This 613U mini-course is intended to help you hone your skills as a citizen journalist. Get a quick introduction to the topic by watching the video. Next, checkout our list of suggested resources to learn more about techniques or tools. Share any questions or comments in the forum section, or better yet pass along other ideas or resources of your own. We hope you get inspired to try something new.
If you’re considering reporting on a local issue, there are other ways to get information besides tweeting at the Mayor to try and get an answer.
Your first step should be to research the topic. Try to find as much public information on the issue as possible. Things like bylaws, public meeting minutes, public records, or reports the city or other groups may have published should provide a good foundation.
Next, you’ll want to find out who the point people are on the issues. There may be a public servant or group at the city that’s in charge within the bureaucracy and there’s likely a person accountable at the political level – such as the mayor or councillors. To seek more information, try using the city’s 311 option to ask who is responsible for the particular issue you want to know more about. Alternatively, your city councillor and his or her office could help.
If you want to cover land use planning issues, zoning by-laws or issues that deal with the Ontario Municipal Board, you might want to check out Ottawa’s Planning Primer or register for its Planning Primer program.
Some key links to find information on what’s happening at Gatineau’s city hall can be found here.
Depending on the topic, you may be able to sit in on public meetings of the council or of particular committees that deal with the issue. Find out about meeting timings and public sittings on the city of Ottawa’s website here.
While this may take a bit longer, there could be value in making a freedom of information request. At the city of Ottawa, this falls under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). For Gatineau, this would fall under the Loi sur l’accès aux documents des organismes publics et sur la protection des renseignements personnels. For Ottawa, requests are typically dealt within 30 days while in Gatineau it is under 20 days.
While this resource is from the United States, The Citizens Campaign has some more useful tools for covering politics including how to cover a government meeting, how to access public records and how to become a city storyteller.
If you want to deepen your knowledge of city issues, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario offers a series of online courses.
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