Encouraging Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism can be traced back to colonial Massachusetts, where, in 1690, America’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, made a short-lived appearance. A four-page denunciation of British and French misdeeds, it was published by a Boston bookseller, printer and proprietor of a popular coffeehouse named Benjamin Harris. The British governor prohibited Harris from publishing a second edition. From gazetteer Benjamin Franklin to Holy Land travel chronicler Mark Twain to “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, nonprofessional journalists have continued to make estimable contributions to the writing of the “first draft” of American history.

With the rise of the internet and the universal availability of such tools as desktop publishing software, digital cameras and camcorders, many Americans quickly made the transition from being media consumers to becoming providers of news, information and commentary. Mainstream journalism now routinely makes use of photographs and videos submitted by members of the public, and the re-publication of average citizens’ responses first aired on Twitter to breaking news has become a journalistic staple.

The Sierra County Sun will also look to citizen journalism as a means of expanding our coverage. We invite Sierra Countians to help us report by submitting news tips, story ideas, guest columns and entries to our “Photograph of the Week” feature. 

We are also committed to training committed volunteers with the requisite research and writing skills to be beat reporters. Social media impose few restraints on what is published on their platforms. The Sun’s citizen journalists will be trained to adhere the highest professional standards, which requires reporting to be fact-based, credibly sourced, balanced and fair.

Editorial Standards

If ever the Sierra County Sun’s coverage falls short of the highest journalistic standards, we will issue a correction or apology. We have made it easy for our readers to point out departures from our guiding principles of accuracy, credibility, balance and fairness by providing a comment form at the bottom of news articles and features.

Another reason we provide for comments is to promote civic discourse that is civil and fact-based. The Sun especially welcomes comments that provide greater context or relevant additional information to supplement our reporting. 

We place no restrictions on subject matter except that comments must have local significance, not contain misinformation or level allegations without supporting evidence, constitute libel or be judged inappropriate. The Sun subscribes to the definition of inappropriateness set forth by the Washington Post to regulate comment, as follows:

Inappropriate content includes any content that:

  • is predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass, or contains derogatory name-calling
  • is a duplicate or repost of something [the author] has already posted on the site
  • contains advertising
  • contains a solicitation of any kind
  • misrepresents [the author’s] identity or affiliation
  • impersonates others
  • is in poor taste or is otherwise objectionable.”

The Sun will remove comments or portions of comments that we deem inappropriate for any reason without consent and notice. We also reserve the right to edit comments for brevity, clarity, spelling, punctuation, etc.

We further reserve the right to remove a reader’s privilege to post comments on our website. Readers are requested not to submit more than one comment per week. The Sun will not allow itself to become a personal soapbox, and readers who abuse their privileges by posting more frequently may also find themselves blocked from further comment.

All comments must be signed with the submitter’s first and last name. Anonymous or pseudonymous comments will not be published.

Editorial Independence and Financial Transparency

The Sierra County Sun subscribes to standards of editorial independence and financial transparency adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News, an association of not-for-profit civic news organizations, as follows:

The Sun retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.

“We accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support.

“The Sun may consider donations to support the coverage of particular topics, but our organization maintains editorial control of the coverage. We will cede no right of review or influence of editorial content, nor of unauthorized distribution of editorial content.

“The Sun will make public the names of all our donors. We will accept anonymous donations for general support only if it is clear that sufficient safeguards have been put into place to assure that the expenditure of that donation is made independently by our organization.”



Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

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