Author Archive

About NACJ trainer

Susan Carson Cormier is a co-founder of the National Association of Citizen Journalists and co-author of the "Handbook for Citizen Journalists." As the head coach at the NACJ, Cormier is in charge of training citizen journalists the basics in how to report and write news, sports and feature stories.

Here are my most recent posts

Bloggers’ Lawsuit Dismissed Against AOL, HuffPo

A New York federal court judge has ruled against bloggers who sued The Huffington Post for compensation for their contributions to the news website.

“There is no question that the plaintiffs submitted their materials to The Huffington Post with no expectation of monetary compensation and that they got what they paid for – exposure in The Huffington Post,” U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl wrote in his March 30 dismissal of the lawsuit.

Jonathan Tasini and others contributors /bloggers filed the class action suit after AOL purchased the Huffington Post for $315 million in February 2011, claiming their contributions and articles contributed to the value of The Huffington Post.

They were seeking back pay – to the tune of $105 million, according to the suit that was filed April 12, 2011, against AOL, TheHuffingtonPost.com, and Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, the news website’s founders.

Judge Koeltl found that the plaintiffs represented “professional or quasi-professional writers” who “submitted significant volumes of content over varying periods of time. For example, plaintiff Tasini, described in the Complaint as a professional author, politician, union leader and successful United States Supreme Court litigant, submitted content 216 times over the course of more than five years and publicized that content through social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Rather than monetary compensation, the unpaid content providers are offered exposure — namely, visibility, promotion and distribution, for themselves and their work,” the judge continued.

“Under New York law, a plaintiff must plead some expectation of compensation that was denied in order to recover under a theory of unjust enrichment. The complaint fails to do so and the claim for unjust enrichment must therefore be dismissed,” according to the judge’s ruling.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

04

04 2012

Double-Check Your So-Called Facts

While interviewing some folks for an article that I was writing about the local horse industry, I heard a comment repeated that I’ve heard from time to time during the 20 years that I’ve lived in Parker, Colo.

I was told that Douglas County (Colo.) has the largest horse population per capita in the nation.

Since I was writing an article for the Parker Chamber of Commerce’s annual magazine, I decided it was time to try and find someone who might know if that claim is actually true. Yes, I’ve heard it for years. Yes, the person who said it recently also has heard it for years.

The information was repeated, but it was never actually verified. It was time for me to put on my reporter’s cap and do some digging into the truth.

Guess what? I couldn’t verify the claim. In fact, after making calls to numerous people involved with horses and the horse industry statewide, most said they didn’t know. Only one person said he doubted the statement could be true and gave me some information that would lead one to believe that no way could the claim be factual.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was crazy to believe the same claim for 20 years – especially with the area’s incredible population explosion over that same time period.

This is a good lesson for citizen journalists and writers of all kinds. Just because you hear a statement of so-called fact repeated over and over, does not make it true. It is always best to find an expert who should be able to tell you whether the information you’ve heard is factual or absolutely absurd.

So don’t repeat everything you hear as fact – even if you’ve heard it for years and from multiple people. Do your due diligence to uncover whether the information is a myth or reality.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

03

03 2012

Writers Wanted for $1,000 Historical Essay Contest

Here’s a fun way to practice your citizen journalism skills: Enter the essay contest sponsored by the Lakewood (Colo.) Historical Society.

Not only will it be a great way to use your reporting and writing skills, you also might win some of the $1,000 in prize money.

Even though the contest requests entries about Lakewood’s history, organizers say you don’t have to live in the Lakewood area to enter. You could live in Timbuktu. They don’t care. They just want your entries.

So do some research on the Internet, pick up the phone and make some calls, and write an essay about the history of Lakewood, Colo.

Contest organizers even provide a list of names to get you started, including Schnell Centennial Farms, Lakewood Brick Co., Hart’s Corner, White Fence Farm and Lakewood’s Waterways.

You will have to submit one added extra to your entry of 3,000 words or less: Endnotes, footnotes credits and/or bibliography are required.

But what have you got to lose? And you could win the $300 and $200 first and second prize awards given in each of the youth and adult categories.

For more information, visit www.historiclakewood.org or call 303.233.3050. The deadline for entries is May 15, 2012.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

31

12 2011

Issue of Defamation Overlooked by Some

A federal judge in Oregon has ruled that a blogger could not receive protections granted to mainstream journalists because she was not affiliated with a mainstream media outlet.

