Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Community Building with Community Journalism

When you find a newspaper that concentrates on local coverage, has a tone that is positive and supportive, and also strives to find solutions to community issues, you have found a newspaper that practices community journalism.

Community journalism is the belief that newspapers have an obligation that goes beyond just telling the news or unloading facts. Journalism can help empower a community or it can help disable it. In the small towns and cities of America, the local newspaper is one of the links that connects people. It is one of the ways the community is maintained. It is part of the local discussion on issues that concern a community.

True community journalism has been defined as the style of intensely local-first coverage provided by “small” newspapers. The American Society of Newspaper Editors draws the line between large and small newspapers at the 50,000 circulation mark. That means there are about 1,533 "small" daily newspapers and 7,437 small weeklies in America.

Southwest Missouri is dominated by community newspapers, which throw their news and editorial weight behind providing local coverage. The finest community newspapers know they are key stakeholders in the forces that help build and grow their communities.

In the small communities I know, the publisher, editor and reporters are recognized on the street. The people at the newspaper belong to the same local organizations and churches as the rest of the community. For the most part, the people at the newspaper fall into the same economic bracket as other the community members. There is an accessibility and interactive quality that makes the newspaper a community resource.

Community journalism means having newspapers concentrate on being a fair-minded participant in public life, with journalists as citizens, instead of reporters being detached. It means the local newspaper does more than describing what is going wrong; it imagines what "going right" would be like and how those community connections can be made.

It also means the local newspaper goes beyond seeing people as merely consumers or readers to seeing them as actors in arriving at democratic solutions to public problems.


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