Tools for citizen journalism

You already have a computer and an internet connection or you wouldn’t be reading this- or maybe, you have a cell phone with a browser? Either will do.

A platform for writing and publishing? This site is powered by WordPress– which is one of the most powerful, easy to use Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS) around – and hosted on my own server (in “real life” I own an ad agency and this is part of what we do). By hosting it on a server- I can add plugins and widgets and customize it to my heart’s content.

If you aren’t quite that tech savvy yet-you can head to and start a blog there- it’s free (note the difference between the two WordPress sites- .org is the repository, .com is the free hosted service). The only suggestion I’ll make is to buy a domain name for $15 a year from them. The reason- without paying for a domain name your URL will be instead of and will make it difficult to move once you decide to graduate to a hosted site so you can sell things and customize (and own your content). WordPress makes it pretty easy to move your site from one place to another and even to import from other CMS platforms. And, if you want a seminar on how all this works, I run a once-a-month seminar in Dayton called Websitetology to teach you all the secrets of the web and search engines.

The hard part is making the commitment to update on a regular basis. WordPress has tools to allow a group of people to manage a site- you see that over at and Find a group of people, and go to it.

Ideally, you also want to post audio, video and pictures. I’ve not found a pocket audio recorder yet that I really like. I use an Olympus and hate everything about its interface. The iPhone has a recording app- but, it has had problems with longer recordings and you may still need it as a phone.

Click on image to go to Amazon

I do have favorites for cameras, still and video. I own a Flip cam- but wish I owned the Kodak Zi8 which when I went to Amazon today was only $129! Its advantages over the flip are three, but a huge three:

  • It has removable memory – so you can keep shooting without having to hook up to a computer,
  • It has removable batteries- again- so you can keep shooting without having to hook it up to a USB power source,
  • It has an external mic input- so you can use a better mic- or a wireless one. Huge difference.

You’ll need a tool to edit and upload your video- can’t help you on the PC- but iMovie on the Mac is an amazing platform as long as your video is under 10 minutes (for some reason Apple has locked iMovie from uploading longer than 10-minute videos- and some of us have directors’ accounts- and are hamstrung by this). When I shoot longer video I use a professional HD cam- just because I have one, but for the most part- this or even the iPhone 4, with its HD camera and editing software, is more than enough to do the job.

Click on image to go to Amazon

For still photos I’ve recently acquired the Canon EOS Rebel T2i 18 MP CMOS APS-C Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens which is in many ways similar to the much more expensive Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-inch LCD and 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens. The low light sensitivity and the huge high resolution image files it creates make it an amazing DSLR for the money- but, it also shoots great high definition video (for about 15 minutes at a time- before it shuts down and has to cool off). The one thing I’ve noticed is this sensor is better than the lens it ships with- so if you’re picky-you’ll be investing in Canon L-series glass that will set you back more than the camera. You’ll need to buy Class 6 or faster SDHC memory cards as well- like this one Transcend 8 GB Class 6 SDHC Flash Memory Card TS8GSDHC6E The camera with memory will set you back about $950, but well worth it.

The last thing you’ll need is a good understanding of the Sunshine Laws and the First Amendment. Because even though every American was supposed to be taught civics- it’s amazing how few still understand these basic concepts. Last night I went to video record Dayton’s new Schools Superintendent at the South East Priority Board Meeting- and a citizen asked why I was taping- and that he thought it wasn’t allowed. A city staff person came over and ripped my power connection out of the wall- claiming it impeded the walk way as well- just assuming I had a battery running. Luckily, the board members were able to tell the citizen that this was a public meeting and you are allowed to record them. As to the City Staff person- I had batteries, but I also had the gumption to plug it back in.

The paid media in this country has been cutting resources and pay to “real journalists” because they haven’t figured out their business model yet. Even when they were making money- they couldn’t pay attention like an enlightened citizen can. Several years ago, Mike Robinette, Greg Hunter and Mike Bock started DaytonOS to be an open platform for citizen journalism in Dayton. Anyone can post there- sign up and you are an author. The OS stood for “Operating System” or “Official Statement” or “Open Source”- I still believe in the idea- although I’ve not loved the direction Mr. Bock has taken it.

