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.
Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller
Advances in digital technologies and participatory culture have enabled the efficient use of crowdsourcing in a broad range of contexts, including journalism. Journalism is increasingly deploying crowdsourcing as a knowledge-search method and a means of engaging readers. Through crowdsourcing, journalists can tap into the collective intelligence of large online crowds. The knowledge-search mechanism is based on access to the information held by the crowd. Using crowdsourcing, journalists can find otherwise inaccessible information that contributes to their investigations. In several countries, crowdsourced investigations have uncovered important news, including lawbreaking and corruption. Crowdsourcing can also unveil a broader range of perspectives about a story topic, leading to more inclusive and objective journalism. As a result, crowdsourcing can support the journalistic norms of accurate, objective, and transparent reporting. Moreover, it engages participants and fosters a stronger relationship between readers and journalists. Finally, in its use of crowdsourcing journalism can enact more efficiently in its monitorial role in society. At the same time, however, crowdsourcing may compromise the journalistic goals of accuracy and objectivity. A crowd is a self-selected group, so its input reflects a participant bias. If this fact is overlooked, crowdsourcing can lead to biased reporting. Moreover, a direct connection with the crowd can increase pressure on journalists to conform to the crowd’s wishes instead of pursuing journalistic norms and news values. This pressure can be especially strong in crowdfunding, a subtype of crowdsourcing.
Journalism can be defined as a communication process between producers and consumers. Traditionally, both ends have been addressed as separate spheres. Journalism and journalism studies developed around the study of journalism producers—that is, journalists and their professional identities and practices. The audience was long considered the end point of journalism; the public sphere was where journalism was consumed. Rather than also studying audiences’ news use practices, the audience was generally imagined as a mass of passive sensation seekers unappreciative of the value of good journalism and taken for granted as a result. This dichotomous view of users and producers has since then been challenged. First, the inequality in attention given to producers over users was addressed during a sociological turn in the study of journalism since the 1990s. This “turn” inspired a series of seminal studies focusing on the audience of journalism, showing how layered people’s interpretative practices are and how these are contextually shaped. Although journalism studies in the 21st century still tend to orient their gaze more to producers than users, the audience’s part in shaping the role of journalism in society is being increasingly acknowledged. In parallel, with the continuing advancements in information and communication technologies, the conceptual distinction between producers and users in itself was questioned. Whereas the role of audiences in producing news was already explored in studies of community media and public journalism, it was the adoption of digital media that led to the blurring of lines between media producers and users. This distinction has encouraged journalism researchers to explore practices such as citizen and participatory journalism, leading to new conceptions of the user/producer dimension in journalism. The user/producer dimension in journalism may be blurred, but it has not dissolved. Especially from a more structural perspective, professional journalists and news organizations still have preferential access to the news ecosystem and larger impact on the policy agenda. Conceptually however, news users should be conceived as potential contributors to the production and distribution of journalism. As such, news users are not the end point of journalism but an essential part of it.
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.