A Situational Benefit of Citizen Journalism
May 14, 2011 2 Comments
Over the past three years I’ve added study of citizen journalism to my collection of hobbies. One of those subjects where it is understood you may never make a penny income for your labors, but a lot of fun to learn and appreciate the skills of written and photo journalism, and the role non-professional citizens have in extending the reach of “mainstream” journalism.
Following dozens of writing classes, journalism courses, a couple hundred blog articles, and hours of online seminars via podcasts from sources such as the Columbia School of Journalism, I decided to take stock of what I have learned, and what value this “hobby” has brought to my life.
In military we are taught to develop a sense called “situational awareness.” This developed sense builds skills in seeing, categorizing, understanding, and evaluating your surroundings. Of course this is valuable when put in an environment potentially presenting danger allowing a soldier to quickly understand threats, opportunities, avenues of attack, avenues of escape, and all other things that allow the soldier to stay alive while meeting his objectives.
Having gone through my three year refresher course of journalism and citizen journalism appreciation training, I find the most striking lesson is the situational awareness journalists need to develop and employ in their jobs. it is not enough to simply go to a city council meeting and record conversations, the journalist needs to become one with their environment, and take a Gestalt view of surrounding activities as a situation or event develops.
The basic who, why, what, when, where, and how questions force a journalist to collect information, classify information, evaluate information, and present information in a manner which will be understood by their target audience.
Then, we have the material or content to present either a raw view (in the case of a citizen journalist), or a view with context for others to understand an event that will now become a record in history.
But What if I am Not a Journalist?
Actually, we are all journalists. We all write reports, record performance, produce statistics, evaluate opportunities, and keep the “books.”
In business those who develop exceptional situational awareness are able to more quickly evaluate opportunities, threats, risks, and their environment. However we can get lazy, often relying on routine and past experience when making decision in a rapidly changing world.
A study in journalism has taught me to go back to those lessons learned in the military, and to establish better discipline in applying the “5Ws” and “H” principle of journalism to daily life. Our business lives require constant decision making, and more informed decision will statistically beat “gut” reactions. Nothing wrong with a gut reaction, but decisions made on an “informed” gut reaction will likely yield a better result.
It is All About Discipline
I have to add a note of appreciation to my recent instructors, including Ms. Susan Cormier, head coach at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (NACJ). A citizen journalist, blogger, or business person rarely has the opportunity to receive a detailed writing critique from a qualified editor. Going back to school, and receiving that neutral evaluation of your work will not only humble a bit or personal arrogance, but also ensure your writing is clear, to the point, and focuses on facts.
Whether it is enhancing your interview skills, grammar skills, organization skills, or simply using creativity to come up with new ideas, the discipline of journalism can only make your product better.
I strongly encourage all readers and writers to go back to Writing 101, Journalism 101, and business communications. Through the magic of Internet, most of this can be yours without cost. Why not?