Welcome to our new series, How To Be a DIY Journalist. This series is inspired by my recent workshop at the Los Angeles Media Summit, where I spoke about how I covered the Occupy Los Angeles encampment at City Hall (also known as Solidarity Park).

Margot at the LA Summit discussing her reporting of Occupy LA.

The Basics

The most important quality of a journalist is an inquisitive and skeptical mind. Never take what you are told at face value and always question why you are being told what you are being told. Insiders usually have a reason for releasing sensitive information and agency representatives usually want to make themselves look good, even when things look really bad.

You need a way to gather information. I really recommend that DIY journalists make use of smart phones. You can take notes, make audio recordings, take pictures and video. Plus you can upload your picture, video, or audio easily to social media with a smart phone. That being said, when technology fails, make sure you have a notepad around and a pencil to take notes. You will enter areas where cameras and other recording devices are restricted and will need a fallback.

Oh and if you want to live stream, you need a smart phone to start. It is the cheap alternative but we’ll get into the alternatives in a later installment.

The iPhone is one type of smartphone. (photo taken from AT&T)

You will need a press credential and a way to strap that equipment  your body.

Oh and you will need some ethics.


Calvin and Hobbs on ethics.

One of the big things now is live streaming events, in particular protests. I was recently made privy to a threaded discussion of what you can and cannot say as someone who live streams the occupy movement. I am not a member of Occupy LA, but I have worked closely with the media team and spent the nearly two months at City Hall working out of the media team tent, so I have a good understanding of what goes on there. There are two big issues when it comes to live streamers: 1) are you a real journalist and 2) where do you cross the line on opinion that goes too far?

To discuss whether live streamers are “real” journalists is beyond the breadth of this series but after having a long debate over it with my  friend Brad Friedman of the BradBlog, I concluded that yes, to a certain extent, live streamers are at the very least reporters. They do report what they see. Whether they are proper journalists, is another question to be answered that I will leave up for long-winded debates among colleagues. However, I think our second above stated issue may shed some light.

When you go out to gather information, or to document an event, such as a protest, you need to set ground rules. What is your role here? Are you part of the action or are you an observer? It is much easier being an observer because you are not responsible to the people partaking in the story. In the case of a live streamer who identifies with the subject they are documenting (such as the occupy live streamer who we mentioned earlier), it is difficult being an observer. Once you become part of what you report on, it is difficult to separate yourself objectively. You are inherently biased.

Furthermore, if you become part of the group you are reporting on, you now are subject to censorship, even by a group like Occupy. After all, even they need a good propaganda machine and a coherent message. If you show any signs of straying from the party line, no matter whether you are an occupier or a Republican, watch out. This is bad for journalists since we aim to bring out the truth, good or bad.

That leads to another issue of ethics, to be biased or not to be biased. It is important to show both sides of the story but also to accept that sometimes one side is clearly lying and we have to use careful attention to point out when someone is deceitful. If we discover that the statements made by one side of the story are not true, we must point them out, or at least hint at some lack of credibility.

Personally, I advocate that you try to stay objective in your reporting and use your better judgement to decide when it is time to stick in opinion. Yes, it is a lot easier to just state your opinion than to try to get it out of somebody else, but it certainly adds credibility to your story to keep your opinions to yourself and let the actors in the play do the talking.

That being said, the stories you choose to report or not to report show you have bias, and that in and of itself can be empowering to anyone with an opinon. How is it empowering? Well you are making a conscious decision to investigate what you think matters the most and as a journalist who does not answer to anyone but your readers, you can do a lot. Furthermore, it can at the very least satisfy your need to share your opinion since it was based on your opinion that the subject was worth covering.

If you want more on ethics, I would suggest reading the AP style book. But just use your better judgement and you should be alright. Remember, as a member of the press you are doing your duty as a good American and your rights are protected under the First Amendment as well as local state laws. I would also recommend looking up those state laws that apply to journalists to protect yourself.



Equipment in action.

So we did a brief overview of what it takes to be a DIY journalist and we touched on some ethical considerations that a DIY journalist must consider including a brief look at the ethics of a live streaming reporter. I touched on that because technology is at the point where we can actually stream live to the internet, from almost anywhere in the world. Live streaming is a powerful tool but if that is what you want to do you need to do it right.

Next week will get into the DIY journalist equipment requirements and touch more on how to get a press credential.

Thanks and see you then!

- Margot.