Crystal Miller: Are you a storyteller? Write for us and get paid for it

Published 8:29 pm Friday, August 12, 2022

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Everyone loves a well-told story. Storytelling is the connection that bonds humanity and communities such as our own. It is how we learn what’s going on in our schools, at City Hall, on Main Street, and on our athletic fields.

At the Austin Daily Herald, we take our duty to tell stories seriously. Our reporters are committed to fairness and accuracy. But today’s shortage of college journalism graduates doesn’t allow us to tell all the stories we want to share. So we’re turning to our readers for help. We’re asking people such as yourself to help us report the news. And we’ll give you the formal training to do it, and then pay you for those stories. One more bonus: You’ll have a front-row seat to our community’s most interesting people, events and trends.

If you love to write, have a keen interest in how our community works and the people who make it unique, we want to hear from you. We’d like you to talk to you about becoming part of our extended newsroom team.

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The stories we want covered are endless. We need stories about the people in your neighborhood who have unusual hobbies or go on fantastic adventures. Stories about what happened at last night’s city council or school board meeting. Stories about high school athletes and their performance in games. Stories about how folks who have overcome hardship and are helping others to do the same.

The Herald is joining with two highly regarded institutions, the nonprofit Minnesota News Media Institute — the education arm of the Minnesota Newspaper Association — and Bethel University to train citizens such as yourself to become part-time or occasional reporters.

This new effort, Citizen Reporter U, offers grassroots training at a highly individualized level. Some of the state’s best journalists are leading the instruction. Retired and working reporters and editors are being recruited to serve as mentors. Together they have developed a curriculum that promises to make news reporting — we prefer to think of it as community storytelling — exciting, rewarding and fun.

Interested? We hope so, because the success of this effort will ultimately depend on participation by engaged readers such as yourself. And you don’t need a journalism background to be involved. We don’t even care if you’ve never stepped foot on a college campus. All you need is some proof of a proficiency in writing (a well-written letter of introduction will do), and an interest in what’s going on around town.

Potential participants include community enthusiasts (but not political activists), retirees, sports parents and fans, journalism professionals who want to reinvest themselves, high school students ready to freelance, and adults looking for nightside hustles such as covering meetings or sports.

The training begins in mid-September, most likely from 4 to 6 p.m. one day a week. Best of all, it’s free. Costs are being covered by this newspaper and the Minnesota News Media Institute.

Still interested? Then read on. Citizen Reporter U consists of four, two-hour sessions of online training, and a fifth in-person session at Bethel University in Arden Hills, where the program will wrap up with a guest speaker, awards and luncheon.

Each session offers a different lesson. During the first four, participants will learn about topics such as what is news and what isn’t, fact vs. opinion, storytelling basics, interviewing and reporter etiquette. We’ll also explore various types of reporting such as public affairs coverage and meeting coverage, business reporting, photojournalism for non-photographers and sports reporting.

Registrations for the curriculum are now being accepted. The first step in signing up is to visit us at the paper so we can discuss your interest in the program. We’d also like to see a sample of your writing. It doesn’t have to be a published work or anything like that. It simply needs to show us that you understand the basics of good writing.

Maybe this project isn’t for you but you know others who fit the above description. Please pass this column on to them. We’ve love to talk with them. Need more information? Don’t hesitate to call me at 507-434-2220 or email me at

More than ever we know that community journalism is vital to democracy. More than ever this newspaper needs engagement from its readers to tell our community’s stories. Our team at the Herald is proud of our role in our community. You can be part of it. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have the slightest interest in this endeavor. Together we’ll make it worth your time.