It is all too common to think of community journalism as being like all other types of journalism, just on a smaller scale. With the growth of the Internet and virtual community, this form of journalism cannot be distinguished solely by circulation size or geographic delineations. Within the larger journalism research sphere, community journalism remains underrepresented, even though the majority of publications in the United States can be classified as community journals, and throughout the world, small publications, both in print and online are commanding respect. If community media outlets are defined as having a circulation of lower than 50,000, then there are 7,184 community daily or weekly newspapers in the U.S. compared to only 4 publications with circulations of more than 500,000. Worldwide, data cannot be as easily condensed into percentages, but it is reasonable to think the figures are similar. Yet, media research typically focuses on the work and attitudes of the elites, i.e. the larger and best-known publications. Existing research on community journalism has identified key distinctions between community journalism and other types. First, community media focus on information connected to everyday life, and second, its media members tend to develop a closer, more intimate connection to the community they serve. The idea of closeness began with early research into the idea of community itself. Community as a concept revolves around emotional connection and membership. The two necessary elements for community formation are for a group of people to have something in common, and something that differentiates them from other groups. Community media build upon these concepts to give communities a voice. The audience for community news is often connected by an interest in, and emotional attachment to, a geographic area, which represents one form of community or a specific viewpoint, interest, or way of thinking which often represents virtual community. Both groups need journalists, who provide factual information on the community and enable and support strong community ties. Community journalists can also help build place attachment and create third places for community members to congregate and interact socially in.
Hans Meyer and Burton Speakman
Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller
There are more local news outlets operating around the world at any given moment than larger-scale metropolitan newsrooms, and yet it is the latter that have dominated journalism scholarship. As a specific area of inquiry, local journalism—often branded “community journalism” or “hyperlocal journalism”—is a relatively new but rapidly growing field of research in this period of digital disruption. Scholars argue that studying news at the local level can offer rich insights into the role and place of journalism more broadly and reveal much about why people engage with news. Local journalism has been highlighted for its distinct role in reinforcing notions of and building community and the importance of social and public connection among audiences. More recently, attention has shifted to business models sustaining local news given the turbulence facing traditional media and the rapid closure of long-serving local newspapers, especially in the United Kingdom. Scholars have also emphasized the importance of re-conceptualizing local news in a globalized and digital world, highlighting the continued relevance and importance of place to journalists and audiences. Sociology and political science have been the dominant lenses used to examine this sector; however, increasingly scholars are turning to cultural studies to understand the relationship between local news and audiences. Most recent research also indicates there is renewed optimism within the sector, especially among news providers who remain embedded and committed entirely to the local areas they serve.
The emergence of citizen journalism has prompted the journalism field and scholars to readdress what constitutes journalism and who is a journalist. Citizen journalists have disrupted news-media ecosystems by challenging the veracity and representativeness of information flowing from mainstream news-media newsrooms. However, the controversy related to the desired level of citizen involvement in the news process is a historical debate that began before the citizen-journalism phenomenon. As early as the 1920s, journalist and political commentator Walter Lippman and American philosopher John Dewey debated the role of journalism in democracy, including the extent that the public should participate in the news-gathering and production processes. This questioning of citizen involvement in news reemerged as an issue with the citizen journalism phenomenon around the late 1990s. People with no news-media organizational ties have taken advantage of the convenience and low cost of social computing technologies by publishing their own stories and content. These people are referred to as citizen journalists. Scholars have assessed the quality and credibility of citizen-journalism content, finding that citizen journalists have performed well on several standards of traditional news-content quality. Levels of quality differ dependent upon citizen journalists’ goals and motivations, such as serving the public interest, increasing self-status, or expressing their creative selves. As it is an emerging area of study, unarticulated theoretical boundaries of citizen journalism exist. Citizen-journalism publications emphasize community over conflict, advocacy over objectivity, and interpretation over fact-based reporting. In general, citizen journalists have historically acted when existing news-media journalists were not fully meeting their community’s informational needs. Scholars, however, vary in how they label citizen journalists and how they conceptually and empirically define citizen journalism. For example, researchers have shifted their definitional focus on citizen journalists from one of active agents of democratic change to people who create a piece of news content. The mapping of the citizen-journalism literature revealed four types of citizen journalists based on their levels of editorial control and contribution type: (1) participatory, (2) para, (3) news-media watchdog, and (4) community. Taken together, these concepts describe the breadth of citizen-journalist types. For those of us interested in journalism studies, a more targeted approach in the field of citizen journalism can help us build community around scholarship, understand citizen journalists’ contributions to society and practice, and create a more a stable foundation of knowledge concerning people who create and comment on news content.