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article imageAn interview with citizen journalist Alison van Diggelen Special

By Bob Ewing     Jul 8, 2009 in Business
Alison van Diggelen is founder and host of FreshDialogues.com, a venue for lively interviews. On the site, Van Diggelen interviews Silicon Valley personalities, business and cultural leaders.
She has written dozens of profiles of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and movers and shakers for Silicon Valley Business Journal and Valley Life Quarterly Magazine. She also writes commentary for National Public Radio and KLIV radio.
For years, Alison wrote a popular parenting column in the San Jose Mercury News and a lifestyle/humor column in Silicon Valley Biz Ink. Her writing has also appeared in The Financial Times of London, United Parenting Publications and The Glasgow Herald.
To find out more, I interviewed her via email.
Q: You were recently referred to as "an example of a new kind of journalist" What does that mean to you?
A: It means that I am my own boss and can explore the subjects I'm really passionate about. In my case it's the green revolution and entrepreneurship. I don't answer to an editor, so I can go after whatever story or interviewee I consider most compelling. I focus on those who are influencers in the green world, are very articulate, and have a powerful story to tell.
My mission with Fresh Dialogues is to get the word out about going green, encourage people to think green, be green and invest in green.
In my podcasts, I want to capture the passion of those who are influencing the green world . Of course, I've interviewed well known green visionaries like Vinod Khosla, but I've also interviewed people like Guy Kawasaki who is very influential, but not a green expert per se.
By exploring the green issue with him and drawing him out, I found some of his Rules for Revolutionaries can be applied to Green Revolutionaries and also that he has adopted green behaviors like installing special shower heads and a "green" washer and drier in his home.
Again with Twitter aficionado, Adam Jackson whom I interviewed in May and his blog post about how refreshing it was to talk about green.
The Poynter Institute and BetaNews picked up Mike Cassidy's column about Fresh Dialogues and had some interesting comments:
"The next time someone tells you that bloggers can't also be serious journalists (good morning, Judge Kozinski), you tell them about Alison van Diggelen, the proprietor of Fresh Dialogues. She's not making money from it, but her brand of interview-based environmental coverage is professional in just about every other way that matters. Mike Cassidy tells her story."
Q: Why did you move from print media to a digital venue?
A: I've worked for a number of print publications: a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News (in the good old days when it was a fat and healthy paper); a columnist for the Silicon Valley Biz Ink (an edgier rival to the Business Journal) and feature writer for the glossy San Jose Magazine. In the first case, the publication has shrunk so dramatically, that local columnists are few and far between; in the case of the 2nd and 3rd, the publications have simply ceased to be: Victims of the economy and the move online.
I've actually been online since 2000, when I launched SiliconMom.com, a website featuring real stories from real moms; but after spending a summer working (and learning about top quality interviewing) in San Francisco with the NPR/KQED radio show, Forum with Michael Krasny, I was inspired to create my own online radio show, featuring all things green.
The beauty of digital is that the up front costs are pretty minimal: get your url, build a website and start writing. I was fortunate to have a good friend and colleague who worked probono to build my Fresh Dialogues site. She's awesome and has since launched her own web design company.
. I'd highly recommend her. In my case, since I do podcasts, I also had to purchase top quality recording equipment (My two mics, LS10 Olympus recorder and tripods were $750 and the Sony Sound Forge editing software $200, so all in all, your own 'radio show' for under $1000. A bargain!)
Q: What are the most important attributes a citizen journalist can have?
A: Tenacity is a key factor in being a citizen journalist. When you ask for an interview, you can't say: I represent the NY Times or such; you have a brand that no one (or only a few) has heard of, so you have to be tenacious and persuasive. Use what you've done before as your calling card.
For example, when I asked Maureen Dowd for an interview, I mentioned that I'd already interviewed Martin Sheen and Charlie Rose. That brings you credibility. If you're new to citizen journalism, start small, build your clips by submitting stories to your local newspaper/online sites in which you have some expertise.
You also have to be pretty disciplined (I'm committed to doing 2 podcasts a week), keep focused on your niche, keep focused on quality and follow any door that opens, even if it's just ajar. For example, after I interviewed PBS's Charlie Rose this spring, I followed up with him to get feedback on my interview skills. He was very encouraging and gave this excellent advice: The only secret is read everything, talk to everybody, be prepared, listen and hear, and seize the moment, any moment. Good advice from a top expert.
I took this advice when I saw Jack Welch at an event here in Silicon Valley. He was in town helping promote his wife's book 10/10/10. After the presentation, most people were after her for a signature in their books. Instead, I made a bee line to the legend of business management...and got a short but very compelling interview with him about why businesses MUST go green.
Of course, making your journalism sustainable is an important challenge. I'm currently exploring sponsorship (corporate and NGO) for Fresh Dialogues, and paid content opportunities; and have also recently launched a Video Interview Service called A List Video.
I'm collaborating with top media producer, Ben Hess. And we'll be offering professional quality video interviews for a fee to young startups and enterprises who need video content for their websites. My hope is that revenues from this enterprise will help sustain Fresh Dialogues in the medium to long term.
Q: Do you view citizen journalism as a threat or a complement to the mainstream media? Why?
A: Citizen journalists complement mainstream media for sure (look at Twitter feeds from Iran being quoted on Lehrer Newshour!) but there needs to be some quality management. For sure, mainstream media is in the process of a massive overhaul.
Everything is up in the air and no one knows quite how things will fall in the next few years. For sure, there will be more fallout in traditional print media. Many newspapers in the world are in jeopardy and they have to die or move online.
My predication is that the cream will rise to the top however; the best quality journalists will survive and thrive. The Huffington Post is already thriving. Finding ways to fund and sustain good journalists will be a challenge; it will require a new business model. The good news for citizen journalists is that this is a time of incredible OPPORTUNITY.
While the media world is in flux, the world is almost flat and tremendous opportunities open up. Case in point: as well as Fresh Dialogues, I also blog for www.svmoms and was invited to take part in a conference call with Katie Couric in May. Yes indeed, THE Katie Couric wanted to know what the blogging community thought about her coverage.
My advice: read the book: What would Google Do? and Go for it!
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