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Have you seen these on Twitter, Facebook, media websites? Almost all legacy media outlets rely on the public to send in photos, more commonly now video, to get ahead of breaking stories – but it raises a question as to the liability of the ‘asker’ per the ‘askee’. This is not new. Journalists have always relied on the general public to flesh out stories, but with the advent of social media many are now directly on feeds asking people to send in photos of incidents. The question is what about the safety of the person, who may rush down to an incident to take and upload photos – what about the journalism ethics behind using unpaid, untrained, uninsured people to ‘act as journalists’ – and who controls or edits the content?

Citizen Media - Legacy Media

Photo courtesy DigiActive

This is especially true of Twitter. During many ‘breaking’ stories media organizations – radio, TV, print – have tweeted seeking photos and videos from the general public. Within those, there is no link for any disclaimer, safety warning, copyright – simply put, it’s a message to ‘get your ass down there, interfere, take photos, send them to us’ – thanks, you win a coffee cup.

Very few media outlets make their ‘citizen upload’ policy clear, and front and centre. The one exception is the BBC, at least on it’s website. It is difficult on Twitter to include any sort of safety message, copyright or disclaimer – but at least a link could be default within the 140 available characters.

While many non-professional journalists are more than willing to submit photos and video to news outlets the problem also is knowing who ultimately owns the content, and who is legally liabie. Posting a person’s face, a license plate, or a photo of a house may seem innocuous at the time, but could easily end up being part of a criminal or civil trial.

While CNN’s iReporter is often a fantastic source of both breaking news and more in-depth reporting – and no doubt the editorial line is to be extremely careful in protecting the source from liability, the same cannot be said for other news outlets who tend towards publish immediately and damn the consequences.

The potential for citizen reporting to break news, highlight non-mainstream issues, and to supplement more investigative stories is unparalleled with the rise of high end smart phones, instant access to 3G networks and social media platforms. The problem is the law has yet to catch up with protecting non-traditional news sources from lawsuits or social backlash.

A Protection List

1: Simply be aware of everything you publish on your own blog or website. Ultimately that is your content, and you are responsible for copyright, attribution and any liability.

2: Sharing content – photos, videos, text – that you produce on other networks (social media or other blogs/websites) does not create immunity.

3: Before posting any content to a media outlet go over it twice. Here the word is empathy (and note, I have often failed at this simply out of higher call to transparency). Ask the question will what I post as ‘owned’ content hurt others; is it relevant to the overall story?

4: Look at the fine print – always!

There are plenty of citizen media sources – one of the best international sources is Global Voices

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