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Sunshine Week Is Here

Public information belongs to the public.

It’s a simple premise that can be overlooked by the gatekeepers of that information.

That’s why each spring, the American Society of News Editors joins up with other open government groups to host Sunshine Week.

It’s a national project to get people talking about government transparency, and inform everyone about their right to public information.

This week Sunshine Week runs from March 11 – 17.

We’d like to highlight the efforts around Connecticut this week as newspapers and other organizations take part in Sunshine Week.

Please e-mail Ricky Campbell at rcampbell@ctspj.org if you’d like us to highlight your project here. (List of projects will be posted below graphic.)

For more information, and for resources to participate in Sunshine Week (like the graphic posted here) visit www.SunshineWeek.org.

Connecticut Sunshine Week

Let sun shine on government, elections — The Day editorial

Shine The Light On Local Government — CTSPJ blog

Connecticut SPJ opens the door for collaboration

By Lila Carney
Board member

Being a journalism educator, my goal is to prepare my students for the professional world. It’s tough to do.

Journalism is a field that is constantly changing. There are always updates in technology, operations, expectations, job descriptions — this list could truly be endless.

To prepare, universities offer opportunities to students on campus that are awesome: Write for your campus newspaper. Have a radio show. Contribute to your university’s television station. Rounding out the opportunities is collaboration with professionals around our state.

That is where the Connecticut Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists comes in.

Connecticut SPJ offers programs that educate both professionals and students. Besides that, it allows students to network with professionals and professionals to network with some of the most up-and-coming, self-motivated media students.

We are planning another opportunity for this to happen in April. Stay tuned for more information on an educational program about weather reporting. We are working on a partnership with WTNH where professionals and students will be able to learn more about effective weather reporting – something almost every journalist will likely have to do some day.

Besides this program, keep your eyes open for all the opportunities Connecticut SPJ is offering. You never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet – maybe it will be your next boss or star reporter!

Honoring Dr. Mel

By Jerry Dunklee
Board member

Much was written about Dr. Mel Goldstein in the days following his death at 66. He garnered the attention in Connecticut he deserved. He was special and his brave fight against cancer and other ailments for more than 15 years is testament to his courage.

But there is another reason to celebrate Dr. Mel’s career. He broke many of TV’s cherished “rules” and was extraordinarily popular and indeed, loved.

TV news has become a more and more cosmetic business. If you aren’t beautiful, it is tough to work these days in local TV news. Consultants, and some viewers, pay more attention to appearance than they do to smarts and journalism chops. They prefer a young, pretty model-like kid, to an experienced reporter who can tell you the facts clearly.

Dr. Mel proved this attitude is silly. He wasn’t pretty. In his later years, as he fought his cancer, he was stooped and balding. His teeth were not straight. But he knew weather, he loved talking about it and explaining it to people on the air in clear terms. He held a PhD., which many broadcast managers believe implies pedantic and “over-the-head” of viewers. Bull. Though he was very smart, he could explain and teach us what weather was coming and why while never talking down. He cared very much about his craft and about telling it straight. He was what he was.

And we loved him for it, because it was honest and authentic. When you watched Dr. Mel, you knew he respected viewers because he assumed they were intelligent. What a breath of fresh air.

Many journalists have heard the question asked of editors: “Would you rather have a great reporter or a great writer?” The answer from the best editors is always, “Both, but if I have to choose, I’d rather have a great reporter. The great writer tends to use writing skill to gloss over a lack of depth that makes stories weak.”

That’s like TV folk who get by on their looks, not their journalism chops.

News managers take note: Real communicators need not be model beautiful. They need to know their stuff, be good reporters and care about the audience getting clear information. Dr. Mel proved that over more than 25-years. He will be deeply missed.

Citizen Journalism Recap

CTSPJ and the Register Citizen of Torrington held a discussion on citizen journalism on Feb. 4.

Speakers included Andy Sellars, a staff attorney for the Citizen Medial Law Project, Ed McKeon, past editor for the Middletown Eye and Matt DeRienzo, group editor for JRC.

If you missed the program, you can watch it again here:


Live video for mobile from Ustream

Or read the live chat, moderated by CTSPJ board member and Register Citizen reporter Ricky Campbell.

As part of the larger discussion on citizen journalism, CTSPJ plans to post future blog posts on the topic, to help those involved in acts of journalism come up with common best practices for collaboration.

Participants also suggested creating a “reporting 101” document to help citizens understand some of their rights and responsibilities in publishing news stories.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the panel discussion.

Click the links below to read to blog posts leading up to the discussion.

Traditional Media And Citizen Journalism: Time To Curate, Collaborate

Citizen Journalism: Don’t We All Want The Same Thing?

Lessons From Citizen Journalists

Traditional media and citizen journalism: Time to curate, collaborate

By Matt DeRienzo
Group editor of Journal Register Company’s publications in Connecticut 

Think of how this sounds to reporters who are bracing for the next round of newsroom layoffs, reporters who’ve gone years in many cases since their last cost of living raise.

