Front Page

Metroport Messenger brings hope for the future of printed news

Sierra Wells/TCCJ contributor

During a time when many newspapers have had to permanently close their doors, Mary Rampellini was inspired to open her own newspaper, the Metroport Messenger, in Roanoke, Texas.

“I know it’s been very tough for those in print. Part of opening this was wanting to have something tangible in people’s hands, so their histories are recorded,” Rampellini said.

Publishing its first edition in July 2020, the Metroport Messenger covers school news, economic developments and public services in Roanoke, Westlake, Justin and Trophy Club.

“Serving others is one of the features I try to have every issue. And that’s someone who goes out and is working to better the lives of somebody else. They’re serving others, and that’s very important to me,” Rampellini said.

When the newspaper was first getting started, the COVID-19 pandemic posed various challenges with advertising.

“I really felt that it’s proper that I not go into a lot of stores face-to-face to business owners, so I made calls, phone calls, to try to sell ads, out of respect for others,” Rampellini said. “So that was probably limiting not meeting people face-to-face. We’ve been able to move beyond that.”

The Metroport Messenger prints five to six times a year, with approximately 10 editions already out. Rampellini hopes to grow the newspaper to print monthly in the future.

Rampellini previously opened a newspaper in Roanoke when she was 19 years old. However, after selling it, the newspaper eventually shut down.

“At that time there were about 5,000 addresses in the community; it’s the same communities that I’m doing, and now there’s over 15,000, so the growth has been incredible,” Rampellini said. “I think part of the challenge is uniting a larger amount of addresses and people with a community newspaper. I think it was easier when there were 5,000.”

Despite the popularity of printed news wavering, the Metroport Messenger has been consistently growing since opening.

“Our sales were the highest they’ve been this last edition, and I would say, generally speaking, we’ve climbed with each edition with sales. So, it’s been a very slow but steady growth,” Rampellini said.

Along with the print edition, community members can find links to the paper on the Metroport Messenger’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“I certainly know its very tough to compete with the electronic world. We do put out a digital edition; we post that on social media,” Rampellini said. “I realize that has to be an aspect of business nowadays, but I was just really hoping that throwing it back, going a little old school might be a hit.”

“I think it’s very tough for print, but I’m hoping that there’s places for all of us that have newspapers to still have enough people supporting us in the print that we can carry on,” Rampellini said.

Sierra Wells is a senior journalism major at Tarleton State University. She is the Managing Editor of the Texan News Service and is a TCCJ contributor. 



Front Page

Who is the caretaker of your local newspaper?

Christa Wilson/TCCJ Staff

The warmup of summer has just begun during the first sighting of June.

School is out, but not for everyone. One classroom at the University of Texas in Austin was filled and bustling with ideas last week.

June 1-3 marked the calendars of many newspaper professionals, a crash course, and an opportunity for networking and sharing ideas.

These were the dates that the Texas Center for Community Journalism kicked off its Newspaper Management Bootcamp.

There were more than 30 participants at this year’s session. They represented papers from all over, some within the state, and some as far as Minnesota.

Gathering from all age groups and diverse backgrounds, they traveled to Austin. One thing brought them all together, a deep love and commitment for community journalism.

So, who are these people that write about the events in your communities week in and week out?

What are some of the problems that they overcome in their day-to-day jobs?

If you’d like to know the answers to these questions, read on.

What are some of the challenges that Community Newspaper Professionals face?

One of the battles that newspaper employees face is the fight to keep the papers expanding and growing. As technology continues to advance, newspaper owners and managers must collaborate and find new ways to grow and adapt.

The importance and necessity of community journalism has not changed, but the way that we consume our information has.

“It’s not tough times for the newspapers, it’s different times. How can we navigate and embrace these different times?” Austin Lewter, Director of the Center said.

This can be accomplished by “embracing the mundane,” said Lewter.

Diversity and inclusion are some additional important issues. There was also a discussion regarding the need for proper representation in newsrooms as well as in the stories journalists cover.

Alesia Woolridge, Juwan Lee and Soya Roberts-Woods participated in a panel discussion to address how the industry can bring more diversity into newsrooms.

Some very powerful and thought-provoking points were brought up.

The consensus was to hire people from various ethnicities and backgrounds as starting point to solving this problem.

The topic of trauma and covering traumatic events was also addressed. Listening to several discussions, I learned about the struggle that reporters and journalists face when covering tragedies.

There was an immense level empathy, care, concern and attentiveness involving this topic.

Sometimes local reporters may personally know the people involved in these catastrophic events, which can make reporting on them immensely difficult.

There was the ever-present dilemma between discretion and concern for the families involved, versus the need to inform citizens and the public about the incidents.

I overheard several people talk about their struggle with such issues and how it affected them both mentally and emotionally.

These are just a few of the dilemmas that community journalism professionals face on a daily basis.

These issues affect everyone differently and some make it their mission to find solutions to the problems.

Who are they?

They are pioneers.

Woolridge has some major accomplishments under her belt.

These include, being the first African American managing editor of two separate newspapers and later becoming the first African American publisher of both of those papers.

They have amazing stories.

Hugh Lewis of the Jefferson Jimplecute has interviewed some of the world’s most prominent political figures throughout his career.

This list includes, President Bill Clinton, President Barak Obama and Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to name a few.

They are writers, authors and businesspeople.

They need to be everything short of lawyers to keep up with liable and copyright laws.

“Every time you publish a story, you are taking a chance that you will get sued,” Dr. Chip Stewart said.

Stewart is an attorney, professor and former editor, who specializes in media law.

I learned this week that community journalists are the know-alls and be-alls of the business, yet still modest enough to scoop up trash next to the intern.

They are researchers and academics.

Jim Moser manages 32 community newspapers and is the equivalent of a data analyst.

He is working on an important research project with Kathleen McElroy, Iris Chyl, Christian McDonald and Christopher Assaf.

McElroy is the Director of the UT School of Journalism.

She also worked at the New York Times for 20 years.

Their project focuses on the vitality of community newspapers and planning for the future.

They are representatives.

They write stories on issues that are import to the community. They stand up for what they believe in and report stories that speak out on important issues like bullying, city council policies and racial inclusion, to name a few.

