CITIZEN JOURNALISTA

Jane Q Public: Bainbridge Island

Citizen Journalista goes half dark

Dear Reader,

Jane Q from Citizen Journalista here. Thanks so much for reading this blog!

While I’m developing this blog in ways that can’t be explored live on the web, I won’t be adding new blog content for a while. New paid writing gigs and a boatload of clients (both good things!) mean I have to draw some lines in the sand regarding my time management, and something has to go.

However, you can still consider my Twitter feed in the left center column as an ongoing live news feed as I parse through local/regional news to find things of interest to Islanders. So stay tuned for that, and if you like, follow me at CitizenJBI to receive my tweets directly in your own Twitter client feed.

And please, send me your info if you find something of interest to Bainbridge Islanders that I could tweet about: cjbi@myway.com. It could be general news, calendar information, city hall oversight, or special interest features you think our community would be interested in. I can’t guarantee I’ll tweet about everything that comes my way, but I’ll certainly do the best that I can!

Thanks for your support. I will be back (eventually) in full uniform as Citizen Journalista; I appreciate your patience while I’m away.

Jane Q Bainbridge Island for Citizen Journalista

Chamber hosts social networking luncheon Sept 16

The Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce is taking reservations for what should be a popular and informative event on the island, not only for local business people but for would-be citizen journalists, local artists and communications directors for nonprofit organizations. And maybe for the Chamber, itself.

“How to Make Social Networking Work for Your Business” covers basic information regarding the what and why of social networking. What can and should businesses do with Facebook, Twitter, blogging, social bookmarking, and the array of services available through Google and other service providers? Features island social networking guru Shannon Evans. Call 842-3700 to sign up. http://www.bainbridgechamber.com/

[Editorial comment: Interestingly, I find little action from multiple Google searches for more details than what's listed for this event on the chamber's landing page. Also, running a Twitter search, nada. Facebook page also not updated since the 4th. Lucky me, I happened to attend the Aug 28 BBC meeting at the Blue Ocean Cafe, so that's how I got the slim few details for this article. Hmmm. Kevin, Mickey and friends, I hope you take lots of notes!]

Taking a short break

End of summer and the beginning of the school year is a hectic time, so I’ll be taking a break until mid-September to tend to the home fires and some of my pressing work projects. In the meantime, follow me in Twitter @Citizenjbi

Local writers’ community hosts international creativity coach this October

Field’s End Presents…

FUELING THE CREATIVE MIND

Featuring world-renowned creative writing expert Jurgen Wolff, author of Your Writing Coach

Date: Saturday, October 17
Registration: 8:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Presentation: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
(lunch break from 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m.)
Location: Bainbridge Pavilion Cinemas 403 N. Madison, Bainbridge Island
Cost: $65 early registration (August 1 – 31)
           $85 regular registration (after August 31) 
           $60 group fee (5 or more people registering together)

Register Now

In a presentation by this popular writing coach, writers will be led through a series of connected seminars to explore four innovative, right-brained ways they can prepare their creative minds for the acts of writing and revising. The seminars include

I. Alter Ego Strategies
II. Right Brain Visualization
III. The Q Method of Analyzing Text
IV. The Transformation of the Inner Critic

• Writers will be guided through a few brief interactive exercises during the presentation to illuminate these strategies and will be provided with useful handouts for application afterward.

• The goal of Wolff’s presentation is to help creative writers to discover fresh, personally meaningful insights into their own creative lives as a way to unlock and engage their strengths.

• This presentation offers benefits not only to writers of all disciplines and genres but also to other creative people for whom storytelling and narrative are important components of expression.

• Come prepared to explore potential breakthroughs in your own creative process! Participants are not required to have a work in progress in order to attend.