Last night someone asked about what was the right camera to buy- and I could have just sent an e-mail. However, by writing this post I’ve shared it with the world- and hopefully given a few budding Clark Kents the tools to win a citizen journalist Pulitzer prize.
And- full disclosure, if you click on the links for the cameras and buy them (or anything else on Amazon in that visit), I get a commission. You can help support this site by buying stuff- isn’t capitalism grand?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!

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29 Comments on "Tools for citizen journalism"

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Mike McDermott

Great post! I know that you try to give props to all things Dayton, but for a better example of Citizen Journalism, head on over to one of the Miami Valley’s northern provinces for: where there are currently 87 citizen journalists that have contributed content, with 60 articles posted by them each month.
Without going into a lengthy social commentary on the democratization of news and information, the true value of the platform (WordPress) is that it allows readers to become publishers, and share their voice no matter what.  The People have started to awake and understand that mass media is not and cannot be objective. Their advertisers and wealthy mogul owners prevent that from happening.

David Lauri is a useful site for would be citizen journalists.  Although it’s more geared toward photography than videography, the same principles apply.  This site makes reference to a downloadable PDF (found at one can print and carry for use in situations when someone tries to tell you that you can’t photograph or video something.

Mike McDermott

Thanks David! I am considering some expansion plans. We should talk.


I read this post with very mixed feelings. There is already plenty of “citizen journalism” (some might say too much) floating around.
Without education, without oversight, without apprenticeship there is an enormous amount of irresponsible dreck clogging up the internet. I think that we are perhaps offering too much opportunity for this kind of unfettered expression, providing the privilege without demanding the responsibility.
Do you think people should do their own marketing too? Why pay your firm for its work, when they can simply do it themselves?  As a professional writer and journalist this notion that “anyone can (or should) do it” is short-sighted and somewhat insulting.
You also forgot to mention the very important detail that people should take the utmost care as to what they post on their own “blogs” as they are just as open to prosecution to whatever sins they commit there– libel, slander and copyright infringement– as if they had run off the same in 30.000 copies on an offset web press.


And David, I wish you’d fix this damn format. I work on WordPress too, so I know that it’s you and not them. I write with line breaks for paragraphs, but this format doesn’t recognize them, which leaves the post a big glurge of type on the page.  (I know it will recognize a double line between paragraphs, but who remembers such things at the time?)

Mike McDermott
@Larkin I encourage you to check out and judge its content. All of the contributors are writing about what they know and are intimately familiar with. Basketball coaches write about the “big game”, folks who eat at local restaurants provide the results of their palate, movie viewers provide their aspect on a film, parents contribute photos of their cub scout event, politicians reach out to explain details of an ordinance… all of these articles are contributed by the citizens of Tipp as seen through their eyes. As to oversight, yes TippNews lacks that, and for good reason. We don’t tell our contributors what they can and cannot write about, there is no “cutting floor” for articles. If they want to write about a particularly interesting poker game last night, they are welcome to do so. TippNews doesn’t have any money tied up with big interests, so we don’t have to be “careful” with what is published. Contributors provide personal slant, not institutional slant. The public has become weary of reading institutional slant in the news and the media. Promises made by big businesses and politicians fall on a deaf ear as people now thrive on User Generated Content. Regardless of how bad the spelling or grammar, there is a higher public trust placed in what John Q. Public has to say, rather than Rupert Murdoch, Proctor and Gamble, or the Washington Post. As for @David’s marketing, much of the work that he does each day is to encourage the contributions of others into the stream of consumer consciousness. He understands that the promises of businesses are no longer held with higher regard than the comments of strangers. And his political campaign seeks to build a community of informed, energized and motivated “regular folks” who feed off of each others enthusiastic support. In closing, I would definitely agree with your final point on professionalism in all that is written. As Editor of the online publication, my responsibility is primarily to be the legal arbiter that protects contributors from introducing libel, slander and copyright issues. In my opinion, this will be the primary… Read more »
Ice Bandit