They are teachers and mentors.

Lewter inspires leadership by coordinating and bringing events like this one to life. He serves as the Director of the Center for Community Journalism.

He is also a newspaper owner and professor who helps mentor students by introducing them to community journalism and potential employers.

They are spectators.

They keep a watchful eye on the communities and its citizens. They are there to witness the outcome of your child’s sports games and their triumphs week in and week out.

These are just a few examples of what some of the journalists in your communities do, on top of keeping the public informed about what takes place every day.

This list could go on.

As I learned this week, the takeaway is that these individuals bring so much more to the tables of your communities than just local news.

They are invaluable members of your cities and towns. They are hidden leaders, whose job it is to be as unnoticeable as possible.

So, the next time you see your local paper’s journalist, reporter, editor or owner (yes, they do all the above), out in your community working hard to keep a watchful eye, maybe offer a quick thank you.

Just a little spec of advice from an intern who knew nothing about community newspapers six months ago.

I have since gained a serious dose of humility from shadowing these individuals and learning the secret identities of your local, friendly, neighborhood journalists.

Christa Wilson graduated from Tarleton State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She served as a student intern for the Texas Center for Community Journalism in her last semester as an undergrad.  

Front Page

Tarleton student journalists participate in industry roundtable

By Abigail Allen/TCCJ Contributor

The future of Texas journalism sat in front of representatives from North and West Texas community newspapers Friday in Hamilton to discuss how to engage young people.

Six Tarleton State University students accompanied Austin Lewter, the director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism as well as a Tarleton instructor and the Texan News Service coordinator, to share their thoughts on how to reach them and their peers at the second-annual combined convention of the North and East Texas Press Association and the West Texas Press Association.

“Wyndi [Veigel] called and said, ‘Hey, would you come talk for about 45 minutes about how to engage younger people?’ and I said, ‘It would be a lot easier if I just brought you some younger people to talk to,’” Lewter said.

Those younger people were TNS Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Guarjardo, Managing Editor Sierra Wells, Senior Producer Nicholas Ratcliff, Associate Producer Kyley Wilhite and graphic designer Taite Read as well as TCCJ’s student intern Christa Wilson.

The Texan News Service staff produces more than just a print product, Lewter said, also churning out television and video news, audio news and online news.

“These students who come out of our program come out with audio chops, with video chops, digital chops,” Lewter said. “And, by the time I’m done with them, hopefully they’ll know how to write a good story, too.”

The subjects the students tackled ranged from how they get their news and what their peers are interested in consuming, to what they’re looking for in employment and why they’re pursuing journalism.

All of them access their news online, whether through their social media feeds, Google News for the Android users or Apple News for the iPhone users, or through email.

“Social media brings it to me,” Guarjardo said.

Ratcliff is a self-proclaimed over-reader who accesses the media bias chart weekly and reads articles on the same topic from varied sources to combat issues of media bias.

He encouraged the editors, publishers and other journalists in the room to demonstrate to people his age that they are a trustworthy source of news.

Lewter also suggested that decisionmakers at local papers prioritize hiring “digital native positions”—for both editorial and advertising, when possible—to reach those online eyes.

When the discussion shifted to what publishers can do to entice young adults to work for them, the students had a few suggestions.

Those including promising a salary increase so the young journalists know they won’t be stuck at entry-level pay forever, providing a flexible work environment, and fostering an engaging and supportive newsroom.

Drawing on a practice hospitals in the Tyler and Longview area are using, Jim Bardwell, the Texas Press Association president and publisher of the Gladewater Mirror, Lindale News and Times, and the White Oak Independent, asked whether offering to help employees repay their student loans would attract them.

Wilson said that would help give her peace of mind as she leaves school and has to start making those payments.

Barbara Brannon, who is the editor and associate publisher of The Texas Spur, who also works with The Caprock Courier and the Floyd County Hesperian Beacon, brought up the “creative fringe benefit” of providing housing as a way to attract young reporters.

The students also talked about the responses they’ve had, either from peers or professors, to their work.

Wells talked about getting the most response on something that had a big impact on the culture of the school—a piece called “Purple Poo suspended for hazing” that discussed the spirit organization being suspended in March of 2021.

The responses can be harsh at times, Ratcliff said, with people sometimes asking how he and the TNS staff can be so critical of Tarleton.

“I love [the school] enough to do this,” he said.

Lange Svehlak, publisher of the Athens Daily Review, expressed his appreciation for the students and their willingness to be put on the spot for the roundtable.

“You give me hope, not just for the journalism industry, but also for your generation,” Svehlak said.

To see the work the Texan News Service staff creates, visit

Abigail Allen is the Managing Editor of the The Pilot Point Post-Signal.

Front Page Future of news

Let them print

The students studying journalism at Texas A&M University could have a valuable tool hampered by that school’s administration.

Taking away the print product produced by The Battalion’s staff by TAMU Pres. M. Katherine Banks, who at her own admission didn’t get why a paper newspaper matters, seems shortsighted.

“I’m not a professor of journalism; I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” The Battalion quoted Banks saying.

None of the journalism professors who work with the paper were asked for their input, according to the staff report.

Why ask an expert you trust to teach your students for their thoughts before making a sweeping announcement that you’re altering a paper that’s over 100 years old?

When I got to the University of North Texas, I had big plans for my future in journalism.

I was going to double-major in journalism and international studies and a minor in Spanish with the intention of becoming a foreign correspondent.

War had been in the news since Sept. 11, 2001. I graduated from high school in May 2007.

My history and language courses were filled with lessons about the difficulties people in third-world countries faced.

Plus, I wanted to do something that made a big impact on the world.

When I got to UNT, the way I wanted to immerse myself in the journalism world was to work for the North Texas Daily.

My professors helped us understand the value and impact our reporting could have when done well.

I got to practice my skills at news reporting, leadership, opinion writing, copy editing and various other aspects of working at a newspaper.

My work there helped me land an internship at the Dallas Morning News and led directly to the work I did with the Community Impact Newspaper after I graduated.

I’m grateful life took a turn from my aspirations of being a foreign correspondent to working for this local newspaper with a young family, but the work I do is still important. Without the practical experience I got at the Daily, I would have been lost in the transition to the work force.

