Journalists With No Sense of Community

Clyde Bentley is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, who helped start the MyMissourian grassroots journalism hub. He reflects on what he has learned in the past three years:

“One of the hardest lessons that I have learned from the MyMissourian project is that traditionally trained journalists often have close to the least sense of “community” in the community itself. And it’s even worse for student journalists.”

To deal with this issue, he takes the following steps with students:

  • All students in our citizen journalism course start with a 50-stop community orientation tour.
  • Students are assigned to beats, but in roles more akin to city editors than reporters.
  • They are thoroughly drilled on the gentle touch of citizen journalism editing – readability rather than AP style, passion rather than just facts, personality rather than objectivity.
  • They participate in a “snapshot” program that puts staff in the field to take those grip-and-grin event photos that newspapers traditionally spurn.
  • They find and develop a blogger.
  • They blog themselves.
  • They dig through all the research, discussion lists, Web sites and visiting speakers I can throw at them.

And this is often the result:

“Eventually, though, almost every student in the class comes to realize that this is very good preparation for traditional journalism. They learn their audience inside and out. They learn to neither dismiss the Little League story nor to overrate the city council story. They learn patience. And they learn that readers are real people.”