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What Makes a Good Citizen Journalist?

Curiosity is the lifeblood of a citizen journalist

Lots of folks ask us, “What makes a good citizen journalist?”

The short answer is passion. But a good citizen journalist needs more than just passion. Six proficiencies that a good citizen journalist needs to develop are:

  1. Curiosity. Curiosity is the lifeblood of a good citizen journalist. It’s what keeps the mind alert and the stories coming. The mother of a childhood friend of mine once said, “All you boys do is go around turning over rocks to see what’s beneath them.” She was talking about our insatiable curiosity. A good citizen journalist always turns over rocks, opens closed doors, peeks behind the curtains and wonders, “What is all the commotion about?”
  2. Situational awareness. If you have this quality, it means that at all times you are aware of what is happening around you. Lots of people don’t pay any attention to anything other than what is going on in their tiny world; they can sit through a train wreck or sleep through an earthquake and not know it ever happened. On the other hand, good citizen journalists are aware of events as they unfold around them and recognize the degree of importance they have for themselves and their readers. Wherever you go, keep your eyes and ears open for your next news or feature story. You never know when it is likely to come.
  3. Questioning skills. The first six questions a good citizen journalist asks are who, what, when, where, why and how? Those six queries are usually sufficient to cover a story. Learn them, love them and use them. The challenge comes in the manner those six questions are asked. Develop the ability to ask questions persistently yet without being rude, offensive or disrespectful.
  4. Listening skills. Another proficiency that makes a good citizen journalist is the ability to hear what is being said – and the ability to hear what is not being said. An easy mistake citizen journalists make is to be too concerned about their next question without listening carefully to the

    Listen for what is said and for what is NOT said!

    words being spoken in the moment. Don’t miss the quote of the year because you’re too busy dreaming up a great follow-up question. The second feature of good listening skills is the ability to hear what is not being said and to wonder, “What is this person leaving out of his or her answer?” Good citizen journalists will ask more questions, dig a little deeper until they get the answers they need.

5. Discernment/critical thinking. For a citizen journalist, discernment is the ability to separate propaganda from plain talk. A good citizen journalist is not easily bamboozled by fancy rhetoric or overly impressed by flashy presentations. There’s a simple rule here: When you depart to cover your next story, leave your naïvete at the door!

6. Storytelling skills. In the final analysis, the best citizen journalists are great storytellers. After all, that’s what they do, they tell stories. That’s why they call them news STORIES. Something happens, you find out what happened and you tell the story to your readers. That’s news. Good storytellers accomplishes three objectives:

  • First of all, they synthesize facts and events. They find the essence of the story amidst the chaos of the moment.
  • Second, they simply and clarify those facts and events so their readers understand what happened, who was involved and why things transpired the way they did.
  • And third, they gratify their readers. They provide their readers with the information they desire in a way that is informative and compelling.

The key to developing these six skills is practice. You can read books about news writing and storytelling, but there is only one way to learn to write and that is to do it. Eventually you have to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard.

Writing is like dancing: you learn best by doing. That is why most of the training courses presented by the NACJ require some doing – homework, if you please. So pick up that pen and paper, power up that laptop and start writing. And if you need some help, join the National Association of Citizen Journalists – our training webinars are available for you on the Internet 24/7.

For more information about the training available through the NACJ, CLICK HERE.

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More Stories By Ron Ross

Dr. Ron Ross is a publisher, author, speaker, radio personality residing in Loveland, Colorado. He is the author of two published books and several e-books. He is the host of Tidbits Radio on 1310KFKA-AM and on CastleRockRadio.com. He writes a weekly motivational and inspirational column that is published in a variety of newspapers.

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