The Daily was a laboratory with real accountability for any mistakes I or my fellow journalists made.

It was also a place where we as student journalists worked next to professional journalists, both still in the field and on the college’s staff.

Those professors would mercilessly tear apart our work with literal red marks coating the printed page, telling us how we could improve.

I still remember many of those comments as well as the tiny drawings in the white space that we left bare.

If such a major change is going to happen to a university newspaper, it should be done with the input and direction of the stakeholders who understand the stakes.

On Wednesday, Banks indicated that she might be changing her mind, in large part to the response to her decision.

“I care deeply about journalism at Texas A&M,” she said to The Battalion. “The reaction to this plan makes it clear that I should seek additional community feedback on the role of The Battalion and the rebuilt Department of Journalism, while also getting feedback about industry trends and future workforce needs.”

I commend her for taking the feedback, and criticism, she received and being willing to re-evaluate her decision. I hope that keeps the paper printing for years to come.

Abigail Allen is the Managing Editor editor of the Pilot Point Post-Signal. She can be reached at

Front Page

Researchers seek input to help with ‘Keeping Community News Alive’

A research team at Texas Wesleyan University (TWU) is seeking input from community newspapers for a research project.

“We are working on a paper about archiving community newspapers in Texas,” Dr. Kay Colley said. “We are collecting data about how publishers are archiving at community newspapers. Based on the results, we will seek to build appropriate training to help make saving the ‘first draft of history’ easier.“

According to Colley, there is a significant lack of news archiving at community news organizations across the nation.

“When they hear the word ‘archiving’ most people automatically think of preserving the hard copy printed newspapers,” Colley said. “There is more to it than that. There is a growing need for proper archiving of our digital content and data as well. This project is geared to train community publishers how to archive better while on a budget.”

Colley is a professor of journalism at TWU where she has partnered with Librarian and Archivist Nancy Edge.
The pair have received a nod from the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Journalism to pursue research in newspaper archiving with the possibility of presenting a paper on the topic at their annual conference in Manhattan, Kansas later this year.

“We want to start with research specific to Texas newspapers and later expand to a nationwide scope,” Colley said.

As such, Colley and Edge are seeking input for Texas editors and publishers.

“If you are an editor or publisher of a community newspaper in Texas, please take my very brief survey,” Colley said. “The information we gather there will help us build case studies for the project.”

The survey is 10 short questions and can be found at:

“We are on a bit of a tight deadline though,” Colley said. “We need to receive all responses by Friday, March 4. Anyone willing to participate will be greatly appreciated.”

The proposed paper will be titled “Keeping Community News Alive: How to Create and Maintain an Archive.”

The nod from the Boyd Center means the TWU has been invited to submit the paper for approval and presentation at their next conference.

Once completed and, if approved, Colley with Edge will present their findings at Kansas State University.

For more information, contact Kolley at

Front Page

Celebrating Black History Month: Woolridge is a leader in her community

Alesia Woolridge continues to make history as one of the few African American newspaper publishers in Texas.

She first made history in 2014 when she became the first African American Managing Editor of The Eagle Lake Headlight.

Eagle Lake is located in Colorado County, about an hour west of Houston.

The newspaper dates back to the 1890s.

Woolridge served as Managing Editor there until February 2016, when she accepted the same position at The Colorado County Citizen in Columbus.

She was the first African American Managing Editor there as well.

The Colorado County Citizen started publishing in 1857.

Woolridge purchased The Eagle Lake Headlight in August 2017 and became the first African American newspaper publisher in Colorado County.

That purchase also made her one of only a handful of African American newspaper publishers in the state who is not producing niche content geared toward the African American community.

In June 2020, Woolridge made history again when she returned to The Colorado County Citizen to serve as publisher.

She was the first African American to lead the county’s newspaper in its 163-year history.

“I’m the first, but I won’t be the last,” Woolridge said. “I will continue to do my best to make The Citizen the most diverse, inclusive news sources in this county, region and state.”

Woolridge is an award-winning writer.

She has won several journalism awards from the Texas Press Association, among other organizations.

She continues to serve her community through her leadership at The Citizen.

Woolridge also serves as a Fine Arts volunteer and mentor for cadets at the Rice Campus of Texas Challenge Academy.

She also volunteers with a journalism class at Rice High School. There, she mentors students on the importance of effective communication skills, telling stories with photography and finding their voice through writing.

Woolridge publishes weekly columns written by TCA cadets in The Citizen.

Her work with TCA helping students once at risk of dropping out of school discover a love for reading and writing has earned her local and statewide recognition.

According to Woolridge, the TCA campus unique in its relationship with their local newspaper.

Front Page

In-person TCCJ Workshop Returns, Fills in Record Time

Monday, November 8, 2021

STEPHENVILLE, Texas — The Texas Center for Community Journalism (TCCJ), based at Tarleton State University, is again offering face-to-face sessions with community journalists throughout the state.

The Nov. 18 “Eye on Design” workshop maxed out within 24 hours, a TCCJ record, according to Director Austin Lewter.

“To me, it’s just proof positive that we are doing work that is needed,” said Lewter, a communication studies Instructor. “Because of the pandemic, we placed workshops on hold and worked through virtual means. I think people are excited about being back in person.”

Newspaper veterans Broc Sears, Robert Bohler and Lewter will lead the design workshop in the Texan News Service newsroom on the Stephenville campus. The workshop encompasses an array of digital and print concepts geared to give attendees tools to take back to their newsrooms and use immediately.

Lewter and Bohler have taken writing workshops to community newsrooms over the last couple of months. In Snyder they worked with writers from three Texas papers. Future workshops will be in Ozona and Atlanta, Texas.

Recently, Lewter spoke with students at the Texas A&M College of Law on “The Sustainability of Local News.”

“It was a wonderful time,” he said. “The media law students were genuinely interested in the future of local news. It was inspiring.”

TCCJ’s spring workshops will include a Newspaper Management Bootcamp and a Community News Symposium. Details will be posted on the TCCJ Facebook page,

The Texas Center for Community Journalism moved to Tarleton in 2020 and partners with the nonprofit Texas Newspaper Foundation to invest in sustainable community journalism. Founded in 2009 at TCU, it provides training and professional development, industry networking and support for almost 400 small-town news outlets.

