Reporter sees value in engaging citizen journalists

By Jennifer Neutel

‘Having several extra sets of hands and several extra sets of eyes is beneficial to us’

Kristin J. Bender, a breaking news reporter at the Oakland Tribune, is delighted that the organization is running a program engaging citizens to report on their communities as it provides more reporter power.

The community journalism project, called Oakland Voices, allows the paper to dig into more community coverage, she says. The correspondents are eager, smart and living in the neighborhoods they are covering.

“A lot of times we may not get to these (community) stories. We are covering the news of the day, and often with the breaking news team we are drinking from a fire hose every day — it is a fast pace,” she says.

Kristin J. Bender
Kristin J. Bender

Bender, who has been a reporter at the Oakland, Calif.-based newspaper for 14 years, has helped train each of the Oakland Voices cohorts. The project is currently starting its third class in a nine-month program that trains 10 community members to produce news content.

Bender often attends the orientation week and shares journalism 101: what journalism is, how to find news, how to write a lede paragraph, how to interview people and how to use quotations. The class includes people of all ages, backgrounds and race — a diverse group of people who are new to journalism.

Because the correspondents know their communities, they provides a deep level of coverage, Bender says.

“Having several extra sets of hands and several extra sets of eyes is beneficial to us.”

Bender notes the program carefully screens applicants and ensures people have the right energy.

“You have to do a gut check on these folks; are these going to be people that we want to represent us as an organization, who are out to do the right thing?”

The program teaches the journalistic tenets of objectivity, accuracy and fairness. Bender says a mix of being firm, assertive and gentle when providing guidance seems to do the trick. Just like hiring a new reporter, there may be times when a participant decides to leave the program or turns out not to be the right fit.

Bender says she’d like to see the correspondents continue to stay active with journalism or writing after they complete the program.

“I would also like to see more of our folks in the newsroom become a little more integrated in doing teaching or workshops with these folks,” Bender says, noting there are people who have different skill sets such as computer-assisted reporting.

To learn more about Oakland Voices, visit

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— Oakland Voices is one of three pilot sites participating in the ASNE/Journalism That Matters partnership exploring how and why news organizations are engaging with their communities. This story is written by Axiom News

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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