Archive for the ‘Education and Training’Category

Curating Citizen and Community News Stories

Journalists today are being urged to add context and curate news events for their viewer/users. As OMNI’s Joe McPherson says, just start with “…an article or video from a citizen journalism source and talk about it.” For lots of local news, this kind of simple reporting works well.

You can find a newsworthy post or photo or video, and add a bit of background information, some details, and explain the local connection or angle to the story, and it works for your audience.

There are stories, even local stories, that end up generating streams of comments and SMS-style updates, related photos, or videos but as they are posted in real time, they don’t create a structured narrative.

Reporters today need to learn how to verify, source, and analyze social information streams to provide context. Curating is adding a structure or frame to this social stream, reducing redundancy or echo in the messages, and writi

ng what you know best, and just  linking  to the rest.

I found a small but important example of this new kind of reporting on one of Chicago’s Everyblock community sections. From the initial question about an incident of  indecent exposure– a “flasher” –near an elementary school, a discussion ensures about the flasher and what can be done. Then a community reporter,  tipped to the stream by his publisher, uses the community site to get in contact with the victim. The reporter followed up on the story, which ended with the apprehension and arrest of the flasher. The reporter published the story in print, but then posted it back on the community site.

Most of the interesting reading, from the comments to the timeline, to the reporter’s version of the story, happened online as part of Everyblock’s community section for Bowmanville/Ravenswood, or via Twitter. If I tried to copy/paste and link them here, it would have been a big job. Instead, I used a new tool,, that let’s a reporter easily integrate social media from multiple social networks into a storyline, with drag and drop. It preserves all attribution and metadata of each element, and is set up for easy sharing when your story is finished.

You can read and view how the social media are formatted automatically with the metadata and links for yourself. You will be able to view the discussion as it happened. What do you think of this method of curating a story? Want to talk about it? Leave a comment.

The Future of News is Social, Local, and Gets a Flasher off the Streets –

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06 2011

No, not a superinjunction but a Big competition

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New charity the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust (CJET), which is supported by The-Latest.Com, has launched with its Big Picture street photography competition.

This exciting event has won backing from Time Out magazine, Olympus, who have donated a prize worth almost £300. Guardian News & Media donated an iconic image, taken by a citizen photographer, of Ian Tomlinson, the innocent bystander killed by a police officer at the G20 protest of 2009.

The competition offers entrants from the UK and abroad the opportunity to win the brand new Olympus LS-20M pocket camcorder and the title of “CJET Street Photographer of the Year” by using their mobile phone to take a winning picture.

Judges are award-winning photographer Eamonn McCabe, former Picture Editor of The Guardian, renowned publisher Dr Margaret Busby, a CJET Trustee, Martin Shaw, chair of the Trustees, Allyce Hibbert, Picture Editor of Time Out and Brian Usher, Picture Editor of The-Latest.Com.

Martin Shaw said: “CJET recognises that ordinary citizens not only consume news but make it too. Think of the image of innocent bystander Ian Tomlinson who was unlawfully killed at the G20 protest, the 7/7 terrorist attack and Asian tsunami photographs that have come from camera phones. We are doing the Big Picture competition to celebrate this important new citizen journalism.”

CJET is a UK charity that inspires and encourages the personal development of disadvantaged young adults through journalism, writing, literacy, photography and video. It produces educational material that includes college standard online out-reach materials and tutorials for contributors interested in a career in journalism, photography or broadcasting.

It also aims to assist the public to find a better connection with the sometimes mystifying world of media, journalism and current affairs that is so influential in all our lives.

The competition runs from June 1 2011 to August 31 2011 and the winner notified on October 3 2011. Full details can be viewed here:

Please send the link to the competition page to all your contacts. We look forward to receiving your photos.



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Critical Thinking is Important When Reporting the News

With declining news staffs, it seems to me that professional journalists are probably overworked and not being as critical in their thinking as they should be.

As a lesson for citizen journalists everywhere, let me cite a few examples that I’ve come across recently.

A man whose home was in foreclosure told a reporter he had made the last 16 mortgage payments in a timely manner. The reporter failed to delve further into the claim. However, I’m sure most people reading the story wondered why his property was in foreclosure if he’d made 16 timely payments.

