Bravo to the Oakland Press, which just announced that it is opening a classroom for citizen journalists. Named, with admirable hauteur, The Oakland Press Institute for Citizen Journalism, it is built under the believe that “there are ways for readers to help tell stories better, quicker and more completely.”
That is why we will be offering anyone who is interested — from high school students to retirees — instruction in news writing, videography, basics of reporting for news and sports, and still photography.
For those who complete the instruction, we offer the opportunity to get your work published online or in the print edition. This experience would be especially helpful for high school and college students viewing careers in the communications field. In addition, others can work toward becoming members of our freelance stable of journalists.
Beautiful. The best part is that the instruction will be done by members of the paper’s staff. Now I know some bloggers might say, “We don’t need your instruction, press people, you need ours.” And the second half of that is true – everyone in this classroom can learn. But so long as the instruction is offered in the spirit of generosity – “Here’s what we know and how we ply our trade and we will no longer keep it secret as a priesthood but will share it openly” – then everyone wins. The public can learn those tricks of their trade. The journalists build a new relationship of mutual trust with the public. The news organization expands journalism into the community – as the Oakland Press’ announcement eloquenty argues in what amounts to a white paper on the virtues of citizen journalism.
I started arguing for the idea of the newsroom as classroom in 2005 and said this transformation will do more than bring in more news; it will change the very nature of a newspaper:
Once again, Hugh McLeod said it better than I just did: We need to think as “a point on the map where wonderful people cluster together to do wonderful things.” How do we help people gather to share what they know and need to know? How do we turn newspapers into newsplaces?
So the education and the relationship goes well past the classroom, of course. A great editor educates every day. A great reporter learns every day. Educators learn from the students; so journalists will no doubt learn how to shoot better Flip videos or tag Flickr photos from members of the public. And the newsroom necessarily tears down its walls and opens up to the community, becomes part of the community. I mean that figuratively and literally: the newsroom as cafe, the distributed newsroom everywhere in town.
This new relationship, I believe, will be the foundation of a new business model for news. For as the paper can no longer afford the cash and risk to own everything and do everything and is it builds this new relationship of trust with the public, it will have to see the opportunity in helping the public, its partners, build their own value and businesses together. This, I hope, is the first seed of the network.
I also believe that journalism schools must offer to help and must see that they have a role and responsibility to train not just the professionals but anyone. I have been applying for grants to start a program to help newsrooms – closed cultures that they have been – to learn how to teach and to create curricula to help. My argument has been that programs to teach citizens separately don’t scale and don’t reform the relationship between journalists and the public. Among the things that could be taught: your right to access to public documents, meetings, and official information; how to research and verify information; journalistic ethics (a discussion!), corrections (also a discussion!); how to record public meetings as podcasts; how to shoot better photos and video; how to sell ads to support blogs and reporting…. From my grant proposal:
The goal is both to improve the quality of citizen journalism and to establish a new and collaborative relationship of respect between professionals and amateurs, opening up the newsroom and its culture and expanding the reach of journalism in the community. Through this program, these news organizations – and others who will watch their progress – will learn and prove the business case for harnessing citizen effort and knowledge. The project will lead to new work in networked journalism….”
I only wish I could attend the inaugural class of The Oakland Press Institute for Citizen Journalism. (Will you webcast it, teacher?)
[via Jay Rosen]