Media Minutemen

I’m back from a weekend in a lovely Redwood park near San Francisco, a trip too brief to offer much rest, but long enough to distract me from “the conversation.” I did, however, return for a purpose that bears on my interest in new media business models — to wit, if we’re heading into the era of citizen journalism, will out media minutemen want or require training?

What brought this to mind were back-to-back meetings yesterday. The first was with a dozen folks who will be running a two-week journalism workshop for high-schoolers, Afterwards, I taught the final class in a 10-week feature-writing course populated by two dozen adults with varied experience in journalism.

I’ve seen relative newbies make astonishing progress when exposed to the techniques of story-telling. One woman handed in her final feature last night with the words, “Here’s the day’s spew.” Turned out to be an 1,800-word piece that she’d started writing after lunch. I only read the top but it started well. I was impressed. I don’t know how you write, but I’ve rarely nailed down 1,800 words in five or six hours!

Will citizen journalists benefit from training? Absolutely. Even pros need refreshers.

Will they seek it? Consider human nature; those who most need instruction will be the least likely to seek it, but those who want to improve will benefit enormously.

Should training be required? Absolutely not. The First Amendment, like the Second, presumes the widest possible freedom. People have a right to shoot themselves in the foot, in the literary sense, even if this occurs for lack of formal training. We already have a well-ordered militia in ournalism. It’s called mainstream media, and there are many, myself included, who feel these well-trained folk are doing a poor job of defending the public’s right to know.

Where will citizen journalists get training? Good question. I wonder if the education industry is alert to this new market for people who need short courses on everything from techniques to ethics to technology. Let me pause here, because the question just occurred to me and I simply don’t know.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media