Thursday, May 8, 2008

How do communities evaluate quality in citizen journalism?

When individual members of a community are evaluating the quality of citizen journalism, many will hold their own personal opinions on what they consider quality journalism. However, a simple, general way to assess and evaluate the quality of citizen journalism, and any online, information-based content, is by applying the CARS checklist, that is Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support.

Firstly, CREDIBILITY. This should be applied to both the content and information, and the author. In order to evaluate the credibility of the content and information, communities need to consider whether or not the information is based on sufficient, factual evidence; and whether or not enough evidence and information is provided to substantiate a reasonable conclusion. Secondly, communities need to establish whether or not the author is a trustworthy and reliable source of information. Although citizen journalism allows journalists the freedom to express their opinion more openly than mainstream media, quality articles still need to be supported by factual information and credible support. Citizen journalists with a wide collection of articles and archives will most likely be credible sources, especially if they are supported by other credible sources. The
McGraw-Hill Online Learning Centre for Student Success suggests these checks for author credibility:
  • Author’s education, training, and/or experience in a field relevant to the information. Look for biographical information, the author’s title, or position of employment
  • Author’s contact information (e-mail or postal mail address, telephone number)
  • Organizational authorship from a known and respected organization (corporate, governmental, or non-profit)
  • Organizational authorship reflecting an appropriate area of expertise
  • Author’s reputation or standing among peers.
Next, communities need to assess the ACCURACY of the content. The main goal of this is to "ensure that the information is actually correct: up-to date, factual, detailed, exact, and comprehensive" (McGraw-Hill 2003). This relates not only to the information and content, but also to the way it is written, including spelling and grammatical errors. We need to remember that although anyone CAN be a journalist with citizen journalism, that is not to say that everything they produce IS journalism (Wilson 2008). Generally, frequent bloggers will produce higher quality journalism and writing as they have more experience in the field.

Thirdly, to evaluate quality we need to assess REASONABLENESS. This is difficult to assess in citizen journalism because, as mentioned earlier, a major appeal of citizen journalism is that it allows journalists to express their opinion and be biased. However, the journalist still needs to present a fair, objective, moderate and consistent argument (
McGraw-Hill 2003). The argument should be balanced and reasonable, and although authors can voice their own opinions, they should also consider the other sides of the story, especially when presenting to a mass audience.

Finally, we need to assess whether or not the journalism has been SUPPORTED by reliable sources and information. Links to other stories or sources supporting their opinion and information are proof that they are presenting reliable, quality information. All major claims should be supported by citations and references, and documentation of these sources should be supplied. If a citizen journalist has sufficient support to there argument, then it will most certainly be a quality source of information.

By applying this general assessment, communities will be able to differentiate the quality citizen journalists, from those that BELIEVE they are journalists, but really really aren't....


Wilson, J. 2008, May 08. Week 10 Lecture: Citizen Journalism. Brisbane: QUT. [Lecture: KCB201].

NB: this may not be the correct name for the lecture… when the slides are uploaded I will change it accordingly!

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