While the ruling does have implications for citizen journalists and bloggers, the heart of the case revolved around defamation – a claim that isn’t protected by shield laws and that doesn’t make a distinction on the writer’s status.

To me, those folks who focus on the question of whether a blogger is legally a journalist are missing the point. The point is:  Were the blogger’s reports true or false? In this case, a man’s reputation was damaged and the blogger appeared to have made no effort to prove her statements. This amounts to reckless disregard for the truth.

Here’s a little bit of the history: Kevin Padrick, an Oregon attorney involved in a bankruptcy case, sued Montana blogger Cynthia Cox for defamation after she called him a “thug” and a “thief” in her blog.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez ruled that Cox was not a journalist because she had no professional qualifications as a journalist and did not work for a legitimate news outlet. She did not have a journalism education or credentials, and failed to provide evidence she produced an independent product, tried to get both sides of the story or adhered to journalistic standards such as checking her facts.

Because she was not a journalist under the law, the judge ruled she could not claim protections, such as the shield law, granted to mainstream media. But the judge also noted that the shield law does not apply to civil actions for defamation.

Here’s where Cox went wrong. She disregarded the issue of libel, which is defamation or injury to someone’s personal reputation and good name. It’s an issue that should be taken very seriously by every individual, but especially by journalists – whether they are members of the mainstream media, bloggers or citizen journalists.

Cox’s allegations that Padrick was a “thug” and a “thief” who “committed tax fraud” were never proven, according to a piece written by The New York Times’ David Carr.

That means Cox published the defamatory statements in her blog with reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice, which is probably what opened the door for a jury on Nov. 29 to award $2.5 million in the case.

There’s a good lesson to be learned here for all journalists, but especially citizen journalists and bloggers, who don’t deal with libel on a regular basis. Be careful in your reporting and word use. Avoid labeling someone in a way that his or her reputation could be damaged. Finally, don’t disregard the truth or write with malice.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

16

12 2011

Anonymous Citizens a Thing of the Past at Azcentral.com

Azcentral.com, the online site for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, has stopped letting citizens comment anonymously on its site.

“In the early days (just a few years ago) of online commenting, I embraced the Wild West freedom that the tools provided in allowing citizens to speak freely about their ideas,” explained Randy Lovely, senior vice president of news and audience development for The Republic.

“Over time, my sentiments have changed as the tone and civility of the anonymous remarks have soured. I still defend your right to express your opinion, but, unfortunately, I don’t know who you are,” Lovely wrote in his posting on azcentral that announced the change.

He said the azcentral staff hope the change, which now requires citizens to comment through their personal Facebook accounts, will lead to an increase in civility and encourage more people to join the conversation.

You’ve got to love the conclusion of his piece: “If you believe strongly enough about something to comment on it, be brave enough to own your comment.

“Still, I may not agree with you, but I defend your right to express your opinion — if you’re willing to stand up and be counted.”

You can read Lovely’s entire piece at http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2011/11/30/20111130lovely1201-bar-raised-comments-azcentral.html#ixzz1fPL2dkOv

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

03

12 2011

Everybody Needs an Editor

Regardless of who you are or the writing experience you have, you need an editor or at least a friend to help you proof your articles or copy.

It is impossible to catch your own errors, typos, etc. You know what you think you typed, so you read it that way. But is that what shows up on the computer screen in front of you?

The word “your” is a perfect example. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read – and typed – the word “you” when it should have been “your.” Another mistake I’ve made recently is typing concentration instead of concentrating.

I also used the word “memorial” instead of “monument” in a draft of a recent article. Luckily, another person who was familiar with the topic proofed the article and caught my blunder.

Mistakes happen to the best of us. I’ve been reporting and writing for decades, and I still make them. That’s why an editor – or just a friend – is so important to help catch errors.

Ask a friend to take a look at what you’ve written. It may take an extra few minutes, but it may save you some embarrassment.

If a friend – or editor – isn’t available, here are few tips on how to best edit your own copy.

Slow down and take your time – a concept that is sometimes hard to implement when faced with a deadline or time constraint.

Read what you’ve written several times after you have typed it. The first edit should focus on grammar and misspelled or misused words. To best catch those mistakes and typos, read your copy out loud.

The second edit can focus on whether the copy makes sense. How many times have you read an article or an email and wondered what the author really meant to say?