A founding member of The Texas A&M University System, Tarleton transforms generations by inspiring discovery, leadership and inclusion through teaching and research. Degree programs for more than 14,000 students in Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian, at RELLIS Academic Alliance in Bryan, and online emphasize real-world learning that addresses regional needs while sustaining the values of excellence, integrity and respect.

Front Page

Founding Director inducted into Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame

TCCJ founder Tommy Thomason was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame in June 2021 at the Texas Press Association 141st annual convention in Denton, Texas.

Thomason retired in 2019 after teaching and mentoring journalism students for 35 years at the Texas Christian University Department of Journalism/Bob Schieffer College of Communication and the Texas Center for Community Journalism. While at the Schieffer College, Thomason taught many courses in communication, writing, history of mass media, reporting and media ethics.

Before his career at TCU, Thomason was a sportswriter with the Little Rock bureau of the Associated Press and director of sports information at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

He served Dallas Baptist University as director of public relations and was a columnist, copy editor and contributing editor with magazines in the DFW metroplex.

Thomason graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ouachita Baptist in 1970. He received a master’s degree and a doctorate in journalism from Texas A&M University-Commerce in 1972 and 1984, respectively. He also attended the University of Virginia and the Dallas Theological Seminary for additional graduate work.

Not only did he teach, he also applied and received $717,847 in grants over the years to support research, training and seminars. Of that amount, $509,247 was from the Texas Newspaper Foundation to conduct seminars for working journalists. Texas publishers, editors and reporters convened on the TCU campus to tackle issues common in community newspapers — refining reporting skills, utilizing the web, mobile journalism and newspaper design.

“Without question, forming the Texas Center for Community Journalism was the single best decision our Foundation has ever made. We had an idea; Tommy Thomason took it and ran with it,” said Larry Jackson, retired publisher of The Fayette County Record and Texas Newspaper Foundation board member.
Thomason has been a guest speaker at national and regional newspaper association workshops, a moderator, judge, panelist, advisor and consultant. He is the recipient of the National Teaching Award from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, is listed in Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, Dictionary of International Biography, Who’s Who in American Education, Who’s Who in the World, Men of Achievement, Who’s Who in the Media and Communications, Who’s Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. He has also been a board member and held offices in many professional organizations such as International Institute of Literacy Learning, National Network for Education Improvement Initiatives and Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Thomason is an author of nine books about journalism, one on music and a children’s book. He also has authored technical reports and academic papers over his career.

Thomason was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Austin Lewter, a veteran newspaperman who now serves as the director of the Center.

Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 9

Positive Solutions – Digital Storytelling for Social Awareness: Using Technology to Inspire


There is much research looking at the negative aspects of media. There are studies addressing social concerns about the impact of media on how people define themselves, success, society, government and many other areas.

There has long been concern that a steady diet of negative news has contributed towards public disillusionment. Seeing images on the news night after night could lend itself to a learned world view far more negative than the world is in reality.

If this is true and negative media creates feelings of disillusionment and despair, then it would make sense that positive media should do the opposite-this was worth a try. Through research considering Interactive Documentary, Constructive/Solutions Journalism and Social Media, this paper looks at this idea.


As media changes in the digital age, it is also important to look at story structure and how that is changing the ways in which stories are told.  The shift in audience metrics from “exposure” to “engagement” offers important opportunities for makers to think about different ways of communicating a message.  Different communication paths containing the message, or story, can be structured in what could be describe as “micro-narratives”—small narrative units that, like Legos, can be disaggregated and reconfigured in various ways (Uricchio,2015). This is where interactive documentary/storytelling come into play.

“If the growth of interactive documentary does anything, I think it will open our eyes to the hundreds of possibilities of telling stories in original ways, and re-defining what a story is, what an audience is, and what a maker is.” Gerry Flahive, National Film Board of Canada.

There are two journalism models considered for this research. Solutions journalism is a practice that looks at reporting on how people are doing better and adaptive responses that people can learn from.  Constructive journalism is described by Seán Dagan Wood as “a publication that shines a light on innovation, kindness, co-operation and the ways people are working to create solutions to the problems facing society.” Both of these styles use positivity to increase reader engagement.

This research examines the idea that creating positive solutions-based digital stories can enhance the narrative for social awareness. This research was done using an interactive web-based project entitled Each Others Shoulders. These techniques can be used in many aspects of journalism and storytelling.  Using digital and social media to enhance stories is becoming the norm.  Organizations such as community journalism, collaborative media, participatory journalism, democratic journalism, street journalism and social change organizations can all benefit from this research.

The Project

The Each Others Shoulders interactive is a site about women.  Women who have made the journey a little bit easier for others. It looks at the positive impact women have had on the world through the eyes of other women.  Users are asked to “share a story” of a woman who made a difference in their lives.  This can be someone they personally know or a historical or public figure who helped them be a better woman in some way.

Each Others Shoulders was initially set up on WordPress, a blog posting website This project began a few months prior to the first Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. Although there was much negativity among women concerning the election of Donald Trump, this site dedicated to keeping the conversation positive.

As part of the project, open sourced, or approved existing video was re-edited to add to both the Inspirational Women and History sections of the project.

Figure 1: Each Others Shoulders website.


A project was created to allow participants to share stories that would make a positive impact on a social cause. Social awareness is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning as, “the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.”  Although social awareness was the main goal of this experiment, social change was looked at as a mark of success.  Social Change goes further in transforming a culture along with behaviors and social structure(Vago, 2004).

To best understand how to use digital media for social awareness the Ripple Strategies were used as a measurement. Ripple Strategies is a full-service communications agency that designs and implements media campaigns to accelerate positive social change (Ripple, 2018).