More info: http://www.fieldsend.org/Event.html

Island bloggers are invited to a meetup this Friday

Who’s invited: anyone from Bainbridge Island who blogs or would like to blog
Who’s hosting: Island bloggers Tamara Sellman and Shannon Evans
What: informal meeting
Where: Blue Ocean Cafe
When: Friday August 28, 2009 at 9am (following the BBC meeting)
Why: to network, share tips, and discuss web 2.0 strategies
RSVP: no need, just show up!

Feature: An Interview with BI author Jennifer Culkin, author of “A Final Arc of Sky”

[This interview originally appeared in Writer's Rainbow.]

Bainbridge Island author Jennifer Culkin recently published her first book of essays, A Final Arc of Sky, in which she recounts her experiences as a critical care nurse and life-flight medic within the framework of her life as a working mother with multiple sclerosis.

Writer’s Rainbow: What is the greatest pleasure you take from writing?

Jennifer Culkin: It feels like a form of wrestling to me—muscular, up-close engagement with feelings, ideas and language.  When I sit down, I usually have something sitting in my gut that has arrested my attention in some way, but I don’t know exactly what there is to say about it.  I write in part to discover—with as much precision and specificity as I can—what there is to say about it.  Tremendously satisfying.  It hits any number of sweet spots.

WR: Do you have a particular weakness in your skill set or process that continues to hound you as a writer?

JC: Oh, there are a lot of things.  The worst is that when a deadline is coming up I’m a horrible procrastinator, and ultimately that’s as painful as ripping out fingernails.  But I don’t know how to change that about myself.  I’ve tried all sorts of schedules and mind-games but the writer in me seems to be a balky teenager who wants to sleep late.  Sigh. And I’m a slow writer.  That’ll never change. 

I’d also like to write a novel, but I’m not a great plotter.  I do think I have potential to improve in that area—it could be fun to make the effort to improve in that area.  And I’m sick of my own tics as a writer.  If I’m boring myself, I’m boring the reader.

WR: You’re a busy working mom. Are you an everyday writer, or do you just write when you can fit it into your schedule?

JC: When I work at the hospital, my day starts at 4:30 AM and I don’t get home until about 9:15 PM; work is a fast trot/total immersion for twelve hours and there generally isn’t a minute available on those days, unless I were to try to jam something into a notebook at lunch. 

Usually I do a desultory crossword puzzle at lunch and luxuriate in the sensation of sitting down.  But those long days enable me to work 2-3 days per week instead of 4-5.  I do write something every day I don’t work—whatever I feel like writing unless I’m under a deadline.  When no deadline is looming, I amuse myself.

WR: What’s your favorite writing “situation”—where and when do you like to work best, and with what tools?

JC: I’m a computer girl.  I love the glowing blue-blank page, the tactile click of the keys, and my process is completely dependent on the ability to edit as I go.  I don’t know what will happen if the end of the world comes and the lights go out permanently.  Or if MS worsens to the point I can’t type.  I dread that day.  But I suppose I’d adapt, like people do.  

I have an office-loft that overlooks the living room in my home, and because of the office chair and adjustable computer screen it’s physically the most comfortable place to write for hours—my neck and shoulders thank me.  But the informality of the laptop in other locales also has its little siren call.  Once I’m engaged with what I’m writing—once I’ve achieved escape velocity—I can do it anywhere with any amount of background noise.  Right now I’m sort of half watching the Tour de France.  Boys on bikes!

WR:Describe any writing rituals you might have.

JC: I always feel like writing first thing in the morning, so most days I do, right after I make the killer cup of coffee.  When I’m working on something serious, I put on these old black corduroy pants that have an elastic waistband and I sit down in my loft.  If I’m stuck or feeling particularly procrastinatory, I either journal about it so I can bitch to myself or I deal myself out three Tarot cards and divine my future.

WR: Do you ever play music while you write?

JC: I did it once—listened to Green Day’s American Idiot on my MP3 player while I worked on the “Night Vision” chapter of the book.  It was fun—almost addictive fun—but the voice in the chapter took on punk overtones.