A second example comes from a report about a horse owner in Elbert County who was facing cruelty charges. The news story failed to include the horse owner’s name or that the name had not yet been released. It also didn’t say where in unincorporated Elbert County the horses were found.

My guess is the professional journalists just used the press release as it was given to them by law enforcement – without looking at it with a critical eye to see whether it made sense or failed to include some important facts.

Additional information was added to the story after the omissions were pointed out by an associate of the National Association of Citizen Journalists.

And finally, my third example comes from the report on a house fire that failed to identify the one person in the home at the time of the fire and whether the person was injured. It did say the woman was “found near a back door and was pulled from the home.”

Again, I don’t know if the official press release failed to identify the woman and say whether she was injured, but it sure seems to me a thinking reporter would ask those questions. If the answers weren’t available, a reporter should include that information in the story as well.

My advice to professional and citizen journalists is to take a step back and think critically. Don’t just take a handout from law enforcement and think it will include all the information you need for a complete story. And if something doesn’t make sense, ask more questions until it does.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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05 2011

What Happened to Using Your Brain?

People make mistakes, but there have been a couple of errors in recent days that bring up the issue of how important it is for reporters to think when they are doing their job.

In reporting about the divorce of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, a radio reporter said Wednesday, May 11, that Shriver had moved out of the governor’s mansion.

Well, that’s a good thing. Current California Gov. Jerry Brown probably wouldn’t like having Shriver living in the home now that Schwarzenegger is no longer the head of that state.

A second example comes from a political event in Arizona. A newspaper reported that 50 people attended. The newspaper subsequently ran a correction to say that 100 people actually were at the event.

Good grief. When you are dealing with numbers that aren’t huge, how hard is it to count and calculate an estimate on the number of people in a room? Just count the number of rows of chairs and the number of people in each row. Really, it’s not that hard.

So, professional and citizen journalists, please use your brain when reporting the news.

Don’t just take as the gospel truth a crowd estimate offered by one person, especially if the crowd is small enough that you can come up with your own number.

And please use these examples as motivation to think and maybe even do some research before including background information in your story.

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

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05 2011

Common Writing Mistakes Corrected

While doing an incredible amount of editing lately, I’ve noticed that writers and citizen journalists are making some of the same mistakes.

In an effort to cut down on my editing marks, I thought I’d outline how citizen journalist can avoid three errors I keep seeing over and over again.

1) Start your story with the newest information available. Your lead – or first paragraph – should include the news that just happened. That news can – and should – be followed by background information about previous events or developments related to the most recent news.

Let’s take a fictitious example of a new statewide campaign to protect the elderly that was announced April 28. The campaign was launched because of a February 2011 report that noted a spike in assaults on the elderly. Your story should lead with the new campaign – not the old news about February’s report on abuse. But your story should include a paragraph further down about that February report.

2) Put quotes in separate paragraphs. When you use paraphrases and direct quotes from a source, give the direct quotes their own paragraph. Always put quotes from different sources in their own paragraph. Do not combine quotes from separate individuals in one paragraph.

3) Comma use when dealing with a list of items is often confusing. Use commas to separate the individual items in the list – except before the conjunction “and” or “or.” It would be: The class included students from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

There is an exception. You would put a comma before the conjunction if the list of items contains one item that also has a conjunction, such as: Freelancers, bloggers, unpaid student interns, and citizen and professional journalists are covering the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.

These are the types of tips that are included in the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” which can be purchased online at

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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04 2011

Reports on Dennis Rodman’s Antics Deliver Two Ways to Tell a Story

The words that are used to describe a crime scene, a car accident, a public incident, or the reactions of individuals and their behaviors can make a big difference in the way a story is told and understood.

While citizen journalists should try to capture the details of the moment for their readers, they also should be careful in choosing the words they use to describe an event or scene.

A website – – provides a great example of two ways a story was told by two different individuals.

Both individuals believed they were telling the “truth.” But what they were telling was the true story as they saw it through their eyes.

They used phrases such as “dangerous tirade,” “in typical fashion,” “wild and theatrical behavior” and “consistent with past heroics” as they described an incident involving former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman.

