What is Community Without Community Journalism?

Traditionally, a community was defined geographically as the neighborhood, city or county that a person resided in. Geographical connections were the basis for human connections. Community pools, community centers and community colleges bear testimony to this.

Community journalism was the means by which these geographically defined communities stayed informed about important events, decisions, and tragedies affecting them and those they cared about. Obituaries, city council meetings, high school football games — all subjects that lose their importance outside of the context of the community.

“It’s not Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, but it’s essential journalism for residents, taxpayers and voters,” writes Christian Tejbal in his piece “Small towns need community newspapers.”

People are more interested in reading about the issues, decisions and events that affect them than those that do not. Community journalists focus on providing that kind of impactful information. This involves filtering through stories to share only what the community considers significant or giving national news a local spin.

Community journalists view stories through the lens of the community. As Jock Lauterer writes in Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local, “Happily for us, people are hungry for and in need of information about their community, its concerns and their neighbors.”

People make sense of news through the communities they are a part of. Joelle Swart writes in her study “Shedding Light on the Dark Social: The Connective Role of News and Journalism in Social Media Communities,” “Traditionally, news has been considered one of the primary tools to create shared frames of reference to public life, fostering community between individuals and facilitating social integration within groups.”

People seek out and interact with information on issues that are personal to them, which is why community journalism is more impactful than national news. In her study “Portrait of the Online Local News Audience,” Kathleen Mccollough writes, “Other research found that participants’ criticism of national news, particularly their inability to recognize their own experiences in news coverage, prompted greater local news engagement.”

Now, due to the connectivity enabled by the Internet and numerous forms of social media, community no longer maintains a strictly geographic definition. The term “community” is now very fluid, accommodating geographic, racial, economic, athletic, and any other type of group that people identify with. People are no longer only part of the community in which they physically reside. They are enabled by social media to form tangible communities based on anything from interests and difficulties to religious and political affiliations.

In the past, stories from journalists were the means through which people connected with one another and understood their communities. Social media has altered this relationship between the public and the press. As the definition of community fluctuates, social media has begun to do a better job of providing that information for communities than many news organizations.

“Social media allow people to easily share concerns and quickly reach everyone within their networks,” Swart writes.

As people turn to social media for information about their communities, many local news organizations find themselves going out of business or being replaced by larger, national organizations. This leaves communities without community journalism and relying on larger-scale news. McCollough’s focus group sessions revealed community members’ increasing reliance on news produced from outside of the community that “did not adequately address the communities’ information needs and interests.”

She found that people were dissatisfied with this non-local coverage, since it failed to provide them with the information they wanted about the people, places and things they cared about. It doesn’t address how the news matters to the communities they are a part of.

Even as people invest more heavily into communities outside of their geographical ones, journalists don’t cover them. This lack of information about geographical communities results in people not knowing about what is going on in it. This becomes a cycle. People won’t invest into communities they know nothing about.

To solve this, community journalists ought to use social media to meet these communities where they are by joining community Facebook Groups, Twitter lists, or Instagram, expanding and adapting the types of communities that community journalists cover, and incorporating more user-generated content.

Communities, and the human connections that make them, are newsworthy.

Sources:

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/small-towns-need-community-newspapers/. “Small towns need community newspapers.” Christian Trejbal.

Lauterer, Jock. Community Journalism : Relentlessly Local, University of North Carolina Press, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/lib/liberty/detail.action?docID=880252.

Swart, Joëlle, et al. “Shedding Light on the Dark Social: The Connective Role of News and Journalism in Social Media Communities.” New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 11, 2018, pp. 4329–4345., doi:10.1177/1461444818772063.

Mccollough, Kathleen, et al. “Portrait of the Online Local News Audience.” Digital Journalism, vol. 5, no. 1, 2016, pp. 100–118., doi:10.1080/21670811.2016.1152160.

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Journalism and biology student. Aspiring avian ecologist.

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Renee Farmer

Renee Farmer

Journalism and biology student. Aspiring avian ecologist.

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