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 www.wordpress.com 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 YourSiteName.wordpress.com instead of YourSiteName.com 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 www.daytonmostmetro.com and www.historicsouthpark.org 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?

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