Just for fun, go to and do the exercise. Read both versions of the story. Pick out some of the words that you think are a bit slanted. Think of some words you might have used instead.

If nothing else, do as asks you to do: “Consider the effect that each version is likely to have on audiences who did not actually witness the event(s), and, who experienced only a single written version.”

Interesting lesson, don’t you think?

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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04 2011

The Tough Road to Running a Local News Website

Learning how to run a profitable, local, news website is an enigma to many, even those who have been in the news business for years.

Individuals struggling with this concept might learn a thing or two from a recent article in Editor & Publisher written by Hal DeKeyser, a reporter, photographer, opinion editor, columnist and publisher in the Phoenix area for 25 years.

In his article, DeKeyser suggests that this new era in news “offers the chance to run your own news operation without the big iron and distribution expense.” But DeKeyser also notes this new era also comes with numerous barriers and headaches.

He should know. He’s made several attempts at starting local news websites, including his current project,

In the E & P article, he outlines nine lessons he has learned along the way. Here are just four of those hard-learned lessons, as written by DeKeyser:

1. “Start slow. Our current beta site,, presents the full array of local information – schools, government, business, calendars – but not a lot of original reporting yet. It’s important to get the site up, running, noticed by the search engines, and begin creating local partnerships first.
2. “Create partnerships. With all the sites out there, plus good and halfhearted stabs at it by the newspapers still publishing, local entities won’t think they need you. Be valuable to organizations, businesses, schools, clubs, governments, and chambers. A media partner would be killer. Woodlands Online has a new partnership with CBS affiliate KHOU-TV, which plays on both of their strengths: being intensely local and regional.

3. “Tell the world, through social media, links, and e-mail blasts to opt-in registrants, getting your customers and partners to promote the site and its content, repurposing messages through as many pipelines as possible.

4. “Pick your niche and live it. For us, it’s local. Another site in the Phoenix area concentrates only on non-school youth sports. Some are business or areas of business, like real estate, or even more narrow niches, such as Hispanic women in business.”

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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02 2011

How to get stories as a citizen journalist

Research for news or feature stories is very different to academic study. Time limits or  ’deadlines’ are usually more critical and the depth of information required is much less. In journalism, research will be for background information and for the purposes of finding people you can interview for expert comment or analysis. These are called  ’sources’. In news journalism, a single source is often used in an article but feature writers use several sources.

Most organisations have designated employees who deal with media enquiries. They are usually called a press officer and work in the press office. But they may be a marketing person or even staff at a public relations company. The press office will supply you with news releases, brochures and leaflets, known as  ’hand-out’ material. Press officers are usually helpful, all too aware that today’s journalism student or writing enthusiast may be tomorrow’s Fleet Street staffer. They will answer your questions and may assist you to arrange an interview with a source which, in television, is called unflatteringly a  ’talking head’. Adding your contact details to a press officer’s mailing list can result in invitations to potentially valuable sources of stories like product launches and news conferences. Potential interviewees can be found using publications including:

The Directory of British Associations, available in most reference libraries.

The Hollis Press and Public Relations Annual

The Writers and Artists Yearbook

The Guardian Media Guide which lists a range of media contacts and the names, telephone numbers and websites for local councils, government departments, hospitals, police services, courts, prisons, museums, theatres and embassies.

A good reference library will have a variety of specialist directories as well CD-ROMS containing back issues of newspapers and journals. It is worthwhile joining more than one library. London has a number of these, for instance Westminster Reference Library, the British Library and the Royal Institute for International Affairs, which researchers can use by prior appointment.

The internet is now an easy and standard source for research. There are a number of major search engines on the net and a few like Ask Jeeves at and are particularly user-friendly because you can enter a question. All the major newspapers have searchable archives, for example Though the internet is a great resource, for accuracy, be careful to use authoritative sites and double check facts when not doing this. For example, though the online encyclopaedic resource is a boon, remember that it is written by volunteers who are not necessarily experts (anybody who wants to contribute can) and therefore information on it needs to be cross-referenced with other sources.

It is not uncommon for people who are new to journalism to spend an inordinate amount of effort on research and then leave little time for the writing of an article. The important consideration in the first stage of constructing your piece is the topicality of the story, its relevance to a target audience and interesting angle. This will provide the necessary focus for your research, saving precious time and labour. The UK’s citizen journalism website is rich with resources for would-be journalists.

The following should give you some story ideas.


What was really behind President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and why did Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other leaders support it?

What’ was the true casualty total after a ‘terrorist bombing’? Who was really behind these earth-shattering events?

What’s the latest on official probes like the investigations into the controversial death of Princess Diana?

What’s happening in a court case, crime or other investigation you’re interested in, but suddenly the news media stops reporting or doesn’t cover at all?

You can submit Freedom of Information Act inquiries to public bodies for you and get important questions answered. See:

Travel and Health

In today’s uncertain world, to what places is it safe to travel? And, with the advent of new pandemics like bird flu, what’s the latest health advice? Tell us about your transport experiences or treatment at the hands of the health service or other official bodies. Be a whistle-blower on information being kept secret by the powers-that-be when the public have the right to know.

Where are they now?

Tell is what’s happened to a favourite soap star no longer in the show? A politician, pop star, sports personality, actor or model – where are they now?

New Products

Write a sneak preview of the latest products like mobile phones, electrical and other goods as a consumer.

Copyright  © 2008

Republished with permission.

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Put People in Your Feature Stories

A couple of my recent blogs have focused on feature writing as a great way for average citizens to jump in and explore the world of citizen journalism or user-generated content.

I’ve suggested that features are an easier way for newcomers to get started than hard news, and I’ve offered a few helpful hints along the way.

Today, I’m presenting two examples of features I have written to generate interest in two community events. In both of these stories, the news peg was the upcoming event. But rather than writing a news brief that only states the time, location and date, I generated interested by focusing on an individual who would be at the event.

One feature was designed to inform folks about a travel photography class. For that piece, I wrote about the photographer who was giving the class, his background and his travels. That way, interested people would know the instructor’s credentials and want to sign up for the class.

The other article featured an artist who turned insects and butterflies into magnificent pieces of art. This was an easy one. My obvious first question was: Why would someone want to play with insects and bugs for a living?

This incredibly creative woman was just one of the artists who would be at an upcoming show. So again, the news angle was the show.

Both of these features generated a significant amount of interest in the events. The photography class was filled to capacity and the insect artist’s booth saw incredible traffic during the two-day art show.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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02 2011

Don’t Underestimate Fact-Checking

Some recent commentaries and articles on journalism have focused on fact-checking, a skill and task that should be taken seriously by professional and citizen journalists alike.

Let’s start with a Jan. 8, 2011, column by Arthur Brisbane, The New York Times’ public editor, who noted that The Times corrected 3,500 errors in 2010, most of which were errors in spellings, dates and historical facts.

Some of these errors were attributed to rushing on deadline, failing to check facts and misreading notes. Many of the errors, however, were attributed to “Googling a name and taking the spelling – or historical fact – as gospel.”

Many people rely on Google for basic information, but few realize the information that appears from a Google search could be inaccurate. They don’t even look at the information in a skeptical way.

In training citizen journalists, I always tell them that Google is a starting point – and only that. Just because information is found on the Internet does not mean it is true. All facts found through Google should be double-checked.

A second interesting example of fact-checking came from an article posted Jan. 25, 2011, by Newley Purnell, an American journalist in Thailand, who wrote about Associated Press reporter Thanyarat Doksone.

According to Purnell’s report, Doksone read a Twitter report from a Thai radio station saying that Bangkok’s anti-government, red-shirt protests last April and May had spread to the Asoke area of the Thai capital.

Rather than taking the Tweet as the gospel, Doksone decided to double-check the report.

Since she was in a different part of town, she took the extra step of asking her Twitter “followers” if they could confirm what had been reported. One of her followers who was in the area responded that “all was quiet and even posted an image to prove that there was no unrest of note,” Purnell wrote.

I guess both stories show the ups and downs of reporting in this technological age. You can’t always trust what you find on the Internet or on Twitter, but you can use those same tools to begin your research and/or to double-check what has been reported.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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