WR: You’re an avid cyclist. Do you ever lose yourself in thoughts about writing while trekking around on your bike?

JC: I love riding because I can think about everything in the universe while my legs are busy.  The feel-good neurotransmitters start to flow and take the edge off everyday anxiety. 

I’ve also noticed that my physical abilities transiently improve when I engage in vigorous exercise.  The physical and biochemical changes that occur during exercise must make nerve impulse transmission more efficient across those damaged areas in my brain and spinal cord.  

It’s also my chance to listen to music as much as I want.  Mudhoney, anyone?  The straight life baby/has taken its toll/confined your mind and/stolen your souuullll…yup, it’ll get you up a hill.

WR: Your book, A Final Arc of Sky, is a memoir about your life as a critical care and life-flight nurse. However, you also interweave in the narrative your discovery of what would be the eventual diagnosis of MS.

I’m interested in the intersection where nursing, writing and multiple sclerosis meet: how does encountering each of these facets of your life inform the others in this trinity? Does nursing inform writing, does writing inform self-care for the MS, does the MS inform you as a nurse?

JC: Hmm, a complicated question.

Physically, for me at this stage, MS is like carrying around a 20-pound backpack all the time.  I’m not so severely impacted that I can’t do things I want to do, but my energy is extremely finite.  It goes, it goes!  It always goes before I’m ready for it to go.  My energy is like the caboose of the train I ran to catch, disappearing into the distance.  And once it goes my neurologic symptoms—dizziness, balance issues, tremor/fine-motor impairment, spasticity, deficits in memory and information processing—get worse, sometimes a lot worse.  Too tired for too long and I’m setting myself up for a flare—that happens about twice a year at present.  

So I have to husband my energy.  I can push myself—I’m the sort who will push herself—but sometimes that backfires.  It’s not always the right answer.  Critical-care nursing in my current setting is demanding physically, intellectually and emotionally, so I know two days a week I’m going to have to go all out for 12 hours, 17 if you count the commute. 

On one hand, I think it improves my endurance in the big picture, like cycling does.  My natural inclination as a person is to put out a huge, focused effort followed by sloth.  This is why 12-hour shifts in an intense specialty appeals to me.  In college and grad school, I was the type who wrote 30-page papers the day before they were due.  But now that sort of effort is often too much for me. 

I manage by working part-time.  I manage by having low domestic standards and expectations of myself.  We’re talking cracked paint and weeds.  I manage by living in the now.  I don’t know what my abilities will be later in the day, next week or next year.  I judge minute to minute what I can do and screw the rest, frankly.  When I truly CAN’T throw my leg over my bike or start an IV anymore, when it’s an absolute, then I will at least know I did it when I could.

Artistically, nursing uses a whole different area of my brain as opposed to writing.  It’s immediate, scientific-analytical, highly social, and cracks along at record speed.  Writing is both a physical and an emotional release from that.  It’s sedentary, solitary, ruminative and painstaking—I can give myself all the time in the world to sort it out and get it right. 

The way they balance each other is almost exquisite.  When I write I’m sitting down, physically resting, and I get a chance to think about what I’ve done.  A chance to think about all the little things that I noticed while I was taking care of patients, and while I was living life, but had no time to dwell on.  And writing is a safe place to explore my feelings about MS. 

My circle of family and friends is supportive, very supportive, but they have their own problems and in my estimation they shouldn’t have to worry about mine any more than I can help.  I don’t want to whine to them.  So I can have my unadulterated say about MS in a journal and it bothers nobody.

WR: You like to journal and it was your journaling that helped bring this book into existence. What piece of advice would you give to the would-be author who is considering a practice of journaling?

JC: You only have to please yourself when you’re journaling.  That’s the beauty of it.  Whatever your practice is, it should feel good—organic–to you. 

