The National Association of Citizen Journalists was formed out of a need that I discovered as the publisher of a weekly paper in suburban Denver.
For more than a decade, I published a popular, free entertainment weekly tabloid in Douglas County, Colo., that had lots of fun stuff to read and to do and lots of ads, but very little news.
In 2001, I started a section in my paper that featured news items concerning local people and events. I sought the help of several active citizens expecting them to provide news for these pages. Many that I talked to thought it was a great idea and promised they would send me news.
No one did – well, almost no one. Most of the news in the section came from two or three public information officers bought and paid for by the offices they were serving. The rest of it I gleaned from e-zines, emails and websites that I read each week. A few months into the project, I dropped the section because it was too labor intensive and because I was sent so little real news.
In early 2008, I purchased a sort of franchise for a hyperlocal news website for the county that my weekly paper covered. Once again, I told everyone about the new website that gave every community in our county their own front page. It was actually pretty cool and, of course, I thought it would be incredibly successful.
To promote it, I put full and half-page ads in the paper, wrote news articles about it, talked to all my advertisers, recruited sports team coaches, informed important government agencies and invited churches, service clubs, schools and other groups to upload their news.
Guess what? Not enough people uploaded enough news to attract a significant number of readers. The business equation was as follows: no news equals no readers, which equals no ad sales, which equals no business.
But everything wasn’t lost. In the process, I learned about the worldwide phenomenon of citizen journalism. I discovered that OhMyNews.com in South Korea had more than 40,000 registered citizen journalists writing news. I read that the HuffingtonPost.com had recruited more 10,000 citizen journalists to cover activities during the 2008 political campaign. And I became aware of an increasing number of websites, blogs and other news-related activities created by John and Jane Doe citizens.
“What was the missing link in my little website business?” I asked myself. “Not enough news” was the answer – or was it? Fact is there was plenty of news in the county. There were lots of people who attended sporting events, volunteered for fundraising events, supported political candidates, took church mission trips, sponsored school activities and witnessed a variety of news events throughout the county that were worthy of publication on our website - and many wanted to report on them.
The problem, I finally figured out, was that those who wanted to write the news needed some training and motivation in the art and science of journalism. The problem was easy to state, but for me the solution was not simple.
Somewhere along the way the idea came to me of creating an association for citizen journalists where they could get training and motivation to do the work they wanted to do. I started researching and writing down my ideas until I had what could be called a business plan.
Unfortunately, this process created a glaring problem for me: I could foresee the kind of training that a citizen journalist might need, but I was not qualified to write such a program.
Who did I know that was qualified? Let me think. “What about Susan Cormier?” I asked myself.
Susan and I had met on several occasions at some networking activities around our county. She had also submitted some news to my paper, and I remembered that it was always well written and relevant. I also remember her talking about her experience as a journalist. So we met for a cup of coffee to talk about the idea of what I now called the National Association of Citizen Journalists.
How pleased I was to discover that Susan was the very best person to help me with this project. She told me of her background as one who grew up in the world of journalism, her training at the University of Arizona and the variety of her journalistic experience. She was also aware of the plight of many newspapers and the need for training for citizen journalists.
We met a couple of more times to discuss the business model and then decided to take the dive and form the company. We met with an attorney who helped us formalize our relationship. On Jan. 14, 2009, Susan and her husband, Craig, and my wife, Amy, and I met for dinner at a restaurant in Parker, Colo., where we executed the documents. A few days later, we each invested $100 and opened a bank account.
And that is how the National Association of Citizen Journalists came into existence.
Much has happened since that date and much more is planned.