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From AJR,   August/September 2012  issue

(Senior) Citizen Journalists   

A Knight Foundation-funded program is training Maine baby boomers to report on their communities. Fri., September 28, 2012.


By Karly Moll
Karly Moll (karly.moll@gmail.com) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.      

Look out, Maine! The baby boomers are plunging into the world of citizen reporting. These seniors are just one tweet, video and blog post away from becoming the newest citizen journalists to hit New England.

"Intergenerational learning and collaboration within a community, that's what it's all about," says Bahia Ramos-Synnott, director, community foundations, at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

As part of its Knight Community Information Challenge, the foundation has awarded grants to 20 community foundations (out of 200 applicants), giving them the opportunity to convert their visions into reality.

The "intergenerational learning and collaboration" part of Ramos-Synnott's statement refers to Maine's up-and-coming (senior) citizen reporters. These soon-to-be journalists are members of the Knight-funded program called the Maine Boomer Reporting Corps, a program built by the community foundation Encore Leadership Corps, which applied for the Knight grant.

The program's mission is to combine intergenerational learning and collaboration by introducing thought-provoking, fresh topics to their local communities via the Web, using social media as their primary tool. The idea is for these seniors to be able to connect with younger users on the Web and also understand the latest digital developments.

The boomers are working closely with the Maine Press Association, which will help find the best venues for their articles, both locally and statewide.

These budding reporters could soon be giving Arianna Huffington's "OffTheBus" citizen campaign reporters a run for their money. Thanks to the $52,000 grant, members of the Boomers Reporting Corps will go through a series of training sessions to convert them into accomplished multimedia journalists.

Bill Kuykendall is the project's workshop director, charged with creating and overseeing the curriculum. He is a senior lecturer in new media and a cooperating professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. His expertise lies primarily in video, photography and multimedia.

Before joining the University of Maine in 2000, Kuykendall, a former photo director of the Seattle Times, taught photojournalism and newspaper management and directed the annual Pictures of the Year contest and Missouri Photo Workshop at the Missouri School of Journalism.

"I chose to be a mentor for this program because these seniors have unmatched knowledge of environment, international relations, economy and other important issues," Kuykendall says. "If they learn how to work photo/video and understand the publishing options available through the Internet, this knowledge will be powerful and spread into the public realm."

The first workshop took place last Saturday, featuring guest speakers Anthony Ronzio, head of the new media department at Lewiston, Maine-based Sun Media Group, and Mike Lange, a semiretired journalist with more than 25 years of experience in print media and 10 years in radio broadcasting.

"We had a pretty good turnout," Kuykendall says, "They participated actively and came from a wonderful variety of backgrounds. I felt it got off to a really good start and look forward to what's next."

What is next for these boomers? Homework..and lots of it. The boomers were given their first assignment: to start getting a feel for their communities by finding newsworthy issues that might be interesting to write about.

They were encouraged to speak to many people and organizations to get a well-rounded community perspective. The idea is to get the participants to think like journalists, asking the "who, what, when, where, why" and learning how to take the answers to the next level.

The boomers are going to be able to collaborate with each other in the blogosphere. A group blog will be the designated location for the reporters to bounce ideas off of one another and reach out for guidance from their peers.

"The reason why the boomers project won was because of the community commitment to the project," Knight's Ramos-Synnott says. "The senior citizens, having been through the working process, really wanted a vehicle to tell their stories. They wanted to go beyond sharing anecdotes with families and talking about issues going on in their community."