 If you have to force yourself to journal, then it might not be the right thing for you, or so says my sulky inner teenager.  Your journal should be a place of release and rest.  I have a lot of writer friends, and everyone’s idea of journaling seems to be different, which is great.  Some people only journal by hand, some people draw in their journals, some people collect tactile bits of life and stick them in their journals.  Some jot down cryptic phrases and ideas for development later.

My own journal is a place of focused play.  Extensive focused play, all in Word documents with weird little titles that clue me in to what I wrote about.  I zero in on something that intrigues me, bothers me, sticks with me in some way, and I tend to explore and develop the theme. 

I love tinkering with the craft of writing, with the language, punctuation and construction—it feels satisfying to do that, and in fact, that is how I become engaged each day in whatever I’m writing, I start by tinkering with what I’ve already written.  So my journal tends to be dense, to read like a piece I might publish, but I can be no-holds-barred honest and the pressure is completely off. 

I don’t journal with the idea that I’ll use any of it, but then I’ll find myself working on something and I’ll realize oh, I’ve already written about that.  I tell a story to myself in my journal, and sometimes I can then tell others the same story, or modify some of it for use.  

Writing is art, and art is not linear.  A journal isn’t linear, either.  So if your natural tendencies as a writer are anything like mine, this style of journaling might be useful to you.  It is time-consuming, though, without any certainty of payoff in the real world.

And a word about e-mails: I have some lovely, talented writer friends who are generous with their ears and their time, and I sometimes exchange pretty extensive e-mails with them.  This is one way I procrastinate, true, but sometimes there is good stuff in these e-mails and I can use it later.  Maybe you’re like me, and you can, too.

And one more thing. I talk myself through stuck places with journaling.  When I write, I have three documents open: the piece I’m working on, a document called “Outtakes” for phrases and paragraphs that need to come out in the short-term but that sometimes find a place later on, and a document called “Notes”.  “Notes” is for talking to myself and figuring out why I’m stuck.  Sometimes I’ll get on a jag in “Notes” and realize I’m not stuck anymore; I can cut and paste a whole section back into the piece and keep going.

WR: You won the Rona Jaffe prize last August for your memoir. Describe that experience.

JC: I was at work, having a busy day in the Emergency Department Observation Unit.  I checked my voicemail at lunch on June 30th last year and there was a message from Beth McCabe of the Rona Jaffe Foundation asking me to return her call.  It was 3pm here, and they’re on the East Coast, so it was too late to call her back, but I figured then I had won.  They never call if you lose; they send a thin letter. 

That was a moment of pure elation.  And over the next several months the Rona Jaffe Foundation was so good to the six of us who won.  They did their utmost to publicize and showcase us and our work, and I’m still using the $25,000 to supplement my income so I can work part-time instead of full-time.  The money is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.

WR: What are you working on now?

JC: At this point, I’m a little fatigued, and I’m trying to figure out what might cohere into a second book.  I write most days as I always have, but I’m in a phase where nothing is linear and nothing seems to be adding up. There’s good compost, but no garden yet!

[How 2, Jane Q?] Diversify your news sources

How 2, Jane Q? is an occasional series of posts for educating would-be citizen journalists on the various tasks, challenges, and responsibilities they can expect to face while trying to gather and produce news as individuals.

While visiting the Long Beach peninsula a couple of weeks ago, I came upon Counterspin while scanning the local news stations on the radio one morning.

Counterspin is an audio news program produced by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a media watchdog organization whose claim to fame is “challenging media bias & censorship since 1986.”

FAIR is a bit left-leaning, to be fair, but Counterspin came to me as a breath of fresh air after so many years of encountering far more conservative or libertarian views in this corner of the state during my travels there. 

As a middle-of-the-roader politically, I’m not particularly thrilled by extremism on either side of center, so I was pleased to know that these options were at least available in a community where more right-wing perspectives are generally reflected in the local/rural media.

