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3 Lessons Citizen Journalists Should Learn from BuzzFeed’s Plagiarism Scandal

Last Friday, BuzzFeed fired “Viral Politics” editor Benny Johnson. The popular internet time-waster cited over 40 instances of plagiarism committed by the conservative-leaning content creator.

Putting aside whether those alleged instances of plagiarism were actually plagiarism, and ignoring the fact that BuzzFeed itself is based on taking stuff from all over the internet (aggregation, anyone?), what lessons can we learn from this episode?

1. It’s More Important to be Accurate than “First”

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In today’s internet media landscape and 24 hour news cycle, journalists are often in a rush to be the first with a story. But is that really so important?

Much more important than being first is being accurate. And if you take the time to find an original angle, you might report details the rest of the media are ignoring.

Remember Mark Twain’s axiom: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Get the facts right, and you can even expose the mainstream media’s inaccurate reporting (it happens more than you might realize).

2. Keep Your Sources in Cite

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No, that’s not a typo; it’s a pun. Cite your sources! The great thing about online journalism is you can put in a hyperlink.

Anytime a fact isn’t common knowledge, you need to be able to cite it. Linking to other news stories, policy reports, government documents, and other sources helps to strengthen any news story.

Some things you don’t have to cite: important dates in history (“November 11 is Armistice Day, according to historian Joe Schmoe”), common knowledge (“President Obama is almost halfway through his second term, according to political scientist Betsy Smith”), or simple facts (“the sky is blue, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration”).

Pretty obvious, no? Also, make sure your source is legit, and have multiple sources when possible. The Onion, the Daily Currant, and other “fake” news sites are not legitimate news outlets, and Wikipedia is not a legitimate place to get information for journalism purposes.

3. Cute Animal Photos are Not Journalism

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Benny Johnson got members of Congress to follow him by promising to send them photoshopped pictures of them as cats. Weird, I know.

Here’s a tip: cat photos are not journalism. BuzzFeed, for the most part, isn’t journalism. It’s mindless garbage.

Want to be a citizen journalist? Do some research, find an issue to investigate, and ask questions. The Watchdog Wire team is here to help.

What You Shouldn’t Learn from the BuzzFeed Scandal:

You have to go to journalism school to be a journalist.

That is not the case. After BuzzFeed fired Benny Johnson, some in the media seemed to suggest that his lack of journalism experience was part of the problem.

Here’s the deal: you don’t have to go to school to be a journalist, but you should get trained. That’s why we exist. We are here to train you to use the power of new media, holding public officials accountable and fighting back against waste, fraud, abuse, and overreach.

Become a Citizen Watchdog today by signing up here. And for more citizen journalism quick tips, check out our “Quick Tips” page.

 

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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Categories: Must Read, Quick Tips

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