Filling an Empty Page

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“A writer is a person with the courage to fill an empty page,” Chris Satullo told a group of concerned citizens, including myself, in one of the conference rooms at Ocean County College a few Saturdays ago.  I had found myself in a breakout session at the first of three events in a series organized by The Citizens Campaign called Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm.  Mr. Satullo, vice president for news at WHYY/NewsWorks had me hanging on his every word.

The first event in the series entitled Information Matters: Getting the Real Story took place a few Saturdays ago and featured expert presenters leading sessions on Newswriting 101, Factfinding and Reporting, Photojournalism and Engaging the Community.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

One of my favorite sessions was Newswriting 101 with Chris Satullo.  He encouraged us to not only fill an empty page but to fill it with well-written language that will command attention.  He explained that in his field—radio—he is constantly looking for ‘the driveway moment.’ The driveway moment is when a listener has pulled into their driveway, but is in park with the radio on because the content is too compelling to be turned off.

He taught us to paint a vivid mental picture with our writing and told us to “make him feel how the weather was.”  As a blogger, I found this session extremely helpful and have tried to incorporate Satullo’s “Seven Tips on Writing Well” into my work.

Here are his tips:

  1. Writing is scary; never forget that, but never let that scare you.
  2. Don’t let anybody else see it until you’ve read it aloud to yourself.
  3. Show, don’t tell.
  4. Use simple, powerful words, and respect their power.
  5. Kill the little darlings.
  6. Don’t be “passive” – get active.
  7. To write well, read, read, read people who write well.

Mr. Satullo said that sometimes the best question to ask as a citizen journalist in an interview is simply “tell me what happened.”  In another session, I was privileged to meet someone who has done just that, over and over again, until he cultivated his own audience of over 200,000 readers.

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Justin Auciello, editor and founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a bottom-up, two-way news outlet, led a session on Factfinding and Reporting, where he spoke specifically about covering the recent Seaside boardwalk fire.  A lifelong resident of South Seaside Park, Mr. Auciello tried to explain how it felt watching his “childhood literally go up in flames” while he was reporting.  He said that despite all of his feelings, he had to remind himself of his responsibility as a citizen journalist and an objective observer.  Even when he could see with his own eyes that the fire appeared to be spreading, he waited until he received confirmation from local officials to post an update.  Mr. Auciello spoke about his passion for reporting the facts and his desire to not create added fear or panic among the people.

Despite not having a formal background in journalism, he told all of us who attended the session about how is passion for reporting started at a young age.  He used to jump on his bike whenever he heard the sirens as a child to go see what was happening.   Mr. Auciello spoke with humility about the 200,000+ followers of Jersey Shore Hurricane News and said that “all of the sudden everyone is listening to me.”  He was funny, relatable and knew his stuff, and showed us the tools he used to successfully report on breaking news, traffic and weather at the Jersey Shore.

One of the handouts from Information Matters: Getting the Real Story had a quote about citizen journalism that stuck with me.  Jay Rosen said, “When the people, formerly known as the audience, employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another,” that’s citizen journalism.

All of us are an expert of something!  Pick your topic and start writing!

The goal of the series Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm is to prepare people to become community reporters.

To learn more about Citizen Journalism, attend the next event Its Takes a Village: Working Together Online on Saturday, November 2nd from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

If you choose to attend, you will be given more information and resources for:

  • Where can to post your news and pictures
  • Key questions to ask local officials, nonprofit groups and citizens
  • Tips for better visuals
  • How to cover a breaking news event as a citizen journalist
  • Basic tools for real-time reporting

The final event in the series Eyewitness Reports: Are We Ready or Not? will be held on Saturday, November 16th from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

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