Ripple gives 3 suggestions to begin creating media for social change:

  • Establish Authority:
    • developing credible content- tell a good, true story
    • fostering credible relationships- credible, relevant experts and trusted
    • preparing credible responses- be proactive and to keep control of your messaging
  • Ignite Conversations and Change:
    • telling memorable stories
    • AIDA conversion funnel, which shows the progression a person makes from initially hearing about an issue to taking-action. The conversion funnel involves four sequential steps: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action (AIDA).
  • Measuring Impact
    • Online Analytics
    • Likes, Follows

Three areas of consideration were used for this project:

  • Interactive documentary
    • An interactive documentary, or multimedia documentary is a is considered non-fictional storytelling that not only uses video, audio, photographic, but also applies full complement of multimedia tools. These tools allow the user(watcher, listener, doer) to control or modify the journey as the go (Kim, 2014). This can happen in many ways; comment, like, share, add are all available in interactive documentary.
    • Using:
      • Unique and original footage
      • Aggregated footage from the Women’s March on Washington and organizations
      • Existing open-sourced media
      • Participatory media

For a project to be considered an Interactive Documentary for Social Change it must create social awareness, civic engagement and ultimately social change.

  • Constructive/Solutions Journalism
    • Solutions journalism is an approach to news reporting that focuses on the responses to social issues as well as the problems themselves. Solutions stories, anchored in credible evidence, explain how and why responses are working, or not working. Constructive journalism works alongside Solutions Journalism using positive, solutions-focused storytelling for community engagement. These types of journalism were created in response to the increase in negative, tabloidism and fake news in the new media.
  • Social Awareness through Social Media
    • Social awareness, can be defined as consciousness shared by different individuals within a society. We will look at using social media to create awareness of the problems within a society or a community.


The objectives are to use the tools of technology to; film and edit short, meaningful segments and aggregate already existing media, to create the story.  The story will shed positive light on the social cause. This media will be shared through a social media campaign and interaction through blogging, to create an audience and effect social awareness.

With so much emphasis on the negativity in media, specifically when attached to social causes (Black Lives Matter, Trump Election) this paper will examine if positive interactive media alone can make a difference in creating social awareness.

This research considers the impact that positive interactive media combined with interactive documentary can create an awareness in a social justice situation.  The objectives were to use the tools of technology to; film and edit short, meaningful segments and aggregate already existing media, to create the story.  The story shed positive light on the social cause. This media was shared through a social media campaign and interaction through blogging, to create an audience and effect social awareness.

Analytics were used to measure citizen engagement in the cause and interaction data will be collected to determine social awareness and change.

This research worked around the experiment, Each Others Shoulders, an online interactive website which looked at the positive impact women have had on the world and share that as a way of advancing the cause.

Literature Review

“Interactive media/documentary/storytelling combined with the use of interactive and social media tools create the stage, audience and actors that are needed to bring about social awareness, engagement and change. In theory, if this is done in a positive way it will create an audience and interaction that is positive as well” (Cardillo, 2018). Interactive media/documentary is considered non-fictional storytelling that not only uses video, audio, photographic, but also applies full complement of multimedia tools. These tools allow the user (watcher, listener, doer) to control or modify the journey as the go (Kim, 2014).

This project combined Interactive documentary with Solutions/Constructive Journalism and Social Media to share a story and find results.

  • The Interactive Documentary:
    • Interactive and Cross-media innovations have created a new model of communication that can go in many directions, where audiences can both consume and produce in the social activist setting (Whiteman, 2003).  By 2005, more possibilities grew for online participation. The introduction of peer-to-peer broadcasting, largely influenced by YouTube created ever-expanding possibilities for social networking and change. Sites like Facebook continue to add to social networking possibilities. Web 2.0 has created a truly unique opportunity to explore International communities (Miller, 2009).

New interactive tools allow the viewer to take on a collaborative role as creator. When the viewer is encouraged to add their voice to a project, it enhances the community and welcomes others to do the same. This type of interactivity allows the user to become intimately involved with the project and the social cause.

Documentary filmmakers have been producing commentaries concerning the world’s marginalized people and places in an effort to shed light on the problems and help create social movements to effect change for the future (Moyano, 2011).   New technologies are now in place that can elevate this light to a much greater audience, through the use of interactive storytelling and multi-media platforms.

  • Constructive/Solutiouns Journalism:
    • Journalism today is so focused on highlighting problems; it often misses opportunities to tell the many stories about how society is responding effectively to those problems. Looking at the positive, solution-based side of the story can bring about forward moving conversation and involvement.
  • Solutions Journalism:
    • “Journalism’s historical approach is to spotlight social problems in order to spur reform, exposing wrongdoing or generating awareness — or outrage — about injustice, neglect or hidden threats. This “watchdog” role is critical to the vitality of democratic society. But we believe it’s also insufficient, because it fails to capture and circulate some of the most essential information that society needs to understand and solve its problems” (Reeves, 2017,1).

Constructive Journalism is a method of journalism that includes rigorous, compelling reporting that includes positive and solution-focused elements in order to empower audiences and present a fuller picture of truth, while upholding journalism’s core functions and ethics. Constructive Journalism was founded in 2014 by Sean Wood and Danielle Batista in London(Constructive Journalism Project, n.d.).

These types of journalism/storytelling can, not only, engage and empower people as consumers of media but, more importantly, as actors in the solutions.

The University of Pennsylvania did a study where they looked at several hundred New York Times articles to determine the type of news media consumers/users choose to share.  The results were overwhelming in favor of positive news. The Times’ John Tierney, describing the research. “The more positive an article, the more likely it was to be shared” (Tierney, 2013).

  • Social Media for Social Awareness:

According to Dovey (2014), the content of the blog world, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr are all real, journalistic, and expressive and this is what interactive storytelling encompasses. These social media outlets are living documentaries for those who create them. New tools for collaboration and sharing in social media platforms build a participatory culture that creates the formation of groups with common views and goals (Jenkins 2006).  (Social) media plays an important rold in molding society and spreading awareness in important events. It is the best tool for spearding social awareness(Dwivedi & Pandey, 2013).


The project, Each Others Shoulders is an interactive site about women. The format was set up in the style of Interactive Documentary and used Solutions/Constructive Journalism techniques as a basis.  Interactive Documentary uses short form(micro-documentary) clips to engage users to become involved with the cause.  Each Others Shoulders invited users to upload video, still photos and written stories to the site in order to engage the audience.  These additions also added to the story to make Each Others Shoulders a living document.  Constructive/Solutions Journalsim was used by applying positive techniques to the process and production in an effort to create productive and engaging coverage.

