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Where Does Journalism End and Community Begin?

Where Does Journalism End and Community Begin?

by Dan Blank on December 31, 2007

Where Does Journalism End and Community Begin?Where does journalism end, and community begin? Let’s take a look at one article, and see what the future could hold.

Last Sunday, The New York Times printed an article in their Parenting column titled: “Limiting Teenage Drinking, or Trying.

The article did two things:

  • The author illustrated the reasoning behind rules in his household around teenage drinking.
  • Readers were asked to give their comments by going online.

Overall, the author presented the issue as a gray area, and was honest with the ways that he struggled as a parent to find a balance between reality and ideals. He isn’t really happy with how he has dealt with it, and the article begs for discussion with the reader. A small call-out gives readers the option to go online and leave comments, with their own ideas, stories, and opinions.

There are two weird things as to how the comments are setup:

  • In the print edition, you are pointed to the section homepage, and then must find the article. If you find this story a week later than printing, it may be difficult to do so.
  • Comments seems to be walled off from the article. There are links to get to them, but they are not integrated into the article, or printed on the same page.

After a day, there were 48 comments left of the site. One made an interesting comment about how journalism has become more like blogging:

“I’m sorry to see the state of journalism today. When faced by a problem like this, a good reporter would seek out people who know more than him. But today, instead of getting facts, people just go on the Internet and write their unsupported opinions.”

But as we look at the changing role of newspapers and journalism – to truly serve the community – how can the author create a two-way approach with their local audience to tackle this topic, and build community on their website? Some ideas:

  • Integrate comments into the structure of the layout.
  • Organize comments. Right now, you have to read 40+ comments, with no way to categorize or group them.
  • The article and comments should be a starting point. They should be the source for another article, or perhaps a survey that will give readers a clear picture of this issue and how it is being dealt with within their region. Thinking local will involve people on a deeper level.
  • Get expert advice, but ensure it is given within the context of the comments.
  • Collect data based on regional laws, stories and behaviors – again printing it with a follow up.
  • Offer tip sheets based on expert advice and experiences from commenters.
  • Provide links to other articles, laws, stories – anything that has been printed on this topic in the past 5 years, as well as links to organizations that can help kids and parents deal with this issue. They can also link to other parenting forums where this issue is discussed online.
  • Find a way to follow up with frequent commenters to bring them into the story more. This is a community issue – the community should have a voice.

Two questions I ask myself about the crossroads of journalism and community:

  • Should the article simply ask questions, or should it attempt to solve them?
  • Should it speak “to” the readers, or involve them to in order to create a unique resource for a local community?

This is not about simply providing new tools for the website, such as a forum or social network profiles; it is about involving the community in the process of journalism – where appropriate. If we realize that all news is local news, we may find that involving the community is always appropriate. As the role of newspapers evolve – will they become more essential to the everyday life of readers, or less so?

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