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Matt Lewis Offers Tips For Citizen Journalists
Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller kicked off Citizen Watchdog’s week of free webinars on Monday, and offered great information for citizens looking to break in to the ever-changing world of journalism. Throughout the 40-minute session, which can be seen in full here, Lewis emphasized that curiosity and perseverance make a great journalist, not formal training or advanced degrees.
“Ninety percent of life is about showing up,” Lewis said. “Want to make a difference? Get out in the field and find the truth.” He added, “Journalism school isn’t essential. Hard work and networking are.”
Modern technology, including social media, blogs, and YouTube, has narrowed the gap between professional and citizen journalism, and makes it easier for citizen journalists to make a wide impact than ever before. Lewis remarked that it often takes professional journalists years to build up a “rolodex” of contacts and sources, but that citizens can easily interact with public figures, media, and millions of others through Twitter.
Blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger.com allow anyone to set up a professional-looking news site for a relatively small fee. Many of today’s most prominent political news sites, such as the Drudge Report and RedState.com, began as blogs operated by one man out of his home. Successful blogs are the product of hard work, dedication, self-promotion, and insightful content.
Lewis advised aspiring citizen journalists to start locally, as “no one knows your community like you do.” This is true–the Washington Post may know more about the workings of Congress than you, but there’s no way that they could do a better job of covering your hometown or county!
As the journalism industry changes, building a personal brand has grown in importance, and Lewis recommends that citizen journalists spend equal amounts of time creating content and building a following on Twitter. As today’s journalists tend to move between various employers, amassing a portable following is key, and can make you a much more attractive hire.
Twitter, Lewis also noted, empowers citizen journalists in another way–it allows them to directly criticize individual members of the media! Tweets to established professional journalists can create visibility for your handle, and in some cases, the journalist will further your credibility by tweeting back at you.
Above all, Lewis urges citizen journalists to learn how to write well, and use the various resources at their disposal (including seminars and webinars) to hone their writing skills. He added that a great editor is an invaluable resource for an aspiring journalist, especially if this person can also serve as a mentor.
You can follow Lewis on Twitter at @MattKLewis, and keep up with his work at The Daily Caller.
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