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Shine The Light On Local Government

by Ricky Campbell

There is no more opportune time than now to educate newsrooms and the public on the Freedom of Information Act and public records in Connecticut.

The past year has been a roller coaster of public record proposed legislation and department mergers, from “a disaster for FOI in Connecticut” to “attempts to strike a balance” between the public’s right to know. As a journalist, watching lawmakers attempt what they believe are correct measures, it’s important to watch, analyze – and scrutinize – their every move.

The impact and importance public records are to us, as journalists, is no mystery. However, our communities need continuous education on the significance of the FOI law, reminding them of its initial mission: government oversight.

Sunshine Week commences Monday, and I encourage every newsroom, blogger, veteran, student, or interested community member to educate their contacts with the importance of our right-to-know. While some projects might take time and preparation from weeks ago, there is still time to do your part.

Simple experiments, rigorous investigations, edgy editorials -– whatever. Sunshine Week is a great time to remind news consumers of what is truly important, and any assault on a lack of free information should be on the forefront.

As a beat reporter in a town with questionable transparency, it encourages my competitiveness to kick in, looking for even more opportunities to exercise public information. This week, residents of the northwest corner can expect a school district comparison and Litchfield community members can prepare for some otherwise-hidden emails on a growing political topic in town. Also, with every twist in the current Torrington Police debacle, I can encourage our readership that, well, “We’ve only just begun.

So, as a journalist, what are you doing this week? Are you going to just shrug it off and go about everyday news life? Or will you take some more steps to educate your readership, going that extra mile to remind them why they buy newspapers or click on your links?

I suggest the latter. It’s your duty. In a state with a unique outlet and a country with laws like FOI at our fingertips, we better take advantage of it all.

Happy Sunshinin’!

Don’t be shy and share your stories with us. Here are some great starting points:

Sunshine Week Idea Bank
SPJ FOI activities
IRE’s Extra Extra
Connecticut FOI resources from NFOIC
Tips and Tales – New Haven Register’s Alexandra Sanders’ blog
Cool Justice – journalist Andy Thibault’s blog
The Scoop – Hartford Courant blog

Connecticut Sunshine Week projects — CTSPJ blog

Ricky Campbell is a CT SPJ board member and reporter for the Torrington Register Citizen. You can reach him by email at rcampbell@ctspj.org, on Facebook, or Twitter

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

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

2011 Excellence In Journalism Contest

The 2011 Excellence in Journalism contest is now open for submissions.

The entry fees are the same as last year:

  • $10 for active Connecticut SPJ members
  • $25 for non-members and news organizations
  • $50 for the three top awards

Click here to enter the contest.

