Saturday, October 24, 2009

Becoming a Citizen Journalist in Amherst?

There’s always room for one more; and God knows I could use the help.

First off, establish a blog…and then behold the power. Like many things involving the Internet, they are free. Perhaps the main reason print news industry has become a “dead man walking.”

Writing is of course a basic requirement but not nearly as important now as it was four or five years ago. But with a blog, if you are going to do it correctly (and my mother taught me “If you are going to do something, do it right,”) then you will be writing a lot and as a result your writing will improve. But still, shorter is better.

A computer, preferably a laptop with WiFi, and high-speed Internet access are mandatory. Give your blog a catchy title, easy for folks to remember and for a google search to find. Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are great adjuncts and can feed back into the blog.

Get a free sitemeter that tells you how people find your blog, and hits per day will give you an idea of what stories are of interest, have legs, or fall flat. Post frequently but don’t force it with something Twitter –like about what you had for breakfast this morning.

A digital camera with video is also a must. Try to get one with a high optical zoom, as digital zoom tends to come out blurry. Last year I pushed an older camera to the limit of digital /optical zoom taking a shot from a public road about 100 yards away of an Amherst town official gardening at her new home in the town of South Hadley, and it came out lousy.

But she had a recognizable, errrr, figure so it still proved my point. (She later resigned as Amherst has one of those pesky regulations that you must live in town in order to serve as an elected public official.)

Photo editing skills are not all that important as cameras have simple settings that allow any neophyte to take decent photos. Basic skills with video editing are handy because you will need to snip only the pertinent sound bites. These days Apple imovie or simplemoviex make it for anybody to become a Stephen Spielberg.

Now that you have all the tools, establish your turf. Are you going to specialize by covering only school related issues (and in the community of Amherst that is a paramount issue) or just local government in general (and in Amherst they often dabble in foreign policy)?

For the sake of this discussion let’s assume you are a political blog covering the People’s Republic of Amherst.

Either way continue to read/watch the mainstream media, get out to the local coffee shop, bar or restaurant where the locals hang out and keep your ears open. Attend public meetings, ask hard questions. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s none of your business because you are not a reporter for the local newspaper. The First Amendment applies to everybody.

Bone up on Massachusetts Open Meeting Law and Public Documents Law. Get to know the Town Clerk. Visit other blogs and post relevant comments under your name or google/blogger name so it can link back to your blog. Visit the cyber versions of local media and post comments there with your blog URL.

But above all, seek the truth. Triple check facts and spelling of names,stick to the AP pyramid style of presenting information (most important fact first) and never let your guard down.

Because with every post, you piss somebody off. If you don’t, then you are not doing your job.

And did I mention there’s no pay?

20 comments:

Tony said...

Excellent primer Larry, you pretty much covered all the bases...

(and if I could just add that if beating your head against the wall of local politics doesn't appeal, there are other types of blogging...)

LarryK4 said...

Thanks Tony,

My Prof liked it. Yeah, I try to swing over every now and then to those other types of blogging.

Speaking of which, make sure you enter some of your sunset/landscape/foliage shots in the Republican photo contest.

Anonymous said...

The reporting (e.g. potholes on the bike) is what makes this blog most useful.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

And I work Sunday's as you will see from a report I'm working on...

Anonymous said...

I'd add, let the facts lead where they may. Don't try to twist them for a predetermined ideology.

LarryK4 said...

A fact is fact is a fact. Hence the term "fact". You can't twist them--either they are or they are not facts.

I assume you are smart enough to interpret on your own (according to your "predetermined ideology" no doubt).

Anonymous said...

Not true. Facts are NOT facts, as evidenced by the endless stream of disproven (disproved?) "facts" throughout human history...

THE EARTH IS SQUARE!

MAN WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FLY!

THE AIDS VIRUS WILL NEVER INFECT HUMANS!

A BLACK MAN WILL NEVER BE ELECTED TO THE US PRESIDENCY!

We are all blinded by our personal beliefs & biases (yes, even bloggers) and EVERYTHING that we see, think, and feel gets filtered through that internal gauntlet of sujectivity. Hence, we will always have opposing groups (eg republicans & democrats...Palestinians & Jews...) believing with all their hearts that their "facts" are the RIGHT ones and the other group's "facts" are the WRONG ones. Bottom line: facts are as malleable & changeable as the weather in New England.

LarryK4 said...

Obviously we disagree on the definition of the word "fact".

You're a Nitwit. Go start your own blog.

Anonymous said...

Anytime someone bests you, you tell them to go away. Good job anonymous poster, you made Larry look like the thin-skinned idiot he is.

LarryK4 said...

Hmmm, and we're supposed to know that you (obviously a Nitwit) are not the same as that Nitwit, exactly how?

Anonymous said...

You may not know, but the poster will.

LarryK4 said...

Just what I need, another Nitwit (or is it the same one?) protecting the sovereignty of Nitwits everywhere.

You should be so freaken proud!

Anonymous said...

"Becoming a Citizen Journalist in Amherst?"

That's Blogger.

Repeat after me, blogger, not journalist.

Or, if you prefer, the more formal "fantasy league journalist" may me substituted.

Anonymous said...

This is another of your better, more reflective posts.

But, sadly, even you succumb to prejudice.

By twisting, stretching and ultimately denying "the truth" you have so faithfully - or would that be pugnaciously? - sought, you deny yourself and your
readers their due.

To err is human, to forgive....

LarryK4 said...

If you think you can do a better job...

Anonymous said...

A monkey with a Comodore Vic 20 could a better job.

LarryK4 said...

Seems to keep you coming back all too often.

Anonymous said...

It's not me, it's my damn monkey. He uses my Osborne 1.

Anonymous said...

It's not me, it's my damn monkey. He uses my Osborne 1.

Anonymous said...

Damn monkey, he keeps repeating himself.