The stranglehold days of legacy media are gone, and the traditional learning methods to get into journalism are vaporizing as well.
Being a "journalist" no longer requires an internship laying out the agate at the local newspaper, nor does it require a four-year college degree; just open an account at blogger.com, and whammo—you're a journalist, ready to cover the issues of the day on the beat that most moves you.
That said, if you want to be taken seriously, maybe it's a good idea to get up to speed on basic journalism knowledge.
Susan Cormier, a former reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, thinks providing a bit of training for aspiring journalists in the new-media model is a good idea, too. Cormier is one of the founding members of the National Association of Citizen Journalists, a Denver-based organization that launched last year.
"I am in charge of the training since I have a news background," said Cormier, whose father was once head of the UA School of Journalism. "I really jumped on board, because I think citizen journalism is the future. I am very passionate that citizen journalists know what they are doing, that they do it right the first time, they get their facts right, they report all sides of the stories, they abide by laws and uphold ethics."
The NACJ's Handbook for Citizen Journalists distinguishes between accidental journalists and citizen journalists.
"Accidental journalists happen to be on the scene and have a phone that takes pictures," Cormier said. "Citizen journalists are interested in their communities. They want to learn; they want to know what's going on; they inform others about what's going on in their community.
TucsonCitizen.com uses the NACJ techniques.
Beyond the handbook, NACJ webinar courses focus on a variety of writing styles, basic journalism understanding, editing and avoiding libel. But getting citizen journalists to participate has been a challenge.
"That is a battle we're facing," said Cormier. "(Some) don't have much money, and they aren't paid, which is another battle we find with the association as we try to train citizen journalists. We do charge for our training—not a lot—but sometimes, it's more than a citizen journalist who isn't getting paid can afford, but they really see a difference in their writing once they've been through the courses. It's like a light bulb goes off: 'Oh, yeah, I get it.' And they really appreciate the critiques.
"I want it to work. ... When I first started this, there were all kinds of discussions about false blog reports and activists who say they're citizen journalists, who go break laws and do unscrupulous things. I don't want it to go that way. ... Respected citizen journalists will build a reputation for themselves."