CONTEST CATEGORIES

All categories are open to all Connecticut journalists. Entrants will be judged against similar media types (listed below). The exception is the CTSPJ Special Awards, in which entrants are judged against all other entrants, regardless of media type.
To enter, the work must have been published or broadcast during the 2011 calendar year.
MEDIA TYPES
For each category, please indicate what category your news organization falls in:
• Daily Newspaper above 50,000 circulation
• Daily Newspaper at 18,000 – 50,000 circulation
• Daily Newspaper below 18,000 circulation
• Regional non-daily
• Community non-daily
• Magazine
• Special Supplement
• Television
• Radio
• Online– Independent (includes for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that publish and stream video exclusively online on a regular schedule. The primary purpose of the website must be to inform, rather than to sell or promote a product, or advocate a political point of view.)
• Online – Affiliated (The online product for a news organization that also has a print or television/radio product. The material must appear exclusively online.)
SPECIAL AWARDS…………..(open to all Connecticut journalists, judged against each other)
  • Stephen A. Collins Public Service Award: This is a special award open to all media for a story or stories having a significant impact in the public interest. Entries must include supporting documentation such as letters, editorials, evidence of a change in public policy, etc. showing how the entry had an impact.
  • Theodore Driscoll Award for Investigative Reporting: A single story or formal series containing information, obtained through reporter initiative, not readily available to the news media or public.
  • First Amendment Award: A single story, column, or series which increases understanding of the public of the role of the press in a free society.
CATEGORIES …………….. (open to all Connecticut journalists, judged according to media type)
Editorial
  • General Column: A single column (other than sports, opinion or Op-Ed) that does not express a strong opinion or point of view on an issue or an event.
  • Opinion Column: An opinion column clearly states an opinion on an issue or an event. It must appear in any section other than the Op-Ed or Sports pages or portion of a broadcast.
  • Single Editorial: A single editorial represents the opinion of the publication, station, or news website as an organization. It can be written by one or more than one person.
  • Editorial Cartoon: A single cartoon that appears online, in print or on a broadcast.
  • Op-Ed Column: An Op-Ed column must have been published in the Op-Ed section of a paper or news site, or designated portion of the broadcast. It must have a byline or author.
Reporting
  • In-Depth Series: a formal series helping the reader understand situation beyond information provided in a normal news story. Limit 1 series per person.
  • In-Depth Reporting: a single story helping reader understand situation beyond information provided in a normal news story
  • Investigative Series: a formal series containing information obtained through reporter initiative that was not
    readily available to the news media or the general public. Limit 1 per person.
  • Investigative Reporting: a single story containing information obtained through reporter initiative that was
    not readily available to the news media or the general public.
  • Spot News: a single story involving coverage of a spot news event written under an immediate deadline. Non-
    daily and magazine classes are not eligible for this category.
  • Feature: A single story written for some factor other than timeliness.
  • Feature Series: A series written or produced for some factor other than timeliness.
  • General Reporting – Single: A single news story not covered by any other category.
  • General Reporting – Series: A formal series of articles or broadcasts that do not fit into any other category.
  • Business: A single story about a business topic.
  • Arts&Entertainment: A single story dealing with the arts.
Sports
  • Sports Column: A column that appears in the sports pages or portion of a broadcast.
  • Sports Feature: A sports story written for some factor other than timeliness
  • Sports News: A single sports story.
Photography
  • News Photo
  • Feature Photo
  • Sports Photo
  • Photo Layout: the photo layout category is not a design category. It is for photos only; not their arrangement. It generally should be for the work of one photographer.
Layout
  • Headline: All three headlines submitted for each headline entry must be the work of a single individual but not necessarily from the same publication. Entries involving the work of more than one person will be declared ineligible.
  • Page 1 Layout: A category for the person who arranged the text and the illustrations, not for the writers and photographers of the materials on the page. Only the layout person should be listed.
  • Non-Page 1 Layout: A category for the person who arranged the text and the illustrations, not for the writers and photographers of the materials on the page. Only the layout person should be listed.
Graphics
  • Informational Graphic – Design: a static graphic that appears in print, online or in a broadcast to augment reporting on a topic. Entrant should be person who designed the graphic.
Multimedia
  • Video Storytelling: Excellent use video medium to either tell a story alone, or bolster written reporting.
  • Interactive Graphic – Reporting: Use of free Internet tools to present data or reporting in an interactive format
  • Interactive Graphic –Design: Creation of a functional interactive graphic using tools such as Flash or HTML.
  • Audio Storytelling: Excellent use of digital audio production for online storytelling, including podcasts, audio
    interviews.

AP Seeks Stringers For Election Coverage

The Associated Press is looking for stringers to call in results from Connecticut towns and cities for the April 24 presidential primary, the Aug. 14 primary and on Election Day, Nov. 6.

For more information, contact stringer coordinator Kate Farrish at katefarrish@live.com or 860-871-8089.

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.

 

A Discussion On Citizen Journalism

“Citizen Journalism” is a loaded phrase, one that people in the news business have come to loathe or love. In February, Connecticut SPJ will host a discussion on acts of journalism by citizens at a program co-hosted by The Register Citizen in Torrington.

We hope to engage journalists and citizens alike in a dialogue about the role the public now plays in news production, and ways that both groups can strive to uphold journalistic and ethical standards in the process.

The program is not intended to be a debate about whether citizens SHOULD be involved. That debate certainly has merits, and has played out in other places.

This program is intended to be a more focused conversation on HOW both groups can collaborate to better inform the public about important news — and on WHAT are the implications of involving the “people formerly known as the audience” in the process.

The Register Citizen office is the perfect location for the program. The paper’s “Newsroom Cafe” invites members of the public inside the newsroom to learn from, teach and interact with the newspaper staff.

But you don’t have to wait until the program on Feb. 4 to start talking about Citizen Journalism.

In the weeks before this joint program, CTSPJ will publish some different blog posts about “citizen journalism” that aim to inform and raise questions about the practice.

We hope that you will contribute your thoughts here in the comment section.

Copyright 2010-2017. Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists, P.O. Box 5071, Woodbridge CT 06525