Citizen journalism training material


Citizen Journalism training material


“… We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King Jnr, Letter from Birmingham jail (April 1963).

“The press should positively promote national development.” – President Jomo Kenyatta 1968.

The above statements reflect the ingredients of a health community; hence the media always play a crucial role as the missionary to convey messages from person to another.

Citizen Journalism

The concept of citizen journalism (also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic”, “guerrilla”or “street” journalism) is based upon public citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.”

It is also defined as an alternative and activist form of newsgathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a response to shortcomings in the professional journalistic field that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism”.

A simpler definition could be: “When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”

New media technology, such as social networking and media-sharing websites, in addition to the increasing prevalence of cell phones, have made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. Due to the availability of technology, citizens often can report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters.


News writing techniques to be employed

In order to get news coverage, you have to have something newsworthy to say. As media events and messages are developed, it is important to first identify the “hook” that will be used. The “hook” is that critical piece of newsworthy information that will capture the attention and interest of both the news media and their audiences.

There are many variations of news “hooks” within Safe Routes to School (SRTS) including the following:


Timeliness Examples:

Back to School Tips


The timeliness hook ties to an event or season, such as “Back to School,” or other events that could incorporate a news message. In addition to times of the year, media events can also be tied to national campaigns.


Impact Examples:

New industry opens in Chitungwiza

Taps run dry for three week in Chitungwiza


The media is also interested in how a potential story impacts their audience in the community.


Prominence Examples:

MP/businessperson donates to the elderly and poor

Manyeruke headlines immunisation programme

Prominent members of the community are a natural draw for the media. These individuals can be leaders within schools and districts or government, as well as prominent members of the community.

The prominence hook can also involve the media itself. Often media personalities are local celebrities themselves. Consider inviting a news anchor to attend an event or ask your local meteorologist to do the weather live from an event.


Proximity Examples:

Zengeza High students in sponsored walk

House in Seke reduced to ashes

In order to define proximity, you must understand the audience of the media organization. The proximity of The New York Times is much wider than the proximity of a small, community newspaper. Editors at small community newspapers are generally going to be more interested in what is happening in their county as opposed to events in a distant county.


Magnitude Examples:

US$4 Million to reconstruct dam/school/hospital

 The magnitude hook incorporates the element of quantity into the news story.


Conflict Examples:

Groups fight for land ownership

Council and government officials clash at Council Head office in Chitungwiza

Conflict can create a platform to promote the issues affecting communities. Conflict can bring about a positive story.


Oddity Examples:

Man/Woman Resurrects at Local Hospital

Monkeys invade TM Zengeza/Town Centre

Incorporating an odd element within your program or event can also attract the attention of the media.

The training borrows primarily from the use of 5Ws and an H. The Ws entail the Who, What, When, Why and Where, while the H stands for how. This works well in the inverted pyramid style of writing where important aspects are placed in the lead paragraph.

  • Who was involved? The three little pigs (the first pig, the second pig and the third pig) and The Big Bad Wolf (a.k.a. Wolf).
  • What happened? Each pig constructed a house out of different materials (straw, sticks and bricks). Wolf (allegedly) threatened to blow over their houses and is believed to have destroyed both the straw and stick homes at this time. Pig one and two were able to flee to the brick house, where they remain at the moment. We’re still waiting to hear from local authorities, but it looks like the Wolf may have been injured while attempting to enter the brick house.
  • Where did it take place? Outside a straw house, a stick house and a brick house.
  • When did it take place? At various times throughout the day.
  • Why did it happen? Apparently the Big Bad Wolf was trying to eat the pigs. Several eyewitnesses recall the Wolf taunting the pigs before he destroyed the straw and stick homes by chanting, “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in.” The pigs apparently scoffed at the Wolf’s idle treats, saying “Not by the hair of our chinny, chin chins.” It’s believed this angered the Wolf and led to him blowing the houses down.
  • How did it happen? It would appear the first two homes were not built to withstand the Wolf’s powerful breath. The incident inside the brick house is still being investigated, but early indications suggest the Wolf fell into a boiling pot of water when trying to enter the house through the chimney.

Advantage is based on the principle of homophily as opposed to heterophilic associations. Homophily suggests that individuals are likely to be influenced by people who are similar to them than by those who are different, for example in terms of social status and cultural origin.

What to avoid and uphold:

  • Sensationalism: Sunshine/yellow journalism which thrives on being extremely controversial, loud or attention grabbing, emphasising on the unusual/atypical. Through sensationalism, the media are used primarily to excite or please vulgar tastes.
  • Ethics which refer to self legislation/self enforcement, thriving to achieve objectivity and balance in news coverage. Truthfulness is the most important aspect of journalism.

Practical sessions:

  • Identifying what’s news
  • Writing introductions
  • Developing a story
  • Writing a full article
  • Follow ups
  • Individuals write dummy articles
  • Evaluation and post writing session discussions

About the Trainer

Gumisai Nyoni is a seasoned journalist and graduate of post-graduate Diploma in Media and Communication Studies from the UZ. He has worked as a sub-editor for several newspapers in Zimbabwe. Currently he is a Program Officer at Media Centre Zimbabwe.