“Citizen journalists” – are you kidding me?

When newspaper executives talk about enlisting readers to cover the news, it can feel pretty insulting to the beat reporter who is over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated. Reporters who can recite the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics verbatim. Reporters who have a masochistic sense of duty to singlehandedly cover everything that a much larger newsroom used to cover.

That “nails on the chalkboard” sound could have something to do with the term “citizen journalist” itself. Connecticut SPJ’s Jodie Mozdzer has done an excellent job establishing the problems with the term itself.

While “citizen journalist” might be impossible to define, there are “acts of citizen journalism” all around us. That’s the disruptive force in news that has both accelerated the financial problems of newspapers and other traditional media and is providing one of the biggest opportunities in generations to expand the breadth and quality of our journalism.

Newspapers and broadcast TV and radio were built on a business model of scarcity.

Millions of people tuned in to Walter Cronkite each evening in the 1960s, and household penetration of daily newspapers was still at a now-unthinkable rate of more than 100 percent (meaning that on average, every household in the country purchased more than one copy).

Today, the scarcity model is dead.

There is no Walter Cronkite equivalent.

And daily newspaper household penetration dropped to 55 percent in 2001, to 44 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2011.

Since 2005, print advertising revenue in the United States has dropped by more than 50 percent.

A big part of why is that there are now millions of news and information sources. And they are instantly and multi-directionally connected in “a web” that is the Web.

The people “formerly known as our audience” don’t turn to Walter Cronkite anymore. They don’t turn to the daily newspaper. They turn to each other, and “if the news is important enough, it will find me.”

So we turn to the question of what role traditional media organizations play in this disrupted world of news and information.

What is our relationship with our audience, if they no longer need us, at least in the way they did under that old scarcity model?

Connecticut SPJ’s discussion of “Citizen Journalism” on Saturday will take place at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe in Torrington, and the venue itself is part of our company’s answer to that question.

It is all about relationships now, and partnering with the audience at every step of the process of local journalism. That starts with openness and transparency, the building blocks of our “open newsroom” experiment.

It also means recognizing that the audience will organize itself around common interests without you because it doesn’t need you to do that.

That’s why we refer to “partnering” instead of “enlisting” or “involving” the audience.

John Paton, the CEO of our company, has said he envisions a day when our mix of content includes one-third original work produced by our professional staff, one-third produced by our audience, and one-third produced by professional partners such as The Associated Press and TheStreet.Com on a national level and CT Mirror and Connecticut Health Investigation Team on a state level.

Does that mean we’ll be enlisting readers to go and cover the city council meeting that used to be covered by the reporter we laid off?

No. But the staff reporter who is covering it will tell readers ahead of time that he’s planning to cover it, and what issues he expects to arise. He or she might use social media, blogging and in-person engagement to enlist the expertise of the audience to find the best angles, to ask the right questions and to put the story in a greater context than “official sources” can or are willing to provide.

It means there will be more jobs like the full-time “curator” position that we created in Torrington last year.

With millions of sources of information out there (including every audience member with a quality camera and Twitter app on their smart phone), there is a huge need and opportunity for traditional media to verify and curate that content and put it into context.

Think back to the last time there was a major community emergency – Hurricane Irene and the Halloween snowstorm in Connecticut come to mind – and you’ll find an excellent example of how media curation of reader reports on social media provided information about closed roads, downed power lines and flooding faster than police and fire crews knew about it.

Almost every media outlet in Connecticut was asking readers to “send in their photos,” but the fact is, they were already sharing that stuff with their own personal networks on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“It may be a mistake for news organisations to keep begging people to send them stuff,” CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis wrote in The Guardian. “That’s the way they think – centralised, controlling, exclusive. But the better structure may be for journalists to curate the best of what is out on the web. Rather than playing wack-a-mole on the occasional mistake/rumour/lie sent it, editors would better serve if they found the best content anywhere, not just among that which was sent to them.”

It’s not about swapping out professional journalists for “citizen journalists,” but rather, professional journalists tuning in to the acts of citizen journalism that are happening all around them as they combine curation and collaboration with ethical standards, shoe leather and news judgment to do a better job overall in “getting the story.”

At his blog Buzz Machine, Jarvis wrote that “… journalists must redefine their roles and relationships as more than reporters, editors, and producers — which, yes, they must still be — but also…. Moderators. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Students. Helpers. Enablers. Networkers. Filters. Partners. Community members. Citizens.”

Matt DeRienzo is group editor of Journal Register Company’s publications in Connecticut, which include the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine.

Lessons From Citizen Journalists

While we’re talking about about raising standards for both citizens and journalists reporting the news, I don’t want the assumption to be that only citizens can improve.

There’s a lot practiced, professional journalists can learn from citizen journalists as well.

One of the most important lessons was featured in a Nieman Journalism Lab blog post this week: Report news how you’d like to consume news.

It’s a simple premise, but often overlooked during the grind of reporting stories — especially breaking news stories.

And it’s one that citizen journalists, by nature, are better at doing.

