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

Citizen Journalism Efforts Receive Innovation Award

Congratulations are due to a Connecticut newspaper and some mainstream editors for recognizing the importance of including citizens in the news-gathering process.

At a meeting in Denver, Colo., last week, the Associated Press Media Editors awarded their annual innovation award to the Register Citizen of Torrington, Conn., for its Open Newsroom Project.

While the newspaper deserves major kudos, the mainstream editors also should be applauded for their acceptance of the Register Citizen’s pioneering efforts to encourage citizen journalists and bloggers, and open the paper’s doors to the community.

Among the innovative concepts incorporated into Open Newsroom Project are a community media lab with workstations for local bloggers, a community classroom, a newsroom Café and open archives. The paper actually encourages community participation and even offers a live-stream of its daily editorial meetings.

As a promoter of citizen journalism and citizen journalism training, my two favorite parts of the project, launched in December 2010, are the community media lab and community classroom.

According to its write-up of the lab, “The difference between our approach and similar efforts in the past is that we do not seek to ‘own’ or control their content. We are just linking to and helping promote the work bloggers are doing on topics or in neighborhoods that we don’t have the resources to cover.

“They get the ‘fire hose’ of our audience traffic directed at their site, and we get to offer a more comprehensive package of local news and information to our readers via aggregation and curation of outside work.”

The Register Citizen also has a full-time editor who works with and trains local bloggers.

But the paper has done even more. It has built a classroom in its newsroom, where it holds classes and workshops on technology, writing and journalism – all of which are open to the public and live-streamed on the web.

Again, according to its write-up, members of the newspaper’s staff were sitting alongside local bloggers, residents and even local public officials at a series of classes on the Freedom of Information Act.

How cool is that?

So, I’d like to add my congratulations to the Register Citizen for a job well done. I look forward to hearing about its continued success and hope similar open newsroom projects start popping up across the country.

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

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

24

09 2011

New School Year Creates Openings for Citizen Journalists

The beginning of the new school year creates citizen journalism opportunities for students and parents alike.

Students may want to write about their school’s clubs, happenings and sports events. Parents also may want to cover their children’s sporting events – competitions that might not otherwise be covered by the local media.

Students and parents should strive to be as objective as possible as they can in reporting and writing about these events. For example, a mother covering her son’s football game should set aside her bias of her son’s abilities so she can provide a fair and accurate report of each competition.

Those who can provide unbiased reporting may also want to contact their local media outlet to see if their reporting and writing services can be put to good use. Many local broadcast and print news operations gladly accept the services of citizen journalists especially if they are reliable, are able to write like trained journalists and can meet deadlines.

If you are interested, you should call the newsroom of your local media outlet. Tell the person who answers the phone that you would like to provide coverage of specific local school events and ask who you should talk to. Ask to speak to the appropriate person and request an interview.

Before you go in for your interview, study the ways the media outlet writes about the events or sports you want to cover for it. Then, prepare some writing samples to take to your interview.

For those who may want to brush up on skills before the interview, the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” includes several skills chapters about writing news, feature and sports stories. E-copies can be purchased at http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

Susan Cormier is 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)

03

09 2011

Journalists STILL Need to Watch Government

A perfect example of the importance of journalists presented itself in my hometown of Elbert County, Colo., this week.

A water district was seeking approval of an expansion plan that would allow it to export hundreds of millions of gallons of water out of Elbert County.

The proposal was expected to be voted upon by the county commissioners on Wednesday, Aug. 24. About a 1,000 concerned citizens reportedly showed up at that meeting to voice their opposition. Instead, however, they received the news that the request had been withdrawn – at least temporarily.

According to a news report in The Denver Post on Aug. 25, Elbert County residents for weeks had been questioning “the speed with which the proposal was being considered and the secrecy surrounding it. Little, if anything, was posted on the county website. Some residents said the only information they could find was in newspaper reports.”

Did you catch that last point? Residents didn’t learn about the water district’s plans by looking on the county website. They had to rely on newspaper reports for their information.

This situation reinforces what I’ve always believed. Journalists – whether professionals or citizens – are crucial to keeping our society informed and our government in check.

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

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

26

08 2011

The Five Ws are Just the Beginning

Thorough reporting is essential to writing a complete news article, so don’t forget to ask the five Ws and how.

