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Citizen journalism school turns coffee shops to classrooms

The editor of the Central District News is building a neighborhood full of journalists, one latte at a time.

Central District News editor Tom Fucoloro.

Central District News editor Tom Fucoloro.

In the upper mezzanine of the Central District's Cortona Cafe, Tom Fucoloro passes out notebooks and explains interviewing techniques. His students — members of the community — are learning the tools of citizen journalism.

Fucoloro, 27, is the editor of the Central District News, a hyper-local news blog that allows any reader to post under the label “Community Post.” Most who take advantage of this feature write about something happening on their street or an event they’re involved with, but so far not as many readers are making use of the "Community Post" option as he'd like.

Fucoloro decided that most people didn’t feel comfortable posting to the blog without a background in journalism. So, in an effort to create more community engagement, he came up with the idea for the Central District Journalism School. The free six-week course features a different aspect of journalism each week and is capped at seven students. Fucoloro gave himself more than a month to fill it, but he didn’t need that much time: It filled in two days with a waiting list that almost fills another class.

He's keeping the class small so that he has time to go over drafts and edits paragraph-by-paragraph with his students. “I wanted people to be engaged and get feedback,” he says.

Five students attend his first class, which is focused on the basics of interviewing. Most are in their early 20s.

Ila Hartford, 26, went to Central Washington University and studied journalism. She heard about the class via Twitter. Hartford is a resident manager for Calhoun Properties and aPodment, where she does social media. “I don’t have that much actual reporting experience,” she says. “I want to hear what it’s like in the real world.”

Even though Fucoloro isn’t requiring students to write for the CD News after they finish the class, it is something he’s interested in. There are a lot of stories, like profiles and human interest articles, that he has to pass up because he doesn’t have the time.

“I don’t get to write that sort of stuff on CD News,” he tells the class. Fucoloro mimics his CD News work day, holding his fingers to his ear like a phone. “I’m like ‘Where is it? When? Cool. Thanks, bye.’”

These are exactly the types of stories that interest student Jenn DeVore. DeVore, 43, spends her days working with animals. A CD News reader, she lives in the neighborhood. Even though journalism has never appealed to her as a profession, she’d like to write stories about interesting people she sees in the community.

“I always meet people, but don’t want to be nosy or pushy,” she says. This class gives her a reason to get to know them better.

Fucoloro's no stranger to the realities of online news. After studying journalism at Illinois' Knox College, he did a brief internship at the Kansas City Star during a time of intense newsroom layoffs, before eventually moving to Seattle. He now splits his time between the CD News and The Seattle Bike Blog, a website he created in 2011. His income, Fucoloro says, comes from the advertising on both sites. Readers can also subscribe to the bike blog for $5 to $20 per month. Between the two blogs, he works about 60 hours per week.

Despite his hectic work life, Fucoloro ignores those who think he's crazy for not charging for the journalism class. He sees it as a service to the community and a journalistic experiment. “Being free felt right to me, since we don't have a freelance budget,” he said. “If we are going to encourage community journalism on CD News, there is going to be some unpaid work.”

The line between citizen and journalist is becoming more blurry, Fucoloro adds. This can be beneficial for small outlets like the CD News, where community members contribute information and reporting that otherwise wouldn’t make it to audiences. A story about cars being vandalized in the CD, for example, wouldn’t be a story for the Seattle Times.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 7:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Kudos to the CD News for this innovate effort to educate citizen journalists. They should all consider taking the "TAO of Journalism" Pledge to be Transparent about who they are and where they're coming from, Accountable if they make mistakes and willing to apologize, and Open to other points of view. Many citizen journalists all over the country and the world have taken the TAO Pledge and are displaying the TAO Seal. Just go to http://taoofjournalism.org for details. It's one small way to help gain credibility and earn public trust.

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

"PubliCola is a blog about Seattle written by journalists who are dedicated to nonpartisan, original daily reporting that prioritizes a balanced approach to news."

Do you think that is transparent about who they are and where they are coming from?

Community news media would do their readers a favor by posting the agendas and minutes of their government agencies. Readily available, uninterpreted.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

That's "innovative" effort. See also Scott Gant's savvy and prescient book, "We're All Journalists Now."

