications and Resources for Writers
With a small collection of links to various international newspapers, the Sun Oasis site is best suited to journalists seeking to write or learn more about international affairs. The site also has a special resource section devoted to 9/11 that contains links to articles and resources regarding both the attack and the war on terrorism.

Journalism Research Pages
The API provides a list of citizen journalist pages for reference purposes and to help writers learn about current events without the bias of the mass media. The collection is especially notable for its emphasis on facilitating independent resources rather than CNN or other “big name” sites.

nuzGeeks.com
NuzGeeks provides a database of videos, articles and other publications devoted to improving thoroughness in citizen journalism and exposing shortcomings in the mass media. Its strongest point is the inclusion of audio and video tools to help facilitate an understanding of what’s needed in citizen journalism.

No Frills Jumplist
As produced by San Francisco State University’s Journalism School, the No Frills Jumplist provides links to online reference works, local government websites, a “people finder” link and links to most major news media organizations. In addition, it links to sites designed to specifically help journalists achieve the goal of more balanced and thorough reporting.

Other citizen media resources

J-Learning
Numerous online journalism tutorials related to reporting and the Web.

NewsU

News U
Run by the non-profit Poynter Institute, it has a number of good, free online journalism courses open to everyone.

EditTeach.org
A site funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with many resources for editors, as well as a growing online section.

Investigative Reporters Resource Center
The center offers tips on developing leads and using public records. You can also buy cleaned public data from them if you’re interested. Check out the IRE listserv as well.

Reporters Cookbook
A wiki with how-tos, particularly related to computer-assisted reporting.

Florida Public Records Handbook
In this valuable handbook, Joe Adams highlights Florida stories that have used public records in them. Price: $26.82.

Also see articles bookmarked on these topics at del.icio.us.

This directory originally appeared as part of the Knight News Network’s Principles of Citizen Journalism project. J.D. Lasica was the project lead. It is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.