The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the only book written FOR aspiring and active citizen journalists, “Handbook for Citizen Journalists.” My co-author, Susan Carson Cormier, and I believe that as the world changes the need for well-trained, active citizen journalists increases.
Every day in every town events happen and milestones are reached. People get hired and fired, promoted and laid off, old businesses close and new ones open. On the streets, crimes are committed and good deeds are done. On the sports fields, some teams win while others lose. Everywhere you look - life goes on and so does death – most of it unnoticed and, in the greater scheme of things, relatively unimportant.
But not for those involved. For them it is everything – at least in that moment of time or on that day or in that season. And much of it is worthy of a story or series of stories, maybe a photo, but at least a few lines of news to mark the event. But most of the time, that never happens.
However, it should happen. And more importantly, it could happen.
Important hyperlocal news events can be covered
These important and many not-so-important hyperlocal news events can be covered – not by professional journalists, but by citizen journalists who live, work, play, worship and have coffee with the folks in their own town.
That is why the National Association of Citizen Journalists is calling for 1 million citizen journalists to step forward and cover this vast array of public and private activity so worthy of attention.
There is a tremendous amount of news to cover
There are more than 25,000 cities, towns, counties, boroughs and municipalities in the United States. This does not account for suburbs, subdivisions, homeowner associations, etc.
Each community has an almost innumerable number of important businesses, governing agencies, notable institutions and interesting people. Take a close look. You’ll find boards, commissions, libraries, schools, churches, colleges, associations, youth organizations, sports leagues, clubs, unions and political parties.
Then take a close look at the fascinating variety of folks in your town. You’ll find the famous and infamous, rich and poor, weird and normal, lawbreakers and law abiders. And each one has a story.
The closer you look, the greater the need for citizen journalists is revealed
Take your local school district as an example. There are several schools – elementary, middle and high schools - each having a variety of stories of achievement that are worthy of recognition. They include sports teams, debate teams, drama clubs, choirs, proms and homecomings, just to name a few. And don’t forget the other intrigue and activities that make schools such interesting and important parts of a community.
It is impossible for any newspaper or radio or television station to cover all the activities of any one school district. They need the help of citizen journalists and many are ready to use them.
An uncountable number of stories need to be told
Believe it when we tell you that on the afternoon the hometown high school girls’ volleyball team won the state tournament, it was bigger news in that town than what happened at the state Capitol, in the halls of Congress or inside the largest sports arena in the land. Someone needs to talk to the girls, interview the coaches and get a quote from the proud parents. Someone needs to tell the story, publish a photo and give the girls their moment in the sun.
The evening that the same town’s water board met and raised the rates of every household in town caused a greater stir among the citizenry than the news of a tsunami in the Pacific. Someone should have been at that water board meeting with a pen and notebook, a digital recorder and the courage to ask the water board members for an explanation. Someone needs to tell the story, publish a photo, render a quote and hold the board’s feet to the fire.
Somewhere last week in a town just like yours, a small group of important people met and made decisions. Their decisions impacted the pocketbooks of thousands of citizens – and yet no one was there to watch out for the regular folks, the taxpayers and ratepayers. Someone needed to be there to report on how the decisions were made, who brokered the deals and what facts were considered or rejected.
Someone – perhaps someone like you - needs to find those stories, take some pictures and write some news.
Newspapers would love to cover all this news but cannot
Traditionally, this kind of news coverage and watch-dogging was done by local newspapers. But in reality, newspapers could never afford to send a reporter to follow every high school sports team or attend every meeting of every board and commission.
Today, their ability to fully cover the news within a community is diminishing. In some communities, this situation has reached critical mass. Some newspapers have closed completely; others have had to cut back staff at every level due to decreases in advertising revenue and dwindling readership. Today, just getting the most significant news out is a job that demands extra hours by multi-tasking staff.
Not only are there too few staff to cover all the news in a community, there also are too few newspapers overall.
Many newspapers have to cover several or more towns and cities in their circulation area, and it’s not physically or financially possible for them to cover all of the news. They need citizen journalists to attend meetings, do research, check facts, ask questions and write news.
Citizen journalism’s growing influence
Tens of thousands of citizen journalists around the world are discovering and developing a wide variety of ways to get the news out about what is happening in their communities, states and nations. They are using all the latest tools of technology to write all kinds of news. With these new tools, they watchdog government, enlighten citizens, photograph and video events, tip news agencies, create graphs, charts and cartoons, use their expertise, and tell stories.
This grassroots journalism movement is worldwide and gains in popularity and influence with every new website that goes online, every blog that is created and with each digital photo or video that is uploaded.
Citizen journalists are doing this for two reasons: because they care and because they can. They care about what is happening in their communities and they are armed with inexpensive and easy-to-operate tools that make it possible to reach their town and even the world with a couple of clicks of a mouse.
Their work is varied in kind, quality and usefulness; nevertheless, it is changing the way the world gets its information.
We are calling for 1 million citizen journalists around the world - in communities large and small - to step forward and fill the gap left by fading newspapers and weakening local broadcast news teams.
Will you step forward? Will you accept the challenge?
To purchase your copy of the 250+ page book, “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” CLICK HERE.
For information about the National Association of Citizen Journalists, CLICK HERE.