Posts Tagged ‘Handbook for Citizen Journalists’

Citizen Journalism is Making Headlines

While most citizen journalism efforts in the U.S. struggle to get recognition, similar efforts around the world are making headlines and bringing in big bucks.

Here are three recent examples:

The London-based citizen journalism website – www.blottr.com – recently was awarded a hefty £250,000 (more than $400,000) investment from “the man behind myvouchercodes.co.uk.”

The company said it plans to use the investment to bolster its team and launch in five new UK cities over the coming weeks.

In honor of World Press Freedom Day, the Omidyar Network of Redwood City, Calif., announced May 9 that it was awarding nearly $5 million to four media-related groups involved in investigative and citizen journalism in the developing world.

The four groups include African Media Initiative (Kenya): the SaharaReporters project (Nigeria); Media Development Loan Fund (U.S.); and the Committee to Protect Journalists (Africa programs).

In the Middle East, the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera is offering tutorials to train citizen journalists in the use of new media technologies. Al Jazeera said it is not creating the news agenda but wants to amplify it.

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

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28

05 2011

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 (http://www.nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

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20

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 http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://www.nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

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29

04 2011

Not all Contributors are Citizen Journalists

Due to recent news reports and discussions among citizen journalists, it appears time to take a look at the different types of so-called citizen journalists.

At the National Association of Citizen Journalists, co-founder Ron Ross and I find there are different categories of writers with different goals and intentions.

In our “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” Ross takes it a step further and describes accidental journalists, advocacy citizen journalists and citizen journalists.

“Just because someone uses a cell phone camera to photograph an incident and then uploads it to Flickr or Facebook, it does not make that person a citizen journalist,” Ross writes in Chapter 5.

Ross and I believe these accidental journalists are among those contributing to the news coverage of large news events, such as those happening in Libya and Japan. They also are sought out by local TV stations to help provide coverage for fires, extraordinary weather and some other news items.

According to our handbook: “Accidental journalists are people who are caught unexpectedly in the middle of an event and take photos or videos and upload them to either social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, or news websites such as CNN’s iReport or Fox News’ uReport.’’

We appreciate their willingness to take the time and contribute eyewitness reports of the events that are surrounding them.

Then, there are the advocacy journalists. These folks have a bias and tend to report only the side of the story they want you to hear.

“Advocacy journalism is a genre of journalism that adopts a viewpoint for the sake of advocating on behalf of a social, political, business or religious purpose. It is journalism with an intentional and transparent bias,” Ross writes in our handbook.

Neither of these types of journalists is what we consider a true citizen journalist, or as one blogger wrote recently – an enthusiastic citizen journalist.

True – or enthusiastic – citizen journalists work hard at their craft. They are trained. They strive to tell all sides of the story in an accurate manner.

These are the citizens who would deserve to get paid for their efforts. Not the one-time citizen at the scene of an earthquake or the biased advocate who is trying to sway you to his or her side of the debate.

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/).

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08

04 2011

If Only I had my own Copy Editor . . .

Most citizen journalists don’t have the luxury of asking a skilled editor to proof their articles before they submit them.

In fact, citizen journalists often find themselves in the difficult situation of writing and then editing their own copy. This can be the most difficult editing that exists because it is very hard to catch your own errors. You know what you want the article to say, so you overlook misspelled or misused words, typos and incorrect grammar.

Believe me, I know. I’ve had my share of self-editing struggles.

So before submitting your articles, I highly recommend asking someone to review them for any possible errors. If you have a friend who can look over your work, by all means do it.

Another suggestion is to read your story at least three times. The first edit should focus on whether the story makes sense. During the second reading, pay special attention to spelling and grammar. On the third time through, you might want to see if there are any unanswered questions or negative words that could get you into trouble.

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.

These editing suggestions are the type of information included in the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” and the training offered by the National Association of Citizen Journalists. For more information or to order your e-copy of the handbook, visit http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/. To learn more about the training offered by the NACJ or to sign up for your free subscription to the Citizen Journalist Post, visit http://www.nacj.us/.

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22

12 2010

Gift Ideas for Citizen Journalists

I thought I’d suggest a couple of last-minute gift ideas for those citizen journalists or want-to-be reporters that you know. These books offer great information and a historical perspective on the citizen journalism movement:

“Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Online Community Journalism” was written by Jack Driscoll and can be found at
http://www.amazon.com/Couch-Potatoes-Sprout-Community-Journalism/dp/1436371597.

“Handbook for Citizen Journalists” was written by Ron Ross and Susan Carson Cormier and can be purchased as an e-book at http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

“We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People” was written by Dan Gillmor and can be bought at http://www.amazon.com/We-Media-Grassroots-Journalism-People/dp/0596102275/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292532301&sr=8-1.

Happy holidays!

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17

12 2010