Citizen Corner

We highly value citizen reporting. CJs are first on the scene, and they choose what is important to cover for themselves and their community.

Here we provide some guidelines to help report on events as they happen, in video, photo, or text as well as through conversations with others on social media sites.

What's news?
Shooting video for the Web
Writing for the Web
Keeping the dialogue civil
How to send your content

The story behind the story, from the newsroom

What's news?

Avoid Trouble
Reporting is not an easy job, often it is dangerous. Here are a few links where you can get advice and support to avoid running into trouble:

IFJ's Survival Guide for Journalists
RSF's Handbook for Journalists
CPJ's Journalists Assistance Program
You have a mobile phone, facebook account, or twitter account or other social media tool and you witness something that needs reporting: Congratulations, you are a citizen reporter.

But before you hit the 'send' button, let's consider a few points:
  • Why is this news worthy? Is this story worth reporting? You need to have a reason for making a development public.
  • What is happening? Are you sure you understand what is happening? Who is involved? What are they doing? Why? Can you name the place accurately? Make sure to include the date and time of the event or incident.
  • Why is it relevant to an audience? What are the implications?
  • Are there issues of privacy involved? Issues of copyright? If you are filming a funeral, for example, are you sure this is a public event? If you are attending a show or an exhibition maybe the art work is covered by copyright.

It's more important to get it right than to get it fast.
Dan Southerland, RFA Executive Editor


Here is a brief check list that will help avoid mistakes:
  1. Stick to what you see. Don't add your own thinking, be as precise as possible. If you quote someone be extremely careful not to misinterpret their statement.
  2. Verify what people say. Beware individual judgments, they could be libelous.
  3. If you quote another news sources, make sure you say it up front. For example, name the newspaper from which you are picking the news from.
  4. Double check your spelling.
  5. Identify yourself, identify sources, unless there is significant risk doing so.

Shooting video for the Web

  1. If you're planning to shoot video footage for RFA, read our terms of use first.
  2. Get acquainted with your equipment ahead of time. Try a few takes at home until you feel comfortable with the video camera, the cell phone or any other device you might use as well as the tripod if you have one.
  3. Remember that you are not going to capture the whole story of what's happening on video; you will just offer a window into a situation, a character, or a place.
  4. Start with a static, wide angle shot, and hold it for 15 seconds. During that time, try to tell us where you are, what's the date and time, and who's on tape. Then, make your move to zoom in or pan, and hold the next static shot for an additional 15 seconds.
  5. Please, refrain from speaking after the introduction as we need natural sound, such as the noise of a busy street. Sound is critical to the story. Think of it this way: Shooting video is like taking a 30-second picture. Count to 30 in your head for each take.
  6. Be aware of composition in your shots. Avoid busy backgrounds if possible.
  7. If you're interviewing a person: Position the camera three feet from the subject on a tripod. If you don't have a tripod, use a pile of books, or anything that will hold the camera steady. Film the person you are interviewing by asking two questions. This take should run no longer than five minutes. When you're finished with your interview, film the surroundings of the story (this is called B roll.) This should not exceed 10 minutes.
  8. Avoid panning from side to side or zooming in and out with the camera - hold your shots and look for the one moment that's really captivating.  If you're constantly panning and zooming, the one shot you'll really want to use will lose its impact with all the movement by the camera.
  9. Shoot horizontal frames, not vertical. That's the way video players are.
  10. Be mindful of reflections: please, do not shoot straight at a window, a mirror, or any glass pane to avoid white flashes.
  11. If you have to shoot at night, remember that it might be too dark even if you can see. Stay close to light sources.

Writing for the Web

Write in the active voice and present tense, using simple words.

Keep sentences short, one idea to a sentence.

Begin with the latest developments, but bring in necessary background quite early so your readers have context.

Titles are simplified when possible and go before a name unless they are complicated and need their own sentence. For example:  The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak,  or Mr. Lee, or Mr. Lee — who is referred to as "M.B.," his initials.

Make sure you are using objective descriptions.  People you interview can express personal opinions, but you can't!

Minimize the use of numbers and never present them without context; i.e. explain whether it's bigger or smaller than last month or in the neighboring country, (preferably with a percentage figure for the difference) and why that information is significant enough to be in the news.

Write as you speak – read your text aloud after you write it.

Be personal. Imagine that you are telling the story to a friend rather than to a faceless crowd.

If you're writing a voice-over for video, amplify on the image. Don't spell out the obvious and don't contradict your story in the image: don't show smiling children if you're covering a disaster; don't show running water if you're writing about drought.

If you are doing audio, keep the sound bites extremely tight – 5 to 15 seconds.

Attribution, for audio, must go at the beginning of a sentence, never at the end. However, in written text, the attribution can go last.

Keeping your reports and dialogue civil

Although we can be passionate about what we think, we should express ourselves politely in order to be heard.

Here are a few guidelines to help you make your report - and your dialogue through social media–constructive and respectful.

  • Identify yourself when you send a report or enter a dialogue on a social platform such as YouTube, Facebook, or similar services.
  • When facing insults or bad language, address others in a tone that expresses more sorrow than anger.
  • Explain things in a normal tone and stick to the facts.
  • Give people a chance to vent. People who get angry usually do it out of frustration, but remind them of the rules: "I understand your point, but there's no need to use bad language when discussing it."
  • Avoid censoring others. But also avoid ignoring them.
  • Find your own voice. To gain credibility, be personable but also cautious. Never respond implusively.

How to send your content

If you wish to send video reporting, or any other material to RFA editorial staff, please contact the service ahead of time as much as possible.

It's always best to have a dialogue with one of our editors before you send any reporting of your own. However, we recognize that in certain circumstance, this is not possible.

Here are the email addresses of RFA language services:

Burmese—burweb@rfa.org
Cantonese—cnews@rfa.org
Khmer—khmer@rfa.org
Korean—nk@rfa.org
Lao—laoweb@rfa.org
Mandarin—putonghua@rfa.org
Tibetan—tibetnews@rfa.org
Uyghur—uygweb@rfa.org
Vietnamese—vietweb@rfa.org

You can use a variety of tools online to send your videos or images.

Here are a few examples:

https://www.yousendit.com/
http://www.sendspace.com/

or Skype, gmail etc.

Compiled by Catherine Antoine, online managing editor.

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