Who? Who did what to whom? Who was or who will be involved?

What? What did they do or what do they plan to do?

Why? Why did they do it or why are they planning to do this?

When? When did it happen or when will it occur? Be specific. If it is something that will happen over time, give the starting and end dates. If it is a one-day event, give the specific time and the date. If it already happened, the time and date should be readily available.

Where? Where did they do it or where will it happen? Again, be specific. Your readers will want more than your city or town. They’ll want the address or general location.

How? How did it or how will it happen?

Let’s say you are covering a government entity’s construction project. You’ll need to ask: Who is doing the construction? What are they building? Why are they building it? When will the construction happen? Where will the construction take place? And finally, how much will the project cost?

Don’t stop there. While the answers to these questions are crucial, they often don’t answer all the inquiries your readers may have. And sometimes the answers you receive generate additional questions you need to ask.

In this example, you asked about the cost of the project. But you also need to ask how the project will be funded and how many people will be employed.

When you are done asking your questions, ask your source if there is any supplemental information he or she would like to add. You might be surprised to learn they are using new, innovative techniques your readers will want to know about.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” which can be purchased as an e-book at http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.9/10 (12 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)

06

08 2011

Journalists Must Have Integrity

In the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” co-author Ron Ross and I included a section on 15 core values that we believe should be upheld by professional and citizen journalists alike.

In light of the recently reported unethical practices involving Rupert Murdoch’s publications, it seems like a good time to discuss some of those core values.

Perhaps especially poignant is core value #15: Integrity. The following is how the handbook describes its importance.

“One gets a sense of the importance of integrity to the journalism profession by this powerful sentence found in the Preamble of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics: ‘Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.’

“Unfortunately, journalism’s cornerstone of integrity has been crumbling in the last few years. The profession has suffered because of widely-reported and well-documented examples of journalistic bias, fraud, plagiarism and fabrication. The cornerstone needs to be restored.

“Citizen journalists must join the many serious professional journalists who still adhere to the ethics and standards that made journalism a valuable and honorable profession. It all begins with integrity.

“Integrity is the virtue of basing all of an individual’s words and deeds on an unswerving framework of personally-held, well-developed principles. This means one must know what is right and wrong, good and evil, helpful and hurtful, and then act accordingly, even at personal cost. Integrity could be called the virtue of all virtues.

“Journalistic integrity suffers when reporters allow their bias to dictate which story to cover and what facts to reveal or hide. Journalistic integrity suffers when stories are made up and presented as real, when phony evidence is offered as authentic and when made-up quotes are repeated as real. The biggest challenge is that once integrity is lost, it is difficult to re-establish.

“Integrity starts from within. Those who live and work with integrity will be empowered and respected by all. Those who act with integrity will bewilder those who are deceitful and enlighten those who are sincere; it’s a wonderful thing.”

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” which can be purchased as an e-book at 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)

22

07 2011

New Call for Citizen Journalism Training

An independent media researcher has joined the campaign to better educate citizen journalists.

In her report, Citizen Journalism and the Internet – an Overview, researcher Nadine Jurrat recognizes that “citizen journalists have become regular contributors to mainstream news, providing information and some of today’s most iconic images, especially where professional journalists have limited access or none at all.”

But she also notes that these citizen journalists need ethical, legal and business training to be taken seriously by professional media and audiences alike.

“In order for citizen journalists to continue providing relevant information for the general public, training in ethical standards and legal pitfalls in the context of personal reporting should be made more widely available.”

I couldn’t agree more. There have been instances where individuals who call themselves citizen journalists totally abandon journalistic ethics and disregard any legal repercussions that could occur.

That’s why I’ve been so involved in training citizen journalists. In fact, the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” that I co-authored includes chapters on those very subjects – libel and 15 core value for citizen journalists.

I believe the handbook is a must-read for any practicing or aspiring citizen journalist.

To purchase your copy, visit www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

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)

17

07 2011

News Stories Begin With the End

A beginning writer recently asked about the difference between writing stories and writing the news.

With stories, the writer almost always starts at the beginning, expands on the story line and then winds up with an end. This format gives readers the enjoyment of becoming engaged in the story, becoming attached to the characters and the outcome.

