Seat And Tell Your Stories

Many of the most important literature writers were doctors, engineers, journalists, politicians, etc. Actually, despite their trade in life most often these men and women had something to say about what was happening inside and around them that drove them to the pen. They simply had something to say, an urge to write, to express their thoughts, skills, art — talent put forth on words.

Well, this has actually always happened, one way or another.

The urge is really strong and finds its way out. We hear of indigenous people all over the world … how they get together around the fire, after a day of hardship for survival, sharing their fortunate and unfortunate experiences. Telling stories is something desirable. Telling stories became so important in our history that kings had people to write for them and tell their stories: in general about their victories, might and outstanding deeds. 

In our more recent past, the only way to tell our stories was through writing books or articles in newspapers or  newsletter of some sort. One way or another you had to put it down on paper. Nowadays we have the Web and more freedom of speech, or at least we want to have it, because as always the people in power are very sensitive to the written word. The first thing to be controlled by totalitarian governments is the press. (Look what is happening now in Egypt.)

Nevertheless, we do enjoy much more freedom in the civilized world, for we may use the Internet and blogs, wikis, and even cell phones to interact and tell our stories. Now as then we can learn from each other and grow. The World Wide Web went on growing faster them any one expected and we may, or most of us may, access information from anywhere in the world, about any subject and even go a step further and create information, stories, news — you name it.

The Web has broadened our vision and the possibilities to express ourselves. For me one of the most important recent events is collaborative journalism. With the motto “every citizen can be a reporter” I have set my pass. Well, my contribution, and notice that this is sort of a collaborative one, is to talk about what it is like to be a citizen reporter, a down to earth view of the possibilities, joys and difficulties of exercising your right to be a voice among many voices.

OhmyNews International (OMNI) was a collaborative newspaper and Web newspaper I used to write for. It was one of the first of its kind and won’t be the last. We are now here at Bukisa, right? At the OMNI Third International Citizen Reporters’ Forum in Seoul in July 2007, Elgar Welch from Australia told us about Scopical which is also already history. The WWW does not stop.

I like to write for Yahoo Contributer, Bukisa and I even have my own website (Glowbrazil). For most of these it is necessary to be aware of contributing material with an international appeal.

I decided to start writing to see how far I could get with it because I like it and because I wanted to make some money too. I did have some previous experience for I created and kept a village newspaper for two years. It was printed and distributed from house to house in the village where I was living at the time in Campinas, in the state of Sao Paulo, in Brazil. But writing in English to an international crowd of readers was far different, much more challenging and exciting.

Anyone can write. All you have to do is to find your media, choose a topic and get hands on work. I chose Brazil, its beauties, parties, troubles, controversies, government — and went on. I do have my preferences: controversies, achievements, politics, beautiful places, music, art, people in general and their life experiences — not exactly in that order.

You don’t need to be so skilled; there is room to learn. Try once, twice, it will get easier each time, especially if you get some coaching. Some collaborative Websites will receive your material and edit it before they publish it. This is done, most of the time, by professional journalists working as editors. They are your best friends.

By comparing what you have submitted and what was actually published you can learn a lot. I hope you may be as lucky as I was, for I got Claire George right in the beginning; she used to work as an editor for OMNI. She always helped me with her remarks and guidelines: “Why don’t you interview some people on that matter?” she’d say, or, “How about some pictures to illustrate your point more?” I was lucky to have that.

People are writing more and more, and through the Web, new opportunities to participate appear every day. As Oh Yeon Ho, president and CEO of OhmyNews, said during the forum, “In the many voices there is truth.” I would add: these voices are getting louder and louder.

This said, my friend, the sky is the limit! Go there, type your text and start reporting right now. Be true to yourself and to others and don’t use other people’s texts as your own and most of all, try to keep it down to the facts so your readers will learn to trust you.

Most Web sites will give you guidelines on how to be more effective and more accurate in producing material. Bukisa has Bukisa 101. Read good material others are producing to get models and some guidelines (never copy others). Above all, write what comes to your mind and soon you will know your way around with words, just start right now.

Well, I basically write because I like it. It is an adventure. That is true and I think it is the best way to approach citizen journalism, blogging and so on. But there are many benefits that could be mentioned.

We seem to live in a world where illiteracy is something of the past … away from us. But you would be surprise at the number of people even in the so-called developed countries who are actually functional literate people only. Of course this is more likely to happen in the Third World, as many people can assure you. So for sure, writing can give you a big advantage in the game of life.

After you are regularly published somewhere it will look very good in your resume, open doors in many places and prepare you for new and higher flights that maybe you never imagine before. As I said, I started as a citizen journalist just for fun and to make some pin money. Soon I discovered how it could be interesting for me in my trade, later for my job and recently for my life as a whole.

