Posts Tagged ‘National Association of Citizen Journalists’

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

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

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 ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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04 2011

Personal Experience Shows Citizen Journalists are Needed

The problem of shrinking professional news staffs hit me personally when a friend of mine was killed in an auto accident on March 8.

The Denver Post reported the accident and his death, but it failed to follow-up the next day with an article explaining what happened and to identify the driver who caused the five-car crash.

I called the newspaper several days after the accident to request a follow-up article. At the funeral six days after the accident, friends and family were forced to speculate about what may have happened because there hadn’t been any subsequent news stories.

Lack of enough staff to cover local news is a problem we talk about a lot at the National Association of Citizen Journalists. We believe citizen journalists are part of the solution because they can help cover news when professional reporters are unavailable.

The day after the funeral, I decided it was time to put my journalism skills to work. I’ve been telling citizen journalists for years that they are needed to help cover the news. It was time for me to step up to the plate.

The first thing I did was to set my bias aside. Although I was angry that this driver led to the death of an innocent man who was sitting in traffic on his way to work, I decided I could set that anger aside in my search for the information that the victim’s friends wanted to know.

I then wrote out the questions that I wanted answered. That made it much easier to interview the police sergeant who returned my call about the incident.

The sergeant didn’t seem to care that I was a citizen journalist reporting the story. He gave me all the information he had available and noted that the investigation was continuing.

I believe I wrote the story in a straight news manner. No one reading it would know that I was a friend of the victim. I then offered my story to The Post, but my offer was politely declined.

Barry Osborne, The Post’s online news editor, said Wednesday the reporter who covered the initial accident would follow-up on the crash. He said there had been a delay because that reporter had spent the next week covering another tragic story – the killing of a policeman in Limon, Colo.

Since I haven’t seen a follow-up story yet, I posted my report on The Post’s website.

I hope The Post will follow up when the accident investigation is complete and charges are filed. If not, rest assured that I’ll be there to fill the void.

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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03 2011

Deceitful Practices set Bad Example for Citizen Journalists

An online newspaper editor is setting a horrible example for citizen journalists who want to cover news in their communities.

Ian Murphy, editor of the reportedly left-leaning Buffalo Beast website based in Buffalo, N.Y., failed to identify himself correctly before interviewing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker about the debate surrounding public-employee unions that led Democratic state senators to leave the state to stop a vote.

According to an Associated Press report in The Denver Post on Thursday, Feb. 24,  Walker thought he was talking to a conservative billionaire named David Koch, not the editor of an online newspaper.

In the interview, Walker reportedly described several ways to pressure Democrats to return to the state Capitol and said his supporters had considered planting people in the protest crowds to stir up trouble.

After he learned the interviewer was not who he thought, Walker was quoted as saying: “The things I said are the things I’ve said publicly all the time.”

So Murphy didn’t really get any fantastic scoop from his unethical conduct, which he told the AP he did to show how candid Walker would speak to a conservative while refusing to return calls from Democrats.

This incident reminds me why I am so passionate in my role as a trainer for the National Association of Citizen Journalists. I don’t want citizen journalists to learn how to be journalists from folks like Murphy. Deception is not the way to do journalism.

So please, if you are a practicing or aspiring citizen journalist, identify yourself correctly before interviewing folks. Honesty is the only way to be ethical and respected. And that’s the only way to be a journalist – professional or citizen.

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