Local Citizen Journalism…Establishing Values

August 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm 6 comments

rapidian logoMy blog has been quiet of late, much due to the fact that I have been immersed in work related to the pending launch of The Rapidian, a new citizen journalism project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A project of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (with support from the GR Community Foundation and the Knight Foundation), it is an ambitious endeavor and we are just 20 days from launch. It combines a web based journalism structure with neighborhood news bureaus. Ultimately, we hope it can help stem the tide of decreasing local news reporting that is happening all over the country, much to the detriment of our communities.

We also recognize that for a project like this to gain wide support and use, it must balance openness and accessibility with expectations of civility and trusted content. Today I have been working on the statement of values for The Rapidian and I thought I would share. These are not “the rules”, but rather a stated basis for decision-making and the establishment of some common agreements. Here is the work in progress, so far. I would would be interested in feedback.

The Rapidian Statement of Values (a draft)

The Rapidian is a citizen journalism project created to increase the flow of local news and information in the Grand Rapids community and its neighborhoods.

Through tools, training, platforms and support, The Rapidian seeks to create meaningful dialogue and promote greater civic engagement. The following values are central to these goals and it is in the spirit of these principles that we encourage wide and robust use of the Rapidian by the community.

1. Inclusiveness: It is a core belief of The Rapidian that including many diverse voices will ultimately strengthen the community. We understand that within our community there are many points of view and and differing news priorities. We value and encourage such diversity over style of reporting, issues of seniority or story subject.

2. Civility: We believe in robust debate and spirited conversation. We also believe that meaningful conversation is best enabled through civil debate and respectful exchange of ideas. Content submitted to the Rapidian (including comments) is expected to reflect this value. Personal attacks, slanderous material, hate speech or unsubstantiated accusations will be flagged and removed.

3. Ethical Reporting: We value basic tenets of journalistic ethics and will continually strive to establish, support and encourage ethical reporting. Standards for Rapidian reporters include: Seek truth; be honest and fair; minimize harm; do not misrepresent; seek alternate sources and points of view; do not use reporting for personal gain.

4. Original Works/Proper Attribution: We value and honor those who create and distribute meaningful content and set attribution standards accordingly. Plagiarism, failure to provide proper credit or unauthorized derivative works are not acceptable.

5. Open Identity (no anonymous posting): In pursuit of meaningful exchange and dissemination of valuable information, we believe we must each take responsibility for our words. Anonymous stories and comments do not support this value and will not be accepted.

6. Cooperative Distribution: All content posted on the Rapidian will be licensed under one of two possible Creative Commons licenses. This means that complete works may be redistributed and posted to other places, subject to the rules of these licenses. At the reporter’s option, some content may be restricted from commercial re-distribution. We use the Creative Commons licenses in the spirit of wide distribution and sharing of local information, a key value of this project.

The Rapidian is an experiment intended to demonstrate that as community, we can use the concepts and structures of citizen journalism to share information, empower new voices and increase meaningful interaction between all of us who call ourselves “Rapidian”.

Twitter @lcirivello


Entry filed under: Community Media, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Looking for input about NPO Boards and Social Networking Making choices about Anonymity

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Colin Rhinesmith  |  August 27, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Laurie,

    Congratulations on all your great work preparing to launch The Rapidian!

    As a fellow community media/citizen journalism project manager here at Cambridge Community Television, I have been eagerly awaiting the launch. It’s so great to see other community media centers entering the citizen journalism “fray” 🙂

    However, I was curious to see that The Rapidian has decided not to allow anonymous commenting. While I totally agree with what you wrote about responsibility and promoting a certain level of discourse, I wonder if you will miss opportunities for people to share important information?

    As Dan Gillmor wrote in a recent post on the Citizen Media Law Project (where I used to work) blog:

    “. . . anonymity has crucially important value. We need it for whistleblowers, for political dissidents in dictatorships — for those who have important stories to tell but whose lives or livelihoods would be in jeopardy if their identities were exposed.” – http://www.citmedialaw.org/blog/2009/skanky-blogging-anonymity-and-whats-right

    I was wondering if you had considered these potential voices in your decision?

    All the best,

    • 2. Laurie Cirivello  |  August 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

      I totally understand your “wonderings” about anonymity. Historically there are certainly some very pivotal examples of anonymity make possible significant social change. We have wrestled mightily with this very question.

      We have also seen the devaluing of commenting on local commercial sites where the anonymous poster simply uses this shield as an opportunity to *not* take responsibility for his/her words. In traditional news…letters to the editor are vetted. Online commenting anonymously is not considered credible by most readers. As a hyper local site, we are neighbors and look to foster communication between neighbors. News here is related to what is down the street, not what is around the world. So we made the call that the value of disclosure to community building outweighs the downside, in this case. That being said, citizen reporters will not be anonymous, but that doesn’t mean their subjects (maybe a whistle-blower) can’t be.

      We shall see how it works out!


      It’s a fine line we walk.

  • 3. Colin Rhinesmith  |  August 27, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    It’s definitely an issue we’ve been thinking about, as well, here in Cambridge. I appreciate your response.

    Best of luck!

  • 4. Lynne Jarman-Johnson  |  August 28, 2009 at 7:52 am


    I applaud this endeavor and the anonymity value.

    If there is someone who would like to remain anonymous can’t they always reach out to The Rapidian for discussion or feature as a part of the “seek alternate sources, diverse opionions” without posting?

    I am so glad there will be this voice in Grand Rapids -our town is again leading the way in communication to build our communities and strengthen our neighborhoods!

  • 5. Case Ernsting  |  August 28, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Hi Laurie,
    I’m finding the thoughtful creativity and boldness of the new media transition very interesting. Your illustration of The Rapidian has me really excited. The importance of blogs like yours cannot be overstated. I witnessed the backlash in Ann Arbor prior to the launch of AnnArbor.com. Readers need to understand that the coverage of news and journalists (like those at the Rapidian) take a professional and informed approach to reporting. Thanks for the update and I look forward to future posts.

  • 6. Fabled Tortoise  |  August 28, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Nice! The value draft is very well-thoughtout.

    I agree wholeheartedly about Open Identity. If I do any reporting for the Rapidian, I promise to use my full name of Mortimer Forsythe Tortoise, Jr.


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