Never Reported Before? Here’s How You Can Become A Citizen Journalist

Posted by Abhishek Jha in Writer Resource Centre, YKA Editorials
January 20, 2018

You don’t have to be a journalist with a media house to report on issues that matter to you. Whether you are passionate about reporting, an eyewitness to an incident, accident or event, or just inclined to write about an issue legacy media won’t, if you decide to bring the information that you have in public domain, you can be a citizen journalist.

If you haven’t reported yet, don’t worry. Here’s a quick guide on how you can become a citizen journalist and start reporting.

1. Cover Public Events/Write Eyewitness Accounts

Is there a protest you know of that is not being covered by the media? Is there a public event you think young people should know about? If you are attending an event that you feel should be covered for public interest or if you witness a crime, a violation of rights, rules or laws, you can report on it. Here are some ways to do this:

A. Speak to people at the event: Apart from writing what you see, you can also speak to people to get more information. Ask them what is happening, who they are, why they decided to hold the particular seminar/conference/protest/rally.

Let’s pause to make a note here. Irrespective of what you are reporting on and what medium you choose to report, always try to gather answers to questions that begin with ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’.

Quick Tip 1: Always gather information on the 5Ws and 1H.

Let’s add a couple of notes to this one so that we don’t invade privacy or mis-report.

Quick Tip 2: Tell people that you are speaking to them for a report.

Quick Tip 3: You may not remember all you hear after a person has spoken. So it is a good idea to record or transcribe what they are saying.

B. Take photos/videos: If writing isn’t your thing, you can always take photos or videos (photos/videos taken on a phone work too). Photos and videos can bring alive a story in ways words cannot always. At other times, photos can also become important proof, especially if you are the only eyewitness.

For example, read this photo story by YKA user Himanshu Shekhar, where he documents the dying lakes of his town in Uttarakhand. My personal favourite is this 2009 story that proved a fake encounter in Manipur, which is discussed even today.

Don’t forget Quick Tip 1 though. Gather information that can explain the photos. Again, take care that you don’t invade privacy.

Quick Tip 4: Ask for permission whenever recording individual(s) in a setup not open to the media or if you are not sure if you should.

2. Report On A Local Problem That Isn’t Getting Attention

From a broken road that needs fixing, to a non-functioning public distribution system, there are several everyday problems that most places in this country face that don’t get attention in the media. Perhaps, you have one in your locality. If you know of such a problem, you could start by reporting about it.

Proceed in the same manner as stated above. Speak to people affected by the issue. Take photos, if you can.

Moreover, when you report on a local problem, it is possible that you will be holding someone accountable for it in the story. Try to speak to them to get their response too. So here’s two more things you should keep in mind while reporting:

Quick Tip 5: Speak to all stakeholders of a problem.

Quick Tip 6: Take photos if they can help in corroboration.

3. Localise A National Story

After the Supreme Court declared the practice of instant triple talaq unconstitutional, the practice continued. If you knew of such an instance in your area, you could have reported on it. Similarly, there are a lot of policies or incidents that affect the entire country. We hear about the effect from only a few places though. If you know of such a place that has been neglected, it’s your chance to rise and shine. Report, because such experiences vary not just with place, but also with other factors such as the caste, class, or gender. You can read examples of such stories here and here.

If you are reporting about a community, it is also good to speak with representatives of the group. Experiences can vary within a community, and a representative is not only likely to know about these variations but also the overall experience of the community. That gives us another quick tip.

Quick Tip 7: Speaking to a representative adds to information about the group as a whole.

4. File RTI Applications To Get Information

Speaking to people is a great way to collect information. When people don’t want to give information for a report, you have a problem. Luckily, there is a solution. The Right to Information Act is a great tool that allows you to query public authorities all you want. Read this post to learn how you can use it.

5. Take Interviews

Whether you are a student or working professional, there are a number of situations where you might end up meeting people who can inform, inspire, or explain. These people can be experts, artists, activists, people occupying public offices who are doing cool work, award winners – the list is endless. Even if you don’t meet them in the physical world, if you think what they have to say is of public importance, email them or call them to take interviews. And here’s our guide that will help you do just that.

There’s more to reporting that you can learn, of course, and so there are even academic courses. But don’t let that bog you down. This post should have you covered for the initial reporting you do. And for the service you will end up doing for the public in the process, we can’t thank you enough.

Featured image credit: Suzanne Lee/Marie Claire France/Flickr