What is community journalism in a world where you can instantly connect to anyone in the world?

Jock Lauterer, lecturer at UNC Chapel Hill wrote in “Community Journalism; Relentlessly Local” that community journalism is:

“A publication with a circulation under 50,000, serving people who live together in a distinct geographical space with a clear local-first emphasis on news, features, sports, and advertising.”

…that doesn’t sound right for today’s landscape, does it?

Well, he thought so too. The very next sentence he concedes that now, broader definitions have allowed the term to encompass not just what he calls “community of place”, but also “communities of ethnicity, faith, ideas, or interests”.

Of course, local and regional newspapers will always remain important to being attached to and keeping an eye on one’s community. There’s always the regional indy media superstars like The Vermont Digger and The Texas Tribune, and local publications like The Chicago Reader, an independent free biweekly in the city, remain the source of important investigative work.

But nowadays, community is no longer bound by the area of print circulation.

Millions of Americans get news from ethnically focused news, for instance. This can come in the form of non-English publications, broadcast stations, to entertainment networks, allowing its consumers to connect with a culture and keep up with a community of theirs that is likely absent from the mainstream.

Nonprofit news site Colorlines takes it a step further, focusing on problems and issues facing communities of color in the United States and placing national news through a poc lens.

And if ethnicities can have their own community writers and publications, what about other shared identifiers, like age groups?

The magazine “Rookie”, despite closing in 2018, lived a long 7 years as a magazine for-and-by teenagers. Its founder, Tavi Gevinson, began it at age 15 in 2011.

And why not interests too?

Before ‘Rookie’, Gevinson ran a successful fashion blog “Style Rookie” that got its start 3 years earlier than the magazine (yes, when she was that young).

Eric Wilson of the New York Times said in a piece featuring the original fashion blog, “perhaps it was to be expected that the communications revolution would affect the makeup of the fashion news media in much the same way it has changed the broader news media landscape.”

Not to mention the breadth of fashion and makeup YouTubers providing a community not just in their topic, but also through comments and discussions on social media, giving consumers direct interactions with each other, discussing the video and its content.

Interest-centered media in this way gives itself to providing readers with a sense of belonging and community.

One only has to look to the comment section of something so niche as NintendoLife, a website dedicated entirely to reporting on specifically Nintendo video games and releases, and what can be found is a very active and engaged comment section, social media following, forum, polls, and more. More than just a blog, they are able to support multimedia content and a staff of writers and editors, that provide content to two other equally as niche websites for other gaming companies too.

In the same article featuring “Style Rookie”, Wilson said “Sites that include readers in the conversation are thriving,” which even despite it being written in 2009, still has a lot of power in being said today.

One only has to look to newer entertainment mediums, like Twitch, to see that engaging viewers by referring to their chat messages providing activities for subscribers, or even giving them a chat space when the stream is offline is a strategy that directly helps many of the accounts on the site. Streamer Steve Sarumi dives into this process in his piece “The Secret Art of Building a Community on Twitch”. While not journalism in nearly all cases, it provides a good look into how effective developing or tying oneself to a community can be towards growing an audience.

Not to say that niche, community-focused media is the answer to everything, because it certainly is not. With giants such as Facebook and Google gobbling up more and more advertising revenue, the same plight that hurt print journalism is now threatening the blogosphere and smaller independent outlets.

Still however, online community-focused journalism and media can be powerful in allowing smaller groups to connect when that option may be difficult otherwise. It gives people an excuse to engage with their culture, interests, and more, reminding them that what matters to them matters to others as well.

Returning to Lauterer, he writes that after taking his community journalism course, a student came to him and concluded that “If people are the most important thing on the planet, then community is what life is all about. Following that logic, community newspapers are among the most important publications on the planet.”

References: Chicago Reader | Why I’m suing the Chicago Police Department Colorlines Common Dreams | Ethnic Media Reaching Record Numbers in U.S. Jock Lauterer | Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local (3rd edition, p. 1) NYT | Bloggers Crash Fashion’s Front Row Reuters | Google, Facebook show power of ad duopoly as rivals stumble Rookie | Editor’s Letter: Thank you for growing up with us NintendoLife NLifeMedia Medium | The Secret Art of Building a Community on Twitch Twitch YouTube | STREAMY AWARDS 2019 FASHION ROAST

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