Saturday, February 06, 2010

Podcamp UnConference Western Mass. 2

So I’m back ahead of schedule from the second Podcamp UnConference Western Mass. I really like the idea of the UnConference – people getting together to share their expertise and questions on new media and social networking topics – and the first one taught me a lot.

This time the UnConference was presented at Westfield State College and the facility was quite good for the workshops.

I attended two very good sessions in the morning – one that proved to be a good Twitter refresher course by Jason Turcotte – while the other was an eye-opener about posting video on your blog. Author Steve Garfield did a great job and I’ve got a lot of ideas I’d like to do.

The lunch was excellent and the company around the table was good. How could I go wrong sitting next to the Springfield Intruder himself, Bill Dusty?

Now, foolishly thinking I had something to offer, I spent time this week preparing a Powerpoint presentation titled “Citizen Journalism 101.” Traditional media has slashed its content and as a result people working with the new media tools have taken up a little of the slack.

As a Jeffersonian kind of guy I applaud people deciding they are going to report on a local topic or create a beat for themselves. The issue facing them is establishing the professional chops – if they are not professionals to begin with – and to gain the credibility they need to do their job.

I was going to address these issues in my nuts and bolts presentation. Unknown to me until about five minutes before the show was to go on, I saw my time and space was to be shared with someone who would be speaking on the “The Future of Journalism.”

Ah, huh.

The guy, who never introduced himself, seemed friendly enough and said we could split the time. He took it all but ten minutes. He didn’t offer an apology, but said I could take the rest of the time – how large. I said thanks to the group, packed my stuff and got the hell out of there.

I don’t need this crap at this stage of my life. With my schedule at work every free minute is precious. As far as I could see on the workshop board I was the only person they did this to. If the goal of Podcamp is to help build a community of people, it failed with me today.

There were two guys who actually chased after me because they were interested. I told them I would post my notes on my blog and I gave them my card. Thanks for the interest guys. I appreciate it.

Citizen Journalism 101
What the hell do you want to do?

What kind of blog are you planning? Do you want to cover a town, a neighborhood, and a beat? Written, video, audio?

There are generally two kinds of blogs out there – those that cover a topic and those that reflect the interests of the writer. Granted the one that cover a topic exist because they are an interest to a writer, but other approach tends to present a more personalized view.

Someone interested in become a reporter is better served by the first approach and by developing a beat. What is going under-reported in your community? What do you see as a need? The answers to these questions should guide you in determining what you want to do.

A beat can be covered through photos, videos and audio as well. The freedom of the Web is the ability to present the same information on multiple platforms at the same time.

Do you want to stick to professional standards?

If you want to be taken seriously by members of governments, businesses and other institutions, you have to have a level of professionalism in your writing. The attribution of sources and quotes demonstrates professionalism.

I’m old school. I believe in making the newsmakers tell their story and stand by their statements.

Check out this site for a great discussion about on and off record rules.

Libel is another issue. There are some people who think somehow the standards governing what you say about a person may not apply to the Web. Think again.

Here is a great site for guidelines.

Here’s a solid definition about who is a public figure. Remember public figures are not as protected as much by libel laws as those who private.

Who is a public figure? A public figure is someone who has actively sought, in a given matter of public interest, to influence the resolution of the matter. In addition to the obvious public figures, government employee, a senator, a presidential candidate, someone may be a limited-purpose public figure. A limited-purpose public figure is one who (a) voluntarily participates in a discussion about a public controversy, and (b) has access to the media to get his or her own view across. One can also be an involuntary limited-purpose public figure or example, an air traffic controller on duty at time of fatal crash was held to be an involuntary, limited-purpose public figure, due to his role in a major public occurrence. Examples of public figures:
• A former city attorney and an attorney for a corporation organized to recall members of city counsel
• A psychologist who conducted "nude marathon" group therapy
• A land developer seeking public approval for housing near a toxic chemical plant
• Members of an activist group who spoke with reporters at public events
• Corporations are not always public figures. They are judged by the same standards as individuals.

A citizen journalist also needs to know his and her rights concerning the Open Meeting laws.

The Open Meeting Law gives "any person" the right to attend the meetings of governmental bodies, with exceptions for closed sessions discussed below. Massachusetts law does not limit access to meetings to a specific category of people or a profession, such as "the traditional press." Anyone may attend, including non-residents and non-voters. The Open Meeting Law does not give the public a right to participate or comment during open meetings. As a matter of practice, however, governmental bodies often allow members of the public to comment during public meetings. No one may address a public meeting of a governmental body without permission of the presiding officer, and all persons must be silent upon request of the presiding officer. See Mass Gen. Laws. ch. 39, ァ 23C.
Go here for more detail

Tools of the trade

These are things I carry. You might want to arm yourself with them as well:
• Mp3 audio recorder
• Flip video camera/ tripod
• Decent still camera

A tripod is vital as it allows you to have a free hand to take notes while you are shooting video or photos. I know it sound pretty obvious, but many reporters I know try to juggle all of this technology at the same time. You don;t want to drop your camera while fiddling with your notebook.

How do be taken seriously

Okay this is a huge issue as there are millions blogs out and bloggers have to prove themselves with people and organizations used to dealing with traditional media.

So here is what I suggest: Call the newsmakers on your beat and ask to be put on their media lists. If they do, then show up if you can at their events. When you go to an event, make sure you say hello to the PR person and hand them your card.

The more events you attend the more stories you write and the more times you follow up a story with an email to the newsmaker containing a link to the story, your credibility will grow.

So these were the topics I was going to present if given the chance. There is much more to be discussed to prepare someone who wants to undertake this role and I hope to do so in a book I’ve been thinking about.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


Unknown said...

Michael, this is VERY interesting and helpful for anyone who cares to share information/opinion about topics dear to their heart. I will be passing it on. Thanks!

Tony said...

Thanks Mike, those are good tips from a professional.

Anonymous said...

Some really great material you provided. I am just starting my blogging and will be reviewing your comments in more detail, I am more of the writer that talks about what interests me and I hope to develop a good beat!
Nice to finally meet you in person at Podcamp.