As a professional writer and journalist this notion that “anyone can (or should) do it” is short-sighted and somewhat insulting. (Larkin)
In the earliest days of the Gulf conflict, one of the more compelling stories was that of Jessica Lynch, the American soldier who was wounded, captured and then liberated by invading forces. Convalescing at her West Virginia home, the New York Times decided to send ace journalist Jayson Blair to cover the human interest story. But Blair, by his own admission, decided his time would be better spent in a Gotham hotel room with a weekend supply of Peruvian Marching Powder. But this diversion did not prevent Blair from filing a story. Of course, his descriptions of the Lynch farm and her hometown were from conjecture and absolutely wrong, but hey, nobody gets it right all the time. And then there is the fabrications of Steven Glass. And Mitch Albom. And Tom Oliphant. Or the Time magazine Koran story. All major league  journalists at big time news outlets who didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. And this, Larkin (you objected once to the Old Bandito referring to you as “Dear”) is by no means a complete list of media dishonesty. Who knows how many fictitious stories have appeared in the Nowheresville Independent or the Frogtown Daily News? So the American people didn’t just give big media their contempt, big media earned it. Besides, when the framers drafted the First Amendment, they were thinking of pamphleteers and printers of broadsheets as well as the establishment media. So to paraphrase Chairman Mao, let 100 million citizen journalists arise, let 100 milllion blogs report. Just can’t trust the big guys anymore. Furthermore, the Old Bandito recently replaced his alternator and hot water heater and didn’t get any complaints from mechanics or plumbers that they were being dissed……


 Fine. What’s next, citizen attorneys? Citizen doctors? Citizen judges ? (We have those in Montana and they are certainly Bad News) Maybe Citizen Dentists– there must be some people out there with no training but a burning passion for teeth.
I spent a year in J-school, (and much of that I spent hanging out with Harry Crews in the English department) before I left for the greener pastures of  the oldest college of art in the country. Many of the best conventional journalists in the world did not come up through journalism school. But this notion that “anyone” can do it just contributes to the fallacy that the educated are the “elite” and  adds to the dumbing down of America, which is just where the ruling class would like to see us.  
Though it is true that some journalists are dishonest cheats, so are some doctors, some lawyers, some accountants and so forth. The difference is that a journalist who is revealed as dishonest is newsworthy.  Even old what’s-his-name can name them. They at least signed those dishonest pieces with their real name which is more than “Ice Bandit” can claim.  I wonder if, in fact, Ice Bandit isn’t just another persona of David’s.  But in any case, his endorsement was worthless since he couldn’t put his reputation behind it.  (And again, sorry I didn’t have time to help you there, David, but I had to get that Iowa Supreme Court appeal filed.)
No one had a comeback for the slander and libel issues. If anything goes, Mr. McDermott, how do you protect yourself and your own assets from lawsuit? If you are the nominal “editor” or even just the owner of the site, liability rests in your lap too. Are you carrying “Omissions and Errors” insurance?

Mike McDermott

@Larkin If I claimed that everything printed on TippNews was true, and that I fact-checked every item on the site, then I would need insurance wouldn’t I? Since I perform no such duties and only spell-check the work submitted any omissions or errors lie with the contributor and are an important part of how aggregate news is collected and disseminated. I contend that citizen journalists will “get it wrong” with the same frequency as a traditional journalist however the citizen journalist have a legion of readers available to help him/her correct it.
Readers of a citizen journalism site understand and are aware of  the type of journalism at work. As editor I neither hide nor conceal the fact that the authors are “ordinary folks” sharing their news. In fact, I do everything to highlight the author’s identity. News is no longer about top-down perspectives or independent reporting, it is about unique and personal perspectives. An article written by a mother with an autistic child is incredibly more moving than an article about a mother with an autistic child. Saying that “anyone” couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to share their story is myopic and does nothing to progress the democratization of information.
As my Editorial Guidelines denote as long as you treat your fellow man as a “Rock Star” there is little to worry of slander or libel. Traditional news media has worked too hard to market themselves as having a news product superior to all others. Now we see their massive defection to social media tools to provide the stories. How else do you think TV guys like Eric Zarnitz or Rich Wirdzek finds out about what is happening around town? They read my twitter stream and then meme my posts on TV. Television executives have “gotten over” being the end-all be-all and recognize that there are millions of people who can deliver the news, its just the Publishers of Print who haven’t received the memo yet.