Gina Chen, in her post on Nieman Lab, gives tips for how journalists can improve their breaking news reporting. It includes the simple notion that some AP Style guidelines don’t make sense in a digital world.

Read her whole post here.

Another tip: Use social media like the rest of the world uses social media.

(Full disclosure — This premise was learned from Eugene Driscoll, the author’s editor. Read his direct words in his article in Street Fight Magazine.)

Most citizens don’t sign up for Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to their personal blogs. They do it to be part of a community, learn about other people and find interesting stories through links.

There has to be a balance — even for journalists.

Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be dumping grounds for RSS feeds. They should be places where journalists can engage with their readers and learn about their communities.

 

So what other lessons can journalists learn from citizen journalists? Weigh in on Facebook or in the comments field here.

2012 Bob Eddy College Scholarship Program

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Foundation Inc. presents the
Bob Eddy Scholarship Program To Foster Journalism Careers

One award each for $2,500, $1,500, $1,000, $500, and $500 *
DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES IS APRIL 7, 2012

The awards recognize Bob Eddy, the late publisher of The Hartford Courant, and founder of the Connecticut SPJ chapter; the late Richard Peck, a veteran news reporter and city editor of The Connecticut Post, and the late James Clark, a veteran reporter for The Connecticut Post, a longtime member of the Connecticut SPJ Scholarship Committee, and a former president of Connecticut SPJ. A new scholarship recognizes the late Pat Child, former WTNH-TV videographer.

To apply for a scholarship students must start their junior or senior year in Fall 2012 and be enrolled at an accredited 4-year college in Connecticut or be a Connecticut resident enrolled in an accredited 4-year college in any state or country.

DOWNLOAD THE FORM:

CT SPJ 2012 Scholarship Application

*Other scholarships may also be available

Citizen Journalism: Do We All Want The Same Thing?

Citizen journalism is anything from a person submitting a photograph of a car crash, to a full-blown citizen-run news blog.

It includes the protestors in the Middle East, who Tweeted and blogged photos and updates of the uprising.

It includes the woman who took a photo from an airplane flying past the last Endeavor shuttle launch — a view no traditional journalist had access to that morning.

It includes the gadfly videotaping municipal meetings from the back of a hearing room.

In a different time, these same “citizen journalists” would have been simply called sources — and would have needed the professionals in order to reach a wider audience.

Today they can publish on their own.

THE NAME THING

Part of the averse reaction to “citizen journalism” is simply the nomenclature.

In MediaShift’s 2006 “Guide to Citizen Journalism” Mark Glaser questions the term — calling it “imprecise.”

“Aren’t professional journalists citizens as well?” Glaser asks. “What if you’re an illegal alien and not really a citizen — does that invalidate your work?”

The Digital Journalist, in a December 2009 editorial, called “citizen journalism” a “misnomer.”

“There is no such thing. There are citizens and there are journalists,” the editorial states.

The difference, The Digital Editor says, is that professional journalists work to get the news every day — and adhere to strict ethical guidelines.

“These people can call themselves ‘citizen news gatherers,’ but it is no more appropriate to call them citizen journalists than it would be to sit before a citizen judge or be operated on by a citizen brain surgeon.” the editorial states.

Others are more concerned with the act than the name.

In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Funt called citizen journalism the “second-biggest media miscalculation since the rise of the internet.” Citizens, Funt declares, belong in the bleachers watching the game, not playing in it.

The challenge organizing CTSPJ’s “Citizen Journalism” program (scheduled for Feb. 4 in Torrington, Conn.) is getting past the program’s name.

We want people to know what we’ll be talking about, but we don’t want to push people away because of the name.

SO WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

We go into this program with three assumptions:

  • Citizen Journalism exists — whether you like it or hate it.
  • Those who participate in acts of journalism (whether paid professionals or volunteers) want a better-informed community.
  • A better-informed citizenry is a basic principal of self-governance: Hence the First Amendment.

So, let’s get together — professional journalists and citizen journalists alike — and talk about how we can raise the bar in how we present information to our audiences.

That’s what this program is about. Here are some questions we hope to ask — and answer:

  • What can we all do together to make sure published information is accurate and fair?
  • How can we create news communities that promote citizens learning about their government and their communities?
  • What are ways we can work together to fill in the gaps left by a bad economy and drastic shifts in the news industry?

The topics can be decided based on your interests. A general outline for the program will include:

Legal questions: Are the legal protections for a journalist and a citizen different?

Ethical Questions: What is the SPJ Code of Ethics? How does it apply to citizens? Should news organizations work with citizen journalists, or are they technically competition?

Technical Questions: Should citizens strive to use AP Style in community blogs? Does it matter if journalists publish cell phone photos, even it they are lower digital quality?

GOALS

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I hope to start this discussion before Feb. 4, in the comments here and on CTSPJ’s Facebook page.

I aim to continue it after the program has ended on Feb. 4.

The goal is to come up with a set of guidelines that citizens and journalists can use to help guide their decisions in publishing.

 

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