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Yay for Tom. While he didn't start the site (thanks if you're out there, Scott!), there's no way we could have kept it going without him. Awesome to have somebody still trying to do new things. Never surrender! :)

jseattle

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey, great new innovative way to solve journalism's business model problems. Maybe it could also work in health care? Sure, let's hand over the medical industry to "citizen doctors" who've had a few coffee shop classes. Truly innovative, yeah right. Up next: how about the judiciary? We could certainly use a few "citizen judges" ruling from the depth of their experience as coffee shop-trained semi-pros.

No pay at all for these bold new legions of "citizens journalists?" After all, journalists don't need no stinking paychecks. Any sucker will write for free, right? Sure. Just take a quick coffee shop class and start reporting? Again, why not port this idea over to other industries: who wants to be first to rely on volunteer citizen doctors, unpaid attorneys, or how about volunteers in the skilled trades? Need a new deck built? Call that neighbor who took the coffee shop skills class.

And no, we are not all journalists. That is such deep BS! We are all eyewitnesses, maybe. But being alive on a street corner is not all it takes to be a journalist. There's more to it than that. Otherwise, feel free to let me operate on you. My Medical Degree is from Starbucks.

So, nothing against teaching ordinary folks the basics of journalism. But if you aren't gonna pay for it, you're gonna get what you pay for.

AHoffman

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I am a citizen journalist; I am a blogger.

Do I ever call myself a "journalist?" Never. But as blogging - especially for those who do their homework, base their integrity on what they write and getting it right and work for transparency - has gained strength, we are now part of the reporting scene. Many of us are the ONLY ones at many public meetings taking notes. Many issues that should be daylighted would go unreported if not for citizen journalists. And reporters can't be everywhere.

I totally agree with John Hamer; know your source. Who is this reporting information and how did they get that information?

But we have also seen the rise of sloppy journalism and kowtowing journalism (see Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation). Someone has to fill that gap and call it out. I am astonished at much gets left out of many stories and all the real reporters have to do is ask the right questions.

It's a big, wide Internet world and there is room for all of us.

westello

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

@westello -- It's interesting that you say you are a "citizen journalist" and "part of the reporting scene," yet you would never call yourself a "journalist." That reminds me of a certain West Seattle Blog person who swears up and down that the West Seattle Blog is not a blog. That's funny isn't it. The WS Blog is not a blog. Ha.Ha. You both want to have your cake and eat it too. Depending on the context, you want to be either a journalist or blogger. If your are merely a blogger, then you are only responsible for single subject matter specialty and you are not constrained by traditional values of greater public interest journalism -- such as independence from parochial advertising interests.

Look, I know there is a big tent over the media landscape. Plenty of room. But I what I truly dislike is this giddy acceptance that journalistic work has no monetary value. That has to stop. Don't write for free. Don't report for free. Don't do 10 internships after graduating. And don't be an unpaid citizen journalist. It's polluting the whole dang pond.

AHoffman

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 3:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't work for free. I now have advertising at my blog (and the West Seattle Blog which IS run by a professional journalist and yes, she calls herself that, also has advertising and a lot of it).

The irony of your complaint is that I frequently bemoan how people want vast amounts of content (ask Crosscut) but no one wants to pay for it. They don't realize that reporting takes research and legwork and yes, people need to be paid to do it.

westello

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 7:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Keep up the good work westello. We need more gadflies, advocates and special interest groups keeping pressure on public officials. Good luck.

AHoffman

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 7:22 a.m. Inappropriate

First, congratulations to Sarah Radmer on a solid and well-written article.

I think this is fascinating, and an evolution of sorts in a world where everyone can be a publisher. I'm also surprised that Tom can make enough to survive from the legacy business model of advertising. Good for him, and for his educational efforts to help others create better quality community information. Smart.

Of course, this won't provide a living wage for anyone, even if loosely defined, except perhaps Tom, but I suppose that isn't the point. How many classes of journalism are we now creating, I wonder, and what are the standards for each? Or, is that important?

