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article imageCitizen Media Leaders: The Mentoring Journalism School

By David Silverberg     Oct 14, 2008 in World
In a four-part series, Digital Journal is profiling innovative journalists, editors and institutions that are redrawing the map of citizen media. Find out how these bold men and women are impacting their corner of the media landscape.
Digital Journal – In March 2008, a group of citizen journalists and NGOs visited the tar sands in Alberta. The 11 people were from Greenpeace Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, youth education network Check Your Head and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They all went on the trip because they were concerned about the health implications facing surrounding communities in the area. First Nations families near Athabasca are watching their hunting and fishing areas disappear; nearby Cree communities are facing alarming rates of cancer.
One of the organizing forces behind the visit was Roberto Wohlgemuth of the Institute of Citizen Journalism based in Vancouver, British Columbia. While other concerned visitors to the tar sands reported back to their host NGO, Roberto made the visit to mentor several citizen journalists who were passionate about the issue. He helped them write articles and snap photographs of the tar sands. It’s all part of his duty as co-founder of the ISJ, which aims to provide tools and resources to interested citizen journalists.
The ICJ is working with the Council of Canadians to create a documentary on the tar sands, set to be released on Oct. 29.
“This is the genesis of what we want to do,” Wohlgemuth says in an interview with “We want unaccredited journalists to unveil these under-reported stories the public needs to know about.” He added how all members of the trip felt compelled to share their experience to a broader audience — and some did just that, penning articles in alternative newspapers in B.C.
The ICJ is also dabbling in overseas projects. Wohlgemuth had an opportunity to connect with the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service and the UNHCR in Ecuador. Together, they facilitated a series of interviews with Colombian refugees to learn more about why they left their country. The three-minute documentary will be submitted to the Pulitzer Center’s Project: Report contest.
Wohlgemuth notes, “If citizen journalism is to be an effective tool then we will find that citizens are more engaged in their communities and ultimately we will see more effective democracies.”
In order to find out how the ICJ can directly help engaged citizen embrace grassroots journalism, and to learn why citizen journalism can co-exist with the mainstream press, Wohlgemuth spoke candidly with recently. What do you aim to do at the ICJ?
Roberto Wohlgemuth:
We pilot different ideas in order to create a healthier media. We try to encourage people in finding stories and conducting the right research. We focus on civil society so organizations like NGOs could find the right tool to uncover those stories.
: So what are those tools you provide?
Wohlgemuth: It could be as simple as a video camera. It could be equipment or the know-how on interviewing skills and getting the facts straight. Or we can help citizen journalists post their stories on a website. Tools aren’t always physical.
Engaged citizens at the Alberta tar sands
Carleen Pickard from the Council of Canadians and Kevin Millsip from Check Your Head snap pics of the Alberta tar sands during a recent visit
Courtesy Roberto Wohlgemuth
: Since you are based in Canada, compare how citizen journalism is viewed in Canada compared to the U.S.?
Wohlgemuth: In the case of the US and in the case of Canada the views of citizen journalists and how these evolve within mainstream media will be very different. Actually, it will depend on the mindset, preparedness and social openness of different communities in both countries. I believe it is now more about affinity communities that cross geographical boundaries as opposed to physical locations. I can imagine a much different view of citizen journalism in a community in British Columbia, when compared to a community in Utah or in a community in New York, Hawaii or Alaska. You will likely not see macro trends but rather micro trends in groups utilizing citizen journalism.
I also believe that citizen journalists will find ways to make their efforts more sustainable and that will not only come from investment but from community support as well.
: Do you think citizen journalism will ever replace mainstream media?
Wohlgemuth: No, I think it will evolve into a collaborative effort. I could see more and more citizen journalists using Web 2.0 tools to increasingly collaborate with other journalists on topics not always covered by the mainstream press.
Tomorrow, in the final article on our four-part series on citizen media, peek into the busy world of The Huffington Post's citizen journalism department and find out what they are planning for the upcoming election week.

Citizen Media Leader Series

This is the third part in a four-part series on pioneers in citizen journalism. See below for the other artists in the series:
The Journalist with a Business Edge
: Dan Gillmor is a citizen journalist's best friend, penning books on grassroots media and offering advice on blending user-generated content and entrepreneurship.
Opening Closed Governments: The Sunlight Foundation exposes the inner working of the U.S. government to reveal facts and stats ideal for any intrepid citizen journalist.
More about Citizen media, Institute citizen journalism, Roberto wohlgemuth
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