A news story is just the opposite. In fact, reading a news story is like reading the end of the book first.

When you read a news story, you learn what happened in the first paragraph or two. You don’t have to dig through paragraph after paragraph of explanation to find that key information.

The first paragraph – or lead – summarizes the key items people want to know about a news event. The second and third paragraphs support the lead and provide additional answers, such as the how and why, and maybe even a quote. Succeeding paragraphs contain information that is secondary and can be listed in order of decreasing importance.

The information is organized this way so that it is easy for readers to understand the news quickly. It hits them head on, making it more convenient for them to quickly understand what happened and decide if they want to continue reading the article.

Readers who want just the basic facts without all the details can find it in those first few paragraphs and stop reading. Readers who want more details can keep reading to the end.

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

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.2/10 (15 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -2 (from 2 votes)

06

07 2011

Your Story Will be Better With Multiple Sources

When writing articles that rely on individuals’ opinions about a situation, event or service, make sure you interview and quote more than one person.

Let’s say you are writing a story about college students who are participating in a volunteer program to provide health care in Central America. Make sure you interview multiple students to get their perspectives on why they are volunteers in the program.

Be sure to also quote several different students in the story, not just one. In situations where they agree, you can write “the students” said they look forward to experiencing life in another country.

But also make sure you quote several students separately so your readers can learn the variety of perspectives offered by them. One student may have volunteered because of his aspirations to become a doctor, while another student may be involved because she wants travel the globe.

An exception to this would be if you are doing a feature story on one specific person in the program. In that case, the focus of your story would be on the individual rather than the volunteer program. And that would be a totally different approach to the story.

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

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.4/10 (11 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)

24

06 2011

Citizens Help Review Palin Emails

The recent release of Sarah Palin’s boatload of emails gave us a new glimpse into the way citizens can contribute to the news process.

Faced with boxes of documents and a limited number of staff and hours on June 10, some major news outlets – like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times - decided to scan and post the emails online without first reviewing most of them. Once posted, these mainstream media outlets welcomed the public’s help in scrutinizing and reviewing the thousands of emails.

“The readers are augmenting the work of our journalists, not taking their place,” Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor with The New York Times, reportedly wrote in an email. “The readers are just an extra, and valuable, resource.”

As Steve Doig, an Arizona State University journalism professor, told The Arizona Daily Star: “You don’t have to be a professional reporter to be able to recognize statements that might be newsworthy…. Having lots and lots of eyeballs looking through it – whether it’s a professional reporter or just somebody who’s looking for their own interest or amusement – you can more quickly find something newsworthy.”

While this isn’t exactly how I envisioned citizens helping in the news process, I’m guessing all those extra eyes and brains can be helpful when you’re dealing with an overabundance of documents.

I just wish citizens would get as excited about helping the media cover news in their cities and towns as they do about looking at old emails of big-name politicians.

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)

18

06 2011

Tips on Proper Word Use

I don’t mean to nitpick, but here are a couple of reminders on how to use words that are often used improperly.

Over, more than - Many citizen journalists use the word ‘over’ when writing about numbers, such as: “over 200 people were at the event” or “she makes over $50,000 a year.”

According to The Associated Press Stylebook, the words ‘more than’ are preferred when dealing with numbers, so it should be: “more than 200 people were at the event” and “she makes more than $50,000 a year.”

The word ‘over’ should be used to refer to spatial relationships. For example, “the ball was thrown over the boy’s head.”

Burglary, robbery - For news people, there is a huge difference between a burglary and a robbery. A burglary involves entering a building and remaining there with the intent to commit a crime. A robbery involves the use of violence or threat while committing a theft or stealing.

Demolish, destroy – Both words mean something is gone completely and for good. It would be inaccurate to say the building was partially destroyed and it would be redundant to say it was totally destroyed.

Below are examples of words that get misused when people are in a hurry. Slow down when you are writing. Think about what you are trying to say and whether you used the correct word.

Cite, site, sight – Cite means to summon someone to appear in a court of law, or to refer to or quote a resource or example. He cited The AP Stylebook in defending his use of more than. Site is a location. Sight is the act of seeing or a remarkable view.

There, their – There is a place. Their is a possessive. The house is located there, but it is their home.

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

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.6/10 (10 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -2 (from 2 votes)

12

06 2011