Below are some Tip Sheets that have been developed to facilitate Community Media and Citizen Journalism. Each of these can be applied as standalone activities or combined to create a more complete Toolkit for communities engaged in Community Media Journalism. For ideas on how to integrate these tip sheets into Inquiry and Social Action activities, we recommend the Community as Curriculum workbook. The 20 modules included in the workbook provided guided exercises to help youth develop skills as inquirers and activists but can be readily used in work with adults as well.
Blogging is an open, inclusive way to engage participants. It works well as a way to immediately publish thoughts, ideas, and content. The content that participants create through blogging can also act as a form of documentation and reflection for participants and facilitators alike.
Today, blogging interfaces are easy to use and require only basic digital literacy skills in order to create a simple, text-based post. These interfaces are also robust, however, and allow for integration of various media, including images, video, and other attachments. Blogging is also social; viewers can comment on post and authors can respond to those comments. As such, online blogging both provides a gentle introduction to digital media and serves as a powerful, but simple, platform for digital storytelling. Plus, as posts are uploaded to the internet, these stories have the possibility for wide-scale consumption, amplifying the community voice. Finally, there are a host of blogging platforms available for free, to anyone with an internet connection.
Starting small is an effective way to introduce blogging to participants who might be unfamiliar with the interface. We found that first teaching youth how to comment on an already existing post was a good starting point for leading into new post creation, media integration, and storytelling.
Creating, Editing, and Commenting to a Post in Youth News:
WordPress Blog Tutorial
Digital photography is an ideal way to engage participants. Producing photos is nearly instant, and digital cameras are often simple to use and easy to explain. Hooking people by giving them access to digital cameras can act as a gateway to other technologies like photo-editing programs, video-editing programs, and word-processing programs for assembling a group of photos into a more complex project. Digital photography is also an important way to document projects and events — again both for facilitators and participants. Using cameras as a tool for both teaching and capturing the learning process is efficient and easy to do.
Digital photography is a great point of entry for creating content and beginning to tell stories. Any type of digital camera (even cell phone cameras) can take expressive photos that can easily be uploaded to the internet from any internet-connected computer. Participants struggling with creating writing text-based blog posts can fall back on using the camera as a way to contribute, but photos can also be used to enhance and enrich text posts. Many cameras are also capable of capturing video, which offers additional capabilities for capturing and sharing stories; however, some caution should used to consider the software other tools available, the computer’s ability to process raw video files, and both the skill levels and extensive time requirements of editing and refining a final video product.
Your digital photography curriculum will depend on the hardware you’re using and what other projects you plan to complete with the use of photography, but in most cases the actual photography is rather intuitive once camera functions are explained (and it only gets better with experience). You might want to try working the use of digital photography into a digital storytelling workshop or an interviewing project.
You might also want to use something like this guide for helping participants turn their favorite photo prints into digital photographs. Digitizing Photos Workshop
Evaluating Internet Sources
As a community journalist examines online sources, it is important to have a set of practical guidelines to keep in mind. Here are two Toolkits:
Community journalism of course includes journalism, and that means interviewing. In a lot of ways, community members have an advantage over professional journalists because they can access people within the community who might not want to share stories or experiences with professional journalists. They can also offer a perspective that outside journalists could not.
Despite these advantages, it is important for community journalists to use some of the same techniques and best practices that professional journalists use when conducting interviews. That means preparing open-ended questions, conducting interviews in a quiet place (especially audio and video interviews!), making sure that video interviews are properly framed and that the camera is still, and not interrupting your subject while you interview. Asking follow-up questions is also really important. Some of the best answers, responses and stories come from questions you build off the topics that arise naturally in an interview.
Teaching classes on newsletters can be an effective way to build the infrastructure for community journalism, as newsletters are a great way to talk about what is going on in your local community. You will want someone to lead the class who has some background in Microsoft Publisher or a comparable program.
Start the workshop by emphasizing what newsletters are and why the people attending your class might want to utilize them (again, think about message). Once you have covered newsletter basics and why they are useful you will want participants to start learning how to make them. It is helpful that you allow participants to dive right into making newsletters as soon as possible–this will immediately engage them and reinforce their knowledge. Digital media makes this extremely easy since experimentation is possible without wasting paper, ink or any other material resources. Have a basic template on the computers that participants can play with to get a feel for how Publisher (or a similar program) works. Encourage them to experiment–if they make mistakes or make irreversible errors, they can just close the document without saving and open it up again!
Remember, people will start with different levels of expertise, so one-on-one communication will be key. Refer to the curriculum below for a sample handout and lesson overview.
Online Research Scavenger Hunt
One way to assess a community’s digital literacy is to create an online research scavenger hunt. The purpose of the scavenger hunt is to asses how an individual finds information online. Research scavenger hunts can also be combined with basic computer literacy questions and exercises to establish a clear baseline for participants’ digital literacy.
A basic approach to the creation of this type of exercise is simple: create targeted questions for a specific audience (these questions should ask for information which makes a vibrant information ecosystem of a community and ask what information people go online to find) and evaluate the information the community was able to find (was the information usable and timely? How easy was it for the community to find the information?) and if the media reflects the interests of the community. Further guidance on these questions can be researched within the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Toolkit.
Tools for community journalism such as research, blogging, and social media are largely conducted online. In using these tools, users often must share some personal information. Entering a name and email address may become a rote activity, causing many, particularly young people, to put less thought into the information they share online. As a result, it is important to include a lesson on behaving responsibly online. This includes establishing privacy settings and developing healthy skepticism of online identities. This toolkit includes activities and tips to teach these skills.
When presenting classes on social media, make it clear that social media can be useful both for individuals and for organizations. Because different people will have different levels of experience, you will need to give a lot of individual attention.
Social media use changes frequently and can be very specific to age groups and media (e.g., Facebook vs. Myspace)–try to understand the particular motivations behind social media use by your participants. Our programming focused on Facebook and Twitter, which are probably two of the most commonly used and useful social media websites. Check out the curriculum below for an example of how we planned our social media programming. Talking about social media with participants creates an opportunity to also discuss online responsibilities as discussed in the toolkit above. You may want to pair these two issues into one workshop or lesson plan.
One of the main components of journalism is storytelling. These toolkits outline the importance of storytelling and provide suggested activities to get young people into the practice of formalizing their narratives. Their experiences are relatable and, when shared, can bring about understanding where there was none before.
The formal art of storytelling involves breaking down the story into parts (beginning, middle, and end), figuring out the tone and/or emotions that make the story compelling, constructing the story to make it flow smoothly, and then presenting it. The presentation can be written, in pictures (see the section on digital photography above), in spoken word, a video, or a combination of various mediums. While there are widely regarded conventions for storytelling, there is no one right way to do it. The rules can help guide the construction of a story, but they do not mandate what will or will not be successful.
These toolkits provide guidelines for youth to practice storytelling, to get comfortable with sharing their experiences, and also to develop respect for their peers’ stories.
Suggestions for future work
- Adapt curricula to the specific organizations/individuals you are working with. Their needs can and should influence what shape your curriculum takes.
- The Community as Curriculum provides ideas on how Inquiry and Social Action can be integrated using Technology. The 20 modules included in the workbook provided guided exercises to help youth develop skills as inquirers and activists.
- Future curricula and toolkits should complement each other in terms of skills, theory, learning styles, and application, and should strike a balance between the needs of the site and the goals of those leading the program.