Users are asked to “share a story” of a woman who made a positive difference in their lives.  This can be someone they personally know or a historical or public figure who helped them be a better woman in some way.

The submission page states:

This is where Each Others Shoulders becomes an interactive, participatory, living documentary.

Please share a story about a woman who has influenced, inspired or changed you in some way.  This woman can be someone you personally know who is not “famous”(or known to the rest of us-yet), or she can be an historical or public woman who inspires you.

Please share a story, a photo, a video or audio recording…anything that allows us to know this woman better.  The more women we learn about the better we become.  We stand on each others shoulders.

In order to create a simple way to collect the Submit a Story information, was used to create a small website with the Grabimo application for story collection.  “Grabimo is an application that allows you to collect, manage, and publish stories in multimedia format: Video, Audio, Photo, and Text” (Grabimo, 2018).

Figure 2: Submission Page

When considering the Ripple Strategies and social media for social awareness, there were three areas in the project where social media made a difference in awareness.

Establishing authority: the site, along with the Facebook page, was able to create credible content while fostering credible relationships. Great care was taken in preparing credible responses to comments and posts at all times. As this project started with the beginning of plans for the Women’s March and was quickly picked up and carried by those organizers, on their social media, there was immediate establishing of authority.

Figure 3: Response Page of Site

Igniting conversations: This was challenging at first. Getting people involved to submit stories and comments was the most difficult part. Likes, follows and shares were the most common with comments building as the March drew near.  In the few weeks prior to the march, as women were preparing for their journey, the story and photo submissions began to upload. Also, during and soon after the march the site continued to get engagement. One issue that began to occur was that the “positive” nature of the conversation began to wane as the inauguration of Donald Trump coincided with the Women’s March.  As we continued to only put out positive media the comments began to become more negative.

Measuring impact: This was done through analytics. An early post about the Women’s March on Washington entitled, “Why I Will March: A Bi-Partisan Approach received over 1500 hits and 130 shares in less than two weeks, using only Facebook as a channel.  This remained consistent from late November until the end of January (the march was on January 21, 2017). The Women’s March organizers continued to share our posts and women continued to share their stories and photos.  We received many photos and news stories on how women were preparing for the march.  The march dominated the site.  We continued to upload positive stories about women who were making a difference in the world but the uploads continued to center around the march, with a few exceptions of women who uploaded stories of female heroes in their lives.

Figure 4: Post on Facebook

This project continued for a few months after the Women’s March on Washington and proceeded to create numbers in the analytics with user interested in the cause of women’s rights. In a matter of approximately four months’ time the site drew in 3634 views with 2743 visitors.

Figure 5: Analytics on WordPress

Facebook gave this project the biggest boost which funneled traffic to the Each Others Shoulders site.

Figure 6: Analytics on Facebook

On Twitter we used the hashtag: #eachothersshoulders. Twitter worked well for story aggregation in that we could see who was using the hashtag and contact that user to get permission for their story and ask if they wanted to share.

A digital mini-documentary narrative video was made and sent out through social media soon after the march in order to keep the conversation going. This surprisingly received little to know coverage.  Once the march was over, although we continued to reach out on social media the interest waned. One hypothesis is that it was over three minutes and that is too long for social media users to decide to click on and stay.  Also, the site had no immediate or long-term gratification.

Figure 8: Mini-documentary

Is Social Awareness enough?  Or does there need to be Social Change for success?


Deciding to delineate this paper as Positive Solutions- Digital Media Storytelling for Social Awareness rather than committing to Social Change opened up many questions for this researcher.  The thought process was to consider Positive Solutions Digital Media Storytelling in a way that it would begin a conversation that would help causes to make users more socially aware.  The problem lies in how this plays out in social media and what success looks like.

Considering the idea that visuals help us to learn and act, along with constructive/solutions journalism and interactive documentary, this paper looked at how we can create a social change environment by creating a positive campaign and asking for interaction.

For the most part the campaign stayed positive, with the only negativity coming from user comments about the election of Donald Trump.  The use of social media as a tool for social good has its strengths and challenges.  The strengths are that if the message is both timely, short and conveniently placed it will get large numbers.  But once the timeliness wares off there is little to no interaction, as there needs to be some kind of immediate gratification.  The creator would need to continually work to keep the campaign alive in order to have consistent interaction.

Also, there is strong evidence that users prefer to like and share more than comment.  And asking them to engage by adding content is difficult to achieve.  More research is needed in the area of how to keep consistent engagement for causes.  Although this site never asked for money, only time and effort, it was still difficult to get users to engage at that level.  If a set of procedures could be developed that would help to prolong engagement, this would benefit all social causes in the future.

When creating an Interactive Documentary for Social Change project there are three things that need to occur:

  • First the project must create social awareness, which this project did.
  • Next the project must create civic engagement, which this project also did, to some extent.
  • And the last piece to the puzzle is that the project needs to create social change.

Did change occur?

  • This is the piece of the puzzle that will be looked at in future work.
  • Does the cause campaign need to have a “finish” in order to be successful?
  • Is the project a success because it made people stop and get involved or did there need to be a greater outcome in order for success to be apparent?
  • What does change look like? 


There is much research looking at the negative aspects of media. This paper looked at what might happen using Interactive Documentary, Constructive/Solutions Journalism and Social media to tell a positive story. Each Others Shoulders was able to create social engagement for a short time.

These techniques can be used in many aspects of journalism and storytelling.  Using digital and social media to enhance stories is becoming the norm.  Organizations such as community journalism, collaborative media, participatory journalism, democratic journalism, street journalism and social change organizations can all benefit from this research.

Now more research needs to be done to find out how to keep the audience and create social change. There are so many amazing causes in this world that people can become involved with, we just have to find ways, other than like, share and comment to get people to act.


About the Author

Dr. Susan Cardillo, Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Journalism at the University of Hartford focuses her tenure work on Interactive/Micro Documentary for Social Awareness and Change. She is currently in post-production with Campus ReBoot, a crowd-sourced, interactive and collaborative documentary about College during Covid19. She can be reached at

Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 9

Who/What/Where Is The Local “Us”?: The reciprocation between proximity, feelings of closeness and shared interests in relation with the local press.