Mike, you aren’t publishing news. You’re publishing personal columns. And yes, as a publisher of anything, you’d better have insurance, or conversely, nothing to lose.  Broadcast journalism was never anything beyond soundbites anyway, always with emphasis on the first half of their name and not the latter.  Have a nice day. 

David Lauri
@Larkin:   I shouldn’t worry too much about being insulted by the existence of citizen journalists of varying degrees of competence were I you, especially considering the guilt you already suffer by association with some of the journalists and writers who, like you, manage to earn livings from their work.   To take but one example, there’s Ann Coulter.  She’s educated, though admittedly not in journalism; yet with a cum laude history degree from Cornell and a J.D. from the University of Michigan, Coulter presumably did at least learn how to write well enough for academia.  Her work is supervised — her seven books are not self-published, and her columns appear in traditional newspapers (though she does also have a website on which she sometimes publishes rejected columns). Education, oversight, experience and having to earn a living haven’t kept Coulter from making libelous statements in her writing.   Yes, it’s a broad brush that could be used to paint both you and Coulter, but apparently it’s a brush of your own making, considering you’re both professional journalists and writers who’ve risen above the drek of hacks self-publishing on their own blogs and websites.   I also shouldn’t worry, were I you, that David E is trying to put you out of work.  I didn’t think that he was arguing that professional writers aren’t needed any more than he would that marketing professionals aren’t needed.  No, instead I think his point was that anyone can and should cover news that professional outlets overlook, ignore or suppress. That stories which appeared first on were later covered by the Dayton Daily News (a local bastion of traditionally educated, well supervised professional writers?) gives some hint of the value of this citizen journalism.   You are correct, however, that anyone who publishes, whether professionally in traditionally run outlets or as an amateur on one’s own, should be aware of the laws governing defamation of character and libel. Steve Tobak’s blog post, “Bloggers beware: You’re liable to commit libel,” is worth a read; he points out that “[t]ruth is the best defense against libel.”… Read more »

Your argument about citizen physicians, dentists and judges is wrong.  These professions require many years, sometimes decades, beyond high school and rigorous testing before one is allowed to practice.  Writers, presumably, are developed by the end of high school and only have their abilities honed by a mere four more years of school.  You admit yourself that many of the best journalists did not earn a degree in journalism. Your statements remind me of the early Church in their quest to keep the Bible in Latin to keep the masses from partaking in the Word.  Are journalists the only one’s who can report on events?

Ice Bandit

I wonder if, in fact, Ice Bandit isn’t just another persona of David’s.  But in any case, his endorsement was worthless since he couldn’t put his reputation behind it. (Larkin)
Wrong, Larkin. The Old Bandito, though older than David, is much better looking and a much better dancer…..

David Lauri, good points all. And yes, I absolutely loathe being lumped in with the same category as Ann Coulter. I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on her if she was on fire– and that’s saying some, given my general level of empathy for human beings. She’s one of the best examples of human garbage to come along in a long time and I can say these things “in print” with some impunity because public figures aren’t to expect to same level of privacy and freedom from critical remarks as the rest of us peons.    As to the double spacing– I can type in my sleep. I think something and the fingers respond. Isn’t the brain a remarkable thing? THIS is the only place where to get a single space between paragraphs you have to type in a double space. That’s not standard and unless I am concentrating on remembering to do so (and sometimes when I’ve taken a break from this forum, I forget altogether about the glitch) I don’t do it by rote.  Is it so difficult for Esrati to fix it? Apparently he doesn’t even see it, since he said the paragraph breaks come through just fine on his end .   Ice Bandit, while I have no doubt that you are  better looking than David and a much better dancer, until you are willing to reveal your identity I’m sorry that  I simply can’t take you seriously, my dear.  (And if you really wanted to endorse DE, perhaps you should have signed the endorsement. I signed mine, all 2000 words of it.)    Bridget, I simply don’t know where to begin with your wrongheadedness except to say that I hope you get some more education. The suggestion that people know how to write by the time they leave high school is laughable. The late (and wonderful) John Kenneth Galbraith taught a section of Freshman English at Harvard because he complained that when these students reached him as third year Economics students they couldn’t  write a coherent paragraph. That’s Harvard, mind you.  I can’t expect… Read more »

That’s “have citizen judges.” Please excuse the typo, I’m trying to finish this thought and get out the door. 

