The problem of shrinking professional news staffs hit me personally when a friend of mine was killed in an auto accident on March 8.
The Denver Post reported the accident and his death, but it failed to follow-up the next day with an article explaining what happened and to identify the driver who caused the five-car crash.
I called the newspaper several days after the accident to request a follow-up article. At the funeral six days after the accident, friends and family were forced to speculate about what may have happened because there hadn’t been any subsequent news stories.
Lack of enough staff to cover local news is a problem we talk about a lot at the National Association of Citizen Journalists. We believe citizen journalists are part of the solution because they can help cover news when professional reporters are unavailable.
The day after the funeral, I decided it was time to put my journalism skills to work. I’ve been telling citizen journalists for years that they are needed to help cover the news. It was time for me to step up to the plate.
The first thing I did was to set my bias aside. Although I was angry that this driver led to the death of an innocent man who was sitting in traffic on his way to work, I decided I could set that anger aside in my search for the information that the victim’s friends wanted to know.
I then wrote out the questions that I wanted answered. That made it much easier to interview the police sergeant who returned my call about the incident.
The sergeant didn’t seem to care that I was a citizen journalist reporting the story. He gave me all the information he had available and noted that the investigation was continuing.
I believe I wrote the story in a straight news manner. No one reading it would know that I was a friend of the victim. I then offered my story to The Post, but my offer was politely declined.
Barry Osborne, The Post’s online news editor, said Wednesday the reporter who covered the initial accident would follow-up on the crash. He said there had been a delay because that reporter had spent the next week covering another tragic story – the killing of a policeman in Limon, Colo.
Since I haven’t seen a follow-up story yet, I posted my report on The Post’s YourHub.com website.
I hope The Post will follow up when the accident investigation is complete and charges are filed. If not, rest assured that I’ll be there to fill the void.
Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).