It occurred to me that citizen journalists everywhere should be tuned into alternative news offerings like Counterspin on a regular basis to help them balance out their own biases (we all have them, folks), especially in areas where they are subtly conveyed in local news reportage.

All news sources, no matter from what medium, are shaped by biases, by the way. Every single one of them has a slant, a political perspective. There really is no such thing as objectivity in news reporting. Reporters are human beings shaped by their own biases, and they work for other beings whose lives have been shaped, again, by their own biases. To expect fairness and balance, oversight from the editorial team to control bias, is one thing, but to expect pure objectivity in the news is impossible.

As a citizen journalist, you have to find ways to balance the information and biases you acquire and process while gathering and conveying news in order to avoid falling into such loaded bias traps.

For instance, one really must subscribe to a much larger newspaper (for instance, The Seattle Times or the Oregonian for residents of Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula) if they are to capture a more accurate snapshot of the world outside their small town or even their suburb or smaller city.

I live in a small town myself; I know first hand how rumors spread as fast as real news and it can become difficult and uncomfortable sorting out fact from fiction when your neighbors and friends are involved.

Citizen journalists would do well to diversify all of the kinds of media they glean their news from. Local papers, news radio and regional television broadcast news are good choices—not individually, but as a collective.

I personally don’t recommend a lot of national cable news because the biases they convey to either extreme mean your news intake will be resoundingly one-sided. Television newsmagazine programs are also geared for entertainment, not news, so always be prepared to question the assumptions these programs portray as fact.

And avoid talk shows; I lived in Oprah territory long enough to know that, while Oprah means well, she consistently shows only one side to a lot of hot-button topics. If I learned one thing in J-school, it was “always question assumed values,” and it holds more true now than ever before.

Print media is still my preferred media outlet (books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters) because print is less immediate; it allows you to do the interpreting for yourself in a way that information in a slick broadcast format doesn’t.

Larger newspapers (what are left of them) should be a regular resource to citizen journalists, as well as independent sources in all media formats. These include websites, blogs, public radio, podcasts like Counterspin, regional interest newsletters, and Web 2.0 lead-builders like Twitter and Facebook.

 Blogs, especially, can be good depending upon who’s writing them; be particular and try to sample several with different perspectives in RSS to make sure you’re getting a wide sweep of information.Reading blogs and other Web 2.0 news material also requires that you consider the source and look for what’s not said as much as what is being said. Blogs, while very informative in some cases, aren’t meant to be objective, after all.

Listen, if you’re not sampling all of these myriad media products already, you run the risk of only getting part of any one picture and feeding into the huge pool of misinformation already out there. Think of the floating raft of garbage in the Pacific Ocean as representing all the junk news already out there; do you really want to add more to the mess?

One of the tricks to avoiding this resides in successfully corroborating your information. A.k.a. factchecking. Aside from primary sources (interviews with people, first-hand experience in the field), the next best way to doublecheck your facts and make sure you’ve untangled all of the many webs that some stories weave is to follow up with other published reports from trusted sources. You can’t do this if all you pay attention to is CNN in the morning and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Show in the evenings.

One critical rule of thumb: you can’t always trust what you read or hear, even from trusted sources. So many opinions out there masquerade as facts. They may or may not be accurate.

You may not always be able to sift through all the conjecture, but what you can do is try your best to confirm facts, and the best way to do this is to confirm them through a diversity of sources you trust. That includes the media as well as individuals and, well, going there and seeing for yourself.

Some sources to consider:

OpenSecrets.org
FactCheck.org (check their Tools of the Trade list here for “A Process for Avoiding Deception,” which should be required reading for any would-be citizen journalist)
Poynter.org

Be wary of the so-called “media watchdog” outlets, by the way. They mean well, but they are usually quite left- or right-leaning, with very few mastering the middle of the road. If anything, choose to follow one from either side of the spectrum just to see how they distort reality through their own biases. It’s really quite a fascinating practice and will make you more aware of where your own biases fall.

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