Benefits of Writing:

It is enjoyable. I really think this is the most important drive one should have. Yes, you like and have pleasure in what you write or do.

Many times you submit a text you worked your fingers to the bone to get done and you do not get published, or few people will read it. The editor, you know, has the right to publish your article or not. It is only his obligation, or I think it should be, to give the citizen journalist a feedback on it. I’ve already heard or read a lot of feedback … this is great, that is how one grows.

Back to pleasure, if you write out of any other reason other than your satisfaction I am afraid it won’t pay. It is fun and opens up the door to many great times of doing what you like. Maybe what you want is to be in the middle of a conflict, game, incident, revolution, celebration — you name it. If you have an opportunity check out “The Carnival in the Heart of the Rainforest.” You will see how reporting opens doors, but be careful what doors you choose! The text tells how I managed to make the most of that event in terms of enjoying it because I was going to report about it. It also does give you some good ideas on how to use your citizen journalist status for the better.

It was very nice to produce an article about that carnival. Also, Serafim Correa, the mayor of Manaus, granted me a nice speech on video.

It is a way of making some money. Making some extra money while you do something you like to have fun with is just fantastic.

Not all collaborative media available today pay for the content you supply … But that is not the only way you can make money with it. Be creative, after a while of being published and rejected (with proper feedback) you will grow and you may start offering your stories as a freelancer. Most citizen journalists do not have a journalism diploma, but a diploma is usually necessary if you are going to be hired as a professional journalist.

Working as a citizen journalist can be of great value to you, even bigger I think than blogging, for as a citizen journalist you will be edited, get published and be read as part of some media where you are not the only decision maker. You will vie for space and the reader’s attention and thus have a far more relevant asset to you curriculum — a fantastic display of your work skills. I already heard of people getting assignments for cash.

One personal experience here might go well. There is in Manaus a very nice forest hotel, kind of expensive, called Ariau Towers. Manaus is the capital of the state of Amazonas, in Brazil. It is in the heart of the world’s largest rain forest. Well, I got to stay free at the Ariau because I was going to write about my experience in the jungle and there. I spent a marvelous three days there sightseeing, taking pictures and talking to people. I never promised to speak well about the hotel, not necessarily; but as it turned out, it really was great. (I was even able to bring two friends along with me.)

Note on how I did it: When I started writing about Manaus I knew people all over the world wanted to know more and more about the Amazon. I had an eye on getting to know more about the jungle and believed that the Ariau Towers would be just the place to do that. But it is one of the most expensive hotels in Manaus. I went on writing and one day while I was planning my next business trip to Manaus I wrote to the hotel administration, showed them all published articles about Manaus and asked if they would give me some courtesy to stay there so I could write about the jungle, about that way of experiencing the forest. Later I wrote the article, it was published, and the door is open for a second visit any time.

(I prayed the hotel wouldn’t be doing anything wrong in the forest for I would have to report on it; turns out, they actually have nice programs directed at protecting the environment. It is a risk you run so you have to be careful!)

So as you can see, taking proper care, the byproduct of your citizen journalism experiences and actions can be very nice.

Writing is a way of getting your client’s attention. I did this in Manaus. Writing about Manaus was a way of showing my clients there that I cared for the city. I am from Sao Paulo in the south of Brazil. Manaus is in the far north. As everywhere in the world, the major news broadcasts are mainly about major cities — in Brazil, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I really do care, you see, Manaus is very interesting. Writing as a citizen journalist about Manus helped me do it. In many of my presentations it became a great topic for conversation.

Writing is good for your status at your job. Well, the same way as for my clients, at work, people started to recognize my effort and give more credit to my actions. I have had the opportunity of writing about Software in Brazil and using Softway, the company I work for, as an example. Two of the company’s directors were my interviewees and the article received massive visits. Easy to see how this was great for me, right?

Writing may become the source of life experiences you never imagined. Sometime in June, I was home reading my e-mails. I got one from OMNI. It was an invitation to the Third International Citizen Reporters’ Forum in Seoul this past summer.

I don’t need to say much more, do I? The trip to Korea was very, very nice, something I never dreamed about — great flying experience, great people to get to know, great country I had never even in my wildest dreams thought of getting to know. Kamsahamnida OMNI! Kamsahamnida citizen journalism! (“Kamsahamnida” is “thank you” in Korean.)

This was an experience made possible by writing regularly.

As you see, writing can a fun, enriching and an adventurous experience; I strongly recommend it. Start right now. God only knows where you will find yourself next year. Good Luck!

Come to the fire yourself, write and have fun!