While today’s press is undergoing change, intersecting regions, it is important not to overlook the readers – who is the local “us”? This paper investigates how readers generate the relational sense of an “us” in a locality by engaging with the press. The study offers a framework built around three key dynamic concepts: proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests – which readers form clusters around, thereby reinforcing the notion of an “us.” Furthermore, local journalists strengthen the notion of an “us” by addressing the readers as a single collective with common features.


In today’s changing media climate, newspapers are concerned with issues of increased transmediality, how to retain and increase circulation figures, sell advertising space, and keep distributing papers in their established areas. In this context, it is important not to overlook the readers. What do they engage with? Who comprises “us”1 in a locality?
This paper aims to identify the dynamics around who reads local newspapers and how the readers identify themselves, as well as who the journalists and editors are targeting their content at. This paper focuses on shared associations, intersubjectivity, and engagement in a local vicinity which – together with the local newspaper – may enable readers to perceive themselves as part of something bigger. By sharing their understandings and feelings about what is reported in the newspapers, readers can construct a sense of “us” in interrelation with their locality.

This paper investigates if and how this “us” is formed, what the dynamics and dimensions of this are, and the clusters that readers create around themselves and those who share common characteristics. Furthermore, this includes journalists’ and editors’ viewpoints of these factors.
This paper investigates how the readers share intersubjectivity, association, and engagement through their local press and, thereby, become part of a cluster with shared features, to create a common “us”. We assert that this identity formation in community settings is dynamic and variable along three dimensions: proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests – which each require some kind of mediation. These concepts will be explained further later on in this paper, but to summarize it. Proximity, in this context, solely focuses on the sense of geographic or physical nearness. While feelings of closeness focuses on the sense of relational or emotional nearness. Shared interests, focuses around issues or concerns between people who share a proximity or an affectional nearness.

The context: RegPress and Sweden

This paper was produced by the RegPress project team, which investigated what the regional means in a global media culture, in the context of southern Sweden. With the main research question: “What is the role and value of regional media in a global media age?”
RegPress was a cooperative project between Linnaeus University, Sweden; Newcastle University, UK; FOJO2 (Sweden’s leading media development center for professional journalists); and the Barometern Foundation.3
Sweden has some of the highest newspaper readerships in the world, along with state subsidies for the media.4 There are healthy regional and local de-centralized papers. Today, though, local newspapers are facing several new challenges, such as increasing print, broadcast and online media transmediality, declining circulation figures, and difficulties selling advertising space. However, in later years it has proven difficult to provide a complete measure of circulation since some of the largest newspapers have left the common measurement system.
According to Media Landscapes – Expert analyses of the state of media5 there are about 55 percent who read a subscribed morning paper on an average day in Sweden, but this does not show the general household coverage.
The information which follows below in this section is gathered from the TS Media6 website, Kantar Sifo 7 website and the Nordicom website.8
RegPress’s research area comprised the counties of Kalmar (population 237,027), Kronoberg (190,916), and Blekinge (155,733), and the west coast region around Borås (108,083).9 These areas have been well-served by the press for a long period of time dating back to 1841;10 along with a dominant and successful media group that has experienced a low decline of circulation and in some cases even a rise in readership numbers. In these areas, there are about 84 newspapers, including daily press, free newspapers, and newspapers which exist solely on the web. In each area, one paper dominates (circulation-wise), and commonly a secondary paper holds a prominent position. All of the newspapers below have a high subscription level (90 % or above) seen to those who buy the paper.
The main newspapers and their household coverage are:
– Barometern Oskarshamns-Tidningen (54%, 2019)
– Smålandsposten (54%, 2019)
– Blekinge Läns Tidning (50%, 2019)
– Borås Tidning (43.9%, 2016; last updated information)

Each newspaper has a strong local attachment, focusing particularly on its immediate vicinity (nearby towns and cities). Our desk research11 revealed that the local newspapers cover a range of topics, including urban development, events, healthcare, sport, and culture, complemented with broader domestic and international news.
Figures from the SOM Institute show that the subscription rates nationally are in decline, in the 1990s, 81% of the respondents had a daily newspaper subscription, 2014 it was 57 percent, and today 55 %. However, most people in this region still use printed newspapers as their main source of news.13
When it comes to the area’s homogeneity and socioeconomics, there are more similarities than differences. All of the areas have close to half/half male/female population, the greatest variation was 49% to 51%. Kalmar County and Blekinge County have a somewhat older population than the other areas, while the area around Borås has the youngest population.
In regards to secondary education, the areas had a slightly higher percentage (48%) than the national average (47%).
Secondary education:
– Kalmar County (51%)
– Blekinge County (48%)
– Kronoberg County (48%)
– The west coast region around Borås (45%)

However, in regards of post-secondary education, it was slightly lower than the national average (40%). Whilst here it differed between 32% (Kalmar County) to 39% (The Borås area).
Professions, political affiliations, and wages, were all similar in these areas.

Conceptualizing the reader

This paper seeks to understand how geographically-situated newspapers connect with readers in specific localities. Through this, there has also been an increased sense of community in relation to how geographically-situated newspapers connect with readers in specific localities (Hess, 2013). This investigates if and how shared associations and intersubjectivities are formed within the locales and regions covered by local newspapers.
There are efforts today by the press to explore local imagined societies and community traditions to receive and reinforce coherence from the readers (Wenzel, 2019).

It has been established that local media use individual as well as community factors when it comes to constructing the news, which can lead to community participation and solidarity within the community (Paek et al.). Which increases the likelihood of a sense of community with common ties between the readers, a perception of a shared community. Discussions have however been made during later years if this is reinforced by addressing the readers as part of an “us” or a “me.” There have been tendencies which show a shift from “we” to “me” in the construction of journalism (Conboy & Steel, 2010). As people are most concerned with aspects close to themselves.
The conceptual framework we devised to investigate this derives from three aspects:

  • Proximity, the sense of geographic or physical nearness,
  • Feelings of closeness, the sense of relational or emotional nearness,
  • Shared interests, around issues, or concerns where there is an affectional nearness.