Larkin, I question what you learned in Journalism class that I didn’t learn in high school English. We, at least, were taught to attack the idea not the person. Being a late bloomer, I didn’t get my undergraduate degree until I was in my forties. Yet somehow, according to your evidence, I must have become a writing savant in those intervening years. My professors, from freshman year on, thought my work to be very well written and extensively researched. Oh, and here’s the kicker, many of them were professors of writing because part of my degree involves teaching children how to write. I have seen the work of high school students that far exceeds that which I have read in the Dayton Daily News. The other day, I saw a video of a high school journalism student politely bring down a politician using the politician’s own voting record. And, this I’m sure you know, the State of Ohio, and many other states, requires students to have a certain proficiency before they can get a diploma. Are there failings?  Absolutely, but to imply that only college educated people know how to write is elitist. My professors, to a person, told me the only way to become a better writer is to….write, write, write. As to knowing how to read, I did skip over the part about Montana. Perhaps it’s because I was so shocked that you would compare that amount of education and testing needed to be a physician or dentist to the 4 year degree outside of a specific field and no licensing to be a journalist. Even as a teacher, I had to be licensed and I would never presume to suggest that I went through that kind of rigor or sacrifice. As to ghost writing briefs, my father, at one point in his career, performed surgery on the inner workings of the human body; yet, would call a plumber when we had an issue with the inner workings of a toilet. His time was more valuable than the cost of hiring the appropriate professional. Finally, for you Larkin,… Read more »
Ice Bandit

David Lauri, good points all. And yes, I absolutely loathe being lumped in with the same category as Ann Coulter. I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on her if she was on fire…..(Larkin)

Ann Coulter writes? Never noticed. Full disclosure; the Old Bandito belongs to that sub-genre of males known as “leg men.” And the first time the Old Bandito got a look at Ann Coulter’s legs was when she was ripping Dweezel Zappa a new one on Bill Maher’s old show “Politically Incorrect.” She was wearing a short, black dress that revealed two of the longest and shapeliest stems this side of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. The Old Bandito, of course, went into a state of near catatonia, with an immediate IQ reduction of 75 points and a reaction similar to Pavlov’s pooch. There should be a mass movement of leg aficianados to have Ann Coulter’s legs declared a national treasure, kinda like Mt Rushmore or the Grand Canyon. And now to discover she writes as well. Whatta gal……..

