How Can Disadvantaged Citizens Learn to Be Journalists?

    by Brein McNamara
    February 22, 2009

    How do I even have the gall to write here? I do not have any special knowledge of the media to impart. I am not a journalist with a degree or newspaper experience. I am just an everyday person who has realized… I have to be a journalist. This might be a strange dilemma, but it is one that has become increasingly common. Many everyday people have looked at their communities and tried to answer for the lack of information that exists. This is especially important when such a lack is a root cause at the persistence of many other problems in the community. This is why I wish to step up; something needs to be done. This is what forms citizen journalism, those who step up to answer the needs of their community.

    In my case, I am part of the Deaf community. This group, like many other disadvantaged groups, has multiple barriers that isolate them from the population at large. Thus their needs are often either ignored or misunderstood by outsiders. Journalists provide no exception to this trend. In such situations, citizen journalists can provide a key advantage over traditional journalism. Not only do they answer the call to report for their community, such citizen journalists have an understanding of the audience that has become an innate part of themselves. They understand the subject matter, the cultural issues, and the language.

    But that doesn’t mean any random person in a community can necessarily provide good reporting. Journalism is not an innate or everyday skill. Schools of journalism exist for a reason. They impart the knowledge necessary to not only create a story, but also to parse and understand the work and structure behind it that creates both a story and a publication.

    This lack of knowledge should in theory be an easy fix. Train citizens with the skills necessary in order to be effective reporters on their own. But there’s a catch. The exact same isolation that makes citizen journalism an effective tool in a minority/disadvantaged group like the Deaf, also makes it difficult to reach those who would most benefit from such training.


    One excellent approach towards answering this problem is seen in Rising Voices. But Rising Voices focuses on those who would not otherwise have the resources to do this work. The Deaf community in America is only disadvantaged by American terms. We certainly should be able to afford (as a community, if not individually) the resources to do the much more cost effective internet reporting. What we do not have is the understanding of how to make the most effective use of these tools, nor do we have a base of contacts with the information needed to build up our skills.

    I believe that this lack of resources is fairly common, especially in members of the so-called ‘digital divide’. For one reason or another, there are many groups that might have the resources, but lack the savvy to understand what to do with them. So my question becomes… What exists to improve the training needs of such groups? And how can journalists help to better answer this need?

    Tagged: citizen journalism deaf Signcasts training
    • Hi, Brein!

      I feel that way at times, too — but we’re living in an era of what feels like tribes mingling.

    • I’m not sure the digital divide is to blame. The ability to write and/or take good, evocative photographs is key to becoming a journalist. Being able to filter out what is “noise” from what is “important” also is key to getting messages in front of people.

      As a published journalist, I can tell you the I learned the most about writing from reading — reading the classics and those who wrote about people and nature. And, I learned the most about photography from studying film and lighting. However, not all journalism comes from school. It must come from your gut. If an event moves you to do or say something (in ASL or otherwise), it will move others as well. Just some food for thought from one who knows.

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