These dimensions are interrelated with the notions of community, the local, and local journalism; which are all valuable in order to conceptualize and analyze our data. These concepts are discussed below.

Senses of community

The notion of interpreted senses of an relational and abstract “us” with familiar features has commonly been investigated through the lens of the word “community.” However, the notion of community is difficult to conceptualize, because it lacks any specific analytical characteristics (Hess, 2013).

Scholars and industry are yet to agree on a universal definition to describe small commercial newspapers and they are most commonly referred to as “community media”, “country newspapers”, “rural/regional” or the “local” press (Hess, 2013).

The terms “communities” and “local communities” have frequently been used when discussing journalism in local settings. In more recent research, however, these terms have proven problematic for describing the complexity of a local setting (Hess & Waller, 2013), and the ways that people engage with each other and the media. Hess & Waller (2013) assert that “community” is a layman’s term which lacks analytical clarity. Nonetheless, the concept of community has been preeminent in discussions around newspapers.
Issues around the theoretical concept of “community” have mainly been discussed in terms of newspapers’ online ventures and globalization trends (Hess & Waller, 2017). Hess (2013) offers the term “geo-social” as an alternative to “community,” as it derives from a “sense of place,” geography, space and flows. In understanding our data, we acknowledge the importance of a relational sense of place as well as an actual geographic space, which emerges through the dynamic dimensions of proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests. Each of these concepts is discussed in the findings and discussion sections of this paper. The areas we have chosen to look at are served by newspapers which focus on smaller towns and regions, where community newspapers provide connotations of familiarity, shared interests, and collectivity, as well as special interest groups, common values, and links to certain geographic areas (Hess & Waller, 2013).

Based on the notions of constructed communities, there are other aspects to consider as well, particularly from a sociological perspective, where the concept still is prominent (Goe & Noonan, 2007). This is relevant in order to understand shared associations and how the sense of a mutual “us” is created in local proximity.
The idea of community has been around for a long time and is derived from developments of society structures, where secluded rural localities of homogenous social groups developed into urban societies, alongside the issues that affected them as a group interacting in that context (Tichenor et al., 1980). Most areas are not isolated in that way today, because of the changes brought about by globalization, technology, and infrastructure developments.
Nevertheless, certain issues still affect people living in close proximity to each other. One key aspect that enhances a sense of community is the physical environment which enables and/or enhances opportunities for interaction, such as walkable streets (French et al., 2014). However, local newspapers could also be perceived as tangible factors that are shared and discussed by people who live in close proximity to each other.

One thing that has not changed since the days of relatively secluded communities is the fact that everybody is constantly interpreting the world around us. This is something we all do on a daily basis, constructing and reconstructing our impressions. Through these subjective practices, people create intersubjective interplays and, thus, a shared world (Berger, 1991).
Intersubjectivity develops through continuous interactions so that, through interrelation with society, the perceived reality is formed and reinforced through social processes and institutions (Berger & Luckmann, 1991). Journalism and local newspapers can be seen as one such institution (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009) that helps to form a proximity-based intersubjectivity.

It is the journalists’ stories that construct and maintain our shared realities. Because of this, news can become a singularly important form of social glue; our consumption of stories about current events large and small binds us
together in an “imagined community” of co-readers (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009).

Therefore, earlier research has concluded that the world we all perceive and share an intersubjectivity of is, in fact, constructed through our interactions with each other (in close surroundings) and our interrelations with wider society, which are reinforced through institutions such as the local news media. However, in order to understand how local newspapers connect with people at a regional level, it is important to examine how the readers perceive this connection – for example, which issues they share an affinity with. This is conceptualized through the dimensions of proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests, to further investigate how the sense of connection is enacted within a local setting.
From a sociological perspective, the concept of community is twofold – including both a common physical and geographic area – for instance, the area where people live or work – and the characteristics of the social relationships people form with each other (Geo & Noonan, 2007). In addition, it has been recognized that community is based on a specific place, with Tönnies and Harris (2001) asserting that community centers around a geographic area and the people who live there, in close proximity to each other (Tönnies & Harries, 2001). Both of these matters are discussed in this paper. Firstly, our study takes place in a specific geographic area, where many of the people we interviewed lived and worked within that same area. Secondly, the relationships they form with others – as mentioned above, their constructed reality – is formed through their interrelations with others and society, including the media.

In 1955 Hillery (1955) pinpointed three key aspects that had been identified through previous research into community, defining it as a group of people who:
– engage in social interactions,
– have ties to a geographic area,
– have ties to each other (like lifestyle, culture, work, beliefs, interests, or more loose ties).

This overview shows that there has been continuous discussion among sociologists about what the concept means and entails. However, “community” can be summed up as a geographic space, a social network, and a type of relationship (Day, 2006). We are aware that a sense of space cannot solely be centered on a geographic space.
Flows within the digital world must also be taken into consideration when discussing community (Hess & Waller, 2013) since many people engage in the digital sphere as well as the non-digital aspects of life. For instance, individuals who no longer live in the geographic proximity that a local newspaper covers may still feel a connection to that place, so engage with the news through a digital platform (Robinson, 2015). This is something we will investigate further in our findings and discussion, particularly in regard to the conceptual dimension “feelings of closeness.”

Senses of the “local” and local journalism

This paper aims to contribute to the debate about geographically-situated newspapers and the relationship between those who read it and the area it is circulated in. It is therefore crucial to understand what comprises a sense of the “local.” Since journalists in the local proximity is not just watchers of the community, but a part of it (Batsell, 2015).
It has been argued that “local”, as in local media, is another ambiguous and problematic term, like “community”; because vast amounts of local media today are only really local in name, being actually based at a central point somewhere outside the immediate area (Hess & Waller, 2017). However, in this paper, local newspapers are identified as news providers that serve a specific geographic area (not nationally) and exist in that locality, are regularly circulated, and contain news and information which meets the definitions used in Key concepts in journalism studies (Franklin, 2005).

Local media has been identified as a tool to emphasize the connection between people, and as a platform to express matters of importance for the population of an area (Hess &Waller, 2017; Franklin, 2005; Lauterer