Bridget, the only way to become a better writer is to read, read, read. (Which you seem to have issues with, frankly.) Some people were never cut out to be writers, just as some were never cut out to be doctors. I’m sorry to hear that you hold writers in such low esteem, and put some other glorified trades on some kind of pedestal,  but so be it.    (You did see the part where I said I only went to J-school for a year, didn’t you? And that I spent more time with Harry Crews then anyway. I’m sure you have no idea who Harry Crews is– perhaps you should look him up.) My father was an English professor, as was my mother. My stepfather, who raised me, was an English physician. And yes, he would hire plumbers when needed. What does that have to do with the price of milk on Sunday?   If you are teaching high school students in Dayton, please identify yourself so that I may ensure that my son does not waste any time in your class. In fact, writing is not even well-taught anymore. My son, who is a cellist, was admitted by audition to both the music and the Creative Writing programs at Stivers. When I saw the curriculum, and the intellectual quality of the man that head the program, I encouraged my son to reduce his realm of study to music only.    While  a dozen monkeys at a typwriter might surpass the work of the writers at Dayton Daily News (or Ann Coulter, for that matter) to suggest that high school graduates are somehow the ne plus ultra of writers is ridiculous. Education doesn’t just happen in the classroom but in the world at large.  (Though perhaps if you had spent more time in a classroom you would learn that you can’t lump William Faulkner in with the likes of  William Safire or Will Rogers. Or Ring Lardner. Jesus.)  My point is that we can be many things– we can play tennis on the weekend, but that doesn’t make us… Read more »
Larkin, Perhaps some classes in logic would have served you better than your one year of journalism.  I hold writers in the highest esteem when it’s deserved.  I love well-crafted prose and am a huge fan of Ice Bandit.  Even if I don’t agree with his stance, his writing always brings a smile.  And, while I don’t necessarily consider myself a writer, others do, so using logic, to denigrate writers would be to denigrate myself.  Frankly, I hold all skilled artisans and craftsmen in high regard, whether they be sculptors or plumbers.  Perhaps if you stepped down from the Ivory Tower you seem to have put yourself in, you would see there is beauty being created everywhere, even through the “uneducated.” Larkin, Larkin, there is no need to protect your son from my teaching.  He will not be one of my students.  Though, given that he is gifted, I’m sure he would thrive under any program.  However, you are the one who consciously chose your son’s school so you should stop complaining about its shortcomings.  You could have placed your son in any school in any state. As to the “talent” at the DDN, are they not professional writers?  Aren’t these the very people you are trying to defend? And, I did not say high school writers are the ne plus ultra of writers and certainly would not be up to the quality of the writers at, say, the Wall Street Journal, but few are and that is not your argument. The quality of writing was never injected into your case against citizen journalists. And, if you’d look again at my comments regarding my list of writers, you would see that the category in which I lumped them was “writers who never made it out of college.” Finally, dear Larkin, when you have no logic behind your argument, you use the tactics of the politician – personal attacks, “my dear old dad” and children.  You did forget puppies, though.  If you wish to continue this diatribe, we can do so in another forum.  This discussion is relative to citizen journalism. … Read more »
Dave Sparks
Dave Sparks

“The only way to become a better writer is to read, read, read”.
Larkin is wrong here, although not completely.  No surprise though, hominids often are, myself included.
While it is one way, it is certainly not the only way. I could certainly posit that the only way to become a better writer is to write, write, write, listen, listen, listen and above all, to live, live, live.


Dave Sparks … writers that don’t read don’t learn. Just like every area of expertise, one starts out as an apprentice. To suggest that you can learn to do something well without seeing how others have done  it before you is well, foolish. 

Ed Smith

These tools are really just fine for most interviews as well.  Don’t be shy about using them.  Thanks, Ed Smith

Dave Sparks

Seems like I remember winning several newspaper writing and photography awards: ONA Columnist of the Year and several other Thomson News company awards for photography, editorials, etc…all without a day of journalism training, and a very suspect record as a student.
While what may work for you may work for you, there is no one way that is blanket for all.  That’s just what works for you.
The thing about writing (and songwriting, and any kind of creating), is that yes, there are some people who are naturally talented and who are better than those who work their whole lives to do what some can do with no training whatsoever. There are reasons for this, but that’s another discussion relating to consciousness and life experience.
And to follow your logic, Tom Waits listening to Justin Bieber will make Tom Waits better. While it may well make Tom better, it’s not necessarily so.
Reading is no substitute for being a full participant in life. Listening is a better skill for writers, in the totality of it all, methinks.
It’s where Wordsworth fell so short of what he could have been.

David Lauri

Something apropos to the discussion about journalism and reading — a quote from Oscar Wilde’s 1888 essay “The Critic as Artist” (via a post on The Stranger):

Ernest. But what is the difference between literature and journalism?
Gilbert. Oh! journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read. That is all.

David Lauri

Another log to throw on the fire that is this page’s debate about the value of reading to prospective writers — a column by David Brooks, “The Medium Is the Medium,” in which he reports on a study involving giving books to disadvantaged students:

They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

Brooks goes on to point out:

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

Although Brooks’ column isn’t about how to be a good writer but rather is about the comparative effects of books and computer/Internet usage on students, the study he cites, while it may not support Larkin’s contention that “the only way to become a better writer is to read, read, read,” does in fact underscore the importance of reading, no matter what one wants to be when one grows up.