Beyond the more immediate benefits of greater micro-community information sharing, and the inherent benefits to community and neighborhood building, the greatest future potential in the rise of citizen journalism may come from the application of crowd-sourced knowledge and expertise to that information and thereby the creation of a more robust democracy and involved citizenry. Lord forbid I ever use the word "empower" but ...

I have been, and continue to be to a large extent, a critic of so-called citizen journalists because of overreaching attempts to emulate legacy models of journalism, and the basic fact that so much of it is so poor in nature. Too, it is more susceptible to nefarious outside efforts of astroturfing and the like, or just plain myopic individual agendas, seen or unseen, as to render its value marginal. But if executed well, and with a self-knowing restraint, it can obviously have real value. I appreciate that here there are no claims of equivalency and clear distinctions between citizen journalism and journalism. The bottom line, I suppose, is that more voices being heard cannot be, in the end, a bad thing just as education in the excercising of one's own unique voice isn't either.

And, as more information is shared on the neighborhood level, as such efforts infill the void left by a shrinking legacy media, perhaps newspapers, especially, will begin to get the fact that they no longer have to be all things to all people, that with the rise of better citizen journalism and the leads it provides through enhanced coverage of "smaller" news venues, newspapers may now slowly gain more freedom to refocus their shrinking resources and efforts with a clearer focus to do what they (can) do best and in many cases what only they can do. If only.

tom_hyde

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

No criticism for teaching people (fee or free) what you know. If people show up, find value, and are enthused, fine with me.

I read many different things. Free form comments (not rammed thru Facebook) bring many voices to the mix, and more of a full story. An author or journalist often has a pointed bias, and commentary brings a discussion often one that was not intended.

THat's good too.

Posted Sat, Mar 9, 8:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Centraldistrictnews.com, Scott, and now Tom are community assets in the CD. Kudos to Tom for encouraging more to enrich it.

It is not an online newspaper, nor does it pretend to be. Having a journalist at the helm, working hard to report events, keeps it on an even keel. But, it's open to people sharing local news and events.

Posted Sun, Mar 10, 11:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom from CDNews here. Thanks for everyone's thoughts on the project.

It would be good to point out that we do have a small freelance budget, but it's nowhere close to being big enough to keep the site afloat with community-reported content. That would be the dream, but down here on the ground, we gotta try to keep experimenting to see what sticks.

I am not OK with unpaid journalism. I also have very little money. And yet there's a community of people who might be interested in writing because they either like the forum or want to see if they like journalism. So the idea behind the class is: Free class, and if you want to write for CDNews, that would be great. I see it as more of a trade than a free labor scheme. And if students don't want to write for CDNews after taking the class, that's fine. What goes around comes around, right? Especially in a space as small as a neighborhood.

tfooq

Posted Wed, Mar 13, 2:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Just happened onto this. AHoffman, not sure what's so "ha ha" about it but no, WSB is not a 'blog.' Blog is only a format. Legacy name because of how we started. We are a news service, run by professional journalists, and everyone who reports or photographs on assignment for us gets paid. ($75/assignment is our going rate, if you care. And this in a world where The Atlantic tries to get writers to work for free.) This might be the year we change the name despite the headache that'll cause with Google results. But the name doesn't matter nearly as much as the work.

About the story above: I wasn't aware of Tom's "journalism school" and am heartened to hear it. You don't have to have a traditional background to do a great job finding and reporting news. Some of the worst journalists I ever supervised in 30 years of old media had master's degrees in journalism; some of the best journalists I have ever met or read since have no traditional background and refuse to consider themselves journalists. Like Mel (above), who is one, whether she wants to be called by the name or not. Her website has found and reported more education news in this city in the past several years than all the old-media outlets combined.

More power to everyone who continues to be passionate about finding, making sense of, and presenting information.

-Tracy Record, editor/co-publisher, West Seattle Blog

Posted Wed, Mar 13, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

So, Tracy, from your POV, it's not Ok for the Huffington Post and The Atlantic to ask contributors to write for free but it's Ok if you're a startup in the Central District? Sorry, but that seems incongruous to me, much as I would like to support the local guy.

Regarding your nameplate, change it or not, it only matters what's inside (like the aforementioned gadfly's single interest, advocacy site): "A rose by any other name...."

AHoffman

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