If time allows, give some distance between your readings, like an hour or two. That gives you a chance to walk away, think about something else and then come back more refreshed to look at your writing and catch possible errors.

Finally, don’t forget to check and double-check phone numbers, website addresses and the spelling of people’s names. Those are mistakes you really don’t want to make.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

19

11 2011

One Man’s View of Citizen Journalism

Tom Grubisich’s blog titled “How is Citizen Journalism Playing Out Today?” takes a look at a variety of news outlets and their use or non-use of citizen journalists.

Comments ranged from “we generate over 65 percent of our content from volunteers” to “you can’t depend on citizen journalists.”

In the end, Grubisich concludes that “citizen journalism is in a new place — with less emphasis on ‘citizen’ and more on ‘journalism’.’’

Read the entire blog and see the various opinions at: http://streetfightmag.com/2011/10/27/how-is-citizen-journalism-playing-out-today/.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (www.citizenjournalistnow.com).

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

03

11 2011

The Challenge of Obtaining Information Under Deadline Pressure

The idea of completing an article on a deadline can often be intimidating for citizen journalists, especially when hard-to-get interviews are involved.

And there may be times when not all the information can be obtained by the time you need to complete your article. As a citizen journalist, you will need to learn the best way around this difficulty.

For starters, you will probably have to write a follow-up article when more information becomes available.

And you’ll have to be persistent – but not a pest – when you try to contact individuals who have the key information that you need.

There will be occasions when people simply refuse to be interviewed or to be available for an interview. That is their prerogative. No one is required to give you an interview.

But there are techniques you can use to try and get them to talk to you.

1) Always identify yourself and say that you’re working as a citizen journalist for whatever publication or outlet you are writing your story. That information gives you credibility and authenticity, and a reason for requesting an interview.

2) For those individuals who fail to return your phone call, try going to their office to see if you can catch them between meetings. Or, ask someone in the office if there is someone else you could talk to who could provide you with the needed information.

3) Try to understand the source’s position. Perhaps there is a good reason the person is not available to be interviewed. Perhaps the source has meeting after meeting and no time to respond to a phone call.

If that’s the case, let your sources know you will only take a minute of their time. Make sure you have done your research and are knowledgeable about the topic at hand so you won’t waste time asking basic questions.

In the end, it may be impossible to get the interview in the time you have allotted to complete your story. To let your readers know you tried to get all the answers to your questions, you should include a sentence, such as: “Repeated attempts to reach the city police chief were unsuccessful” or
“The mayor failed to return phone calls requesting clarification on the issue.”

Those sentences let your readers know that you realize the story may not be complete and that you tried your best to get answers to the questions they might have.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists“.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

20

10 2011

Citizen Sports Reporters Can Turn Their Hobby Into a Business

Here’s a cool idea for citizen journalists who cover local sports.

Sports Reporting Technologies says its SportSiteWare gives citizens a way to write about locals sports and make a business out of it.

Check it out at http://www.sports-reporting.net./. Maybe you can turn your love of sports into a great new business venture.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

14

10 2011

CJ Handbook Becomes a Resource in Malaysia

The training and motivation offered in the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” has gone international.

The handbook, believed to be the only book written for citizen journalists, was given to all of the participants at the second conference for citizen journalists in Malaysia Sept. 23-25.

“The citizen journalists were impressed with the book,” Maran Perianen, a trainer of citizen journalists, told handbook co-authors Ron Ross and Susan Cormier in an email.

“I also plan to give the book in my future training for their reference,” said Perianen, who also is the program director for an online news agency, Malaysiakini.

Malaysiakini, with the assistance of Washington, D.C.-basedInternationalCenterfor Journalists, has successfully conducted almost 70 workshops across Malaysian and has trained more than 350 citizen journalists, according to Perianen.

As the result of this training, Perianen said, the citizen journalists have successfully produced more than 1,500 news videos and almost 1,000 news articles.

“These stories have triggered significant reactions from many individuals, organizations and the government itself.”

I am pleased the citizen journalists will be using the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists’’ as a resource guide. I truly believe that the information, motivation and training they will receive from the handbook will help them in their future endeavors.

And, of course, Ron Ross and I both want to congratulate the Malaysian journalists for their work and wish them continued success.

You can visit the Malaysian website at http://www.cj.my/.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

01

10 2011