By Sydney Jones
I believe there are two types of people in this world: those who care about community journalism and those that don’t know they care about community journalism.
Before finishing my time learning all about this topic in a class I took this semester, I definitely belonged to the latter group. However, once I seriously began to contemplate what a world without community journalism would look like, I became increasingly shocked that more Americans are not protecting this mode of news dissemination with every ounce of democratic freedom they possess.
This is how the American media was started, with news concerning communities being distributed by local newspapers according to geographic location.
Yet many reporters do not see the benefits of local reporting, and some even question if hyper-local journalists have the same abilities as traditional reporters.
“I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes American institutions as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying to,” said David Simon, who is a producer for The Wire.
Although there is much criticism for hyper-local news, a 2012 Pew Research poll showed that 72 percent of American adults still follow local news closely.
People care about their community and what is currently happening. But many take for granted their local community newspaper and do not consider the implications if it did not exist.
Cold Transmission of Information:
If community journalism did not exist, the transmission of information would potentially be reduced to stories made up of hard facts.
Many major national publications or media companies are not concerned with the small-town feature story or hyper-local niche news. This is a large section of news that is covered not only by journalists but by casual observers as well.
A Journalism Practice study by Evelien D’heer and Steve Paulussen found that in a community soft news about the community’s lifestyle and culture is often covered by citizen reporters.
Citizen journalists help connect members of the community with relevant and meaningful stories. Without such an extremely personal form of journalism, news would not be as appealing to audiences. Citizens want to know what is going on in their specific community.
“At their best, community newspapers satisfy a basic human craving that most big dailies can’t touch, no matter how large their budgets – and that is the affirmation of the sense of community, a positive and intimate reflection of the sense of place, a stroke for our us-ness, our extended family-ness and our profound and interlocking connectedness,” said Jock Lauterer in his book Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local.
This relationship is vital to the health of the community and learning more about one’s culture.
“There is a vital, organic and synergistic interaction between various constituencies within the community, as well as between the community and the newspaper,” said Lauterer.
News as Potential Propaganda:
Another concerning aspect of a world without community journalism is that it completely eradicates the personal aspect of reporting. While major news companies can still cover stories about a specific community, it is not as meaningful as a citizen reporter who is invested in the community covers the story.
Once community journalists and their exercise of free speech is eradicated, there is also potential for news to become government propaganda.
There is evidence for this in North Korea, where all the major news websites are government run and journalists are not able to properly do their job due to extreme vetting.
The Korean Central News Agency is the only source of news broadcasting available to the North Korean people. There is no room for journalistic integrity or citizen journalism due to everything being vetted through a government agency.
However, citizen journalists are able to fill the role of traditional reporters during a conflict or at an event. The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan is one example.
“News channels were barred, while police foiled distribution of newspapers and seized newspaper bundles,” said Rabia Noor in her article about the challenges posed to citizen journalists. “Hence, Internet was the sole medium available with people. [The journalists] used blogs and social networking sites to disseminate the news.”
While the news companies were seized by the government, citizen journalists were able to effectively inform their audience about current events happening in their community.
Community journalism is vitally important not only is peaceful times but also during conflicts in order to give the most accurate and relevant information.
Local Journalism as the Lifeblood of the Community:
Citizen journalism not only provides an interesting and unique perspective, it also brings communities together. Reader’s are becoming more aware of their community through hyper-local blogs and they are being educated on the current events that could affect them.
“Nowadays anyone can be a citizen journalist, since Internet and new media technologies offer unlimited opportunities to upload, and share content for public consumption,” said Noor. “Topics that could not make it to traditional media earlier have nowadays unlimited space to be published on citizen journalism sources, especially news portals and blogs.”
If this mode of reporting did not exist, a gaping hole would be left that would be disastrous. If you believe in personal freedom and free speech, it is imperative you fiercely protect this mode of reporting.