Posts Tagged ‘Handbook for Citizen Journalists’

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/)

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03

03 2012

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/).

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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).

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03

11 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/).

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01

10 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“.

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03

09 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/.

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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/.

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22

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/).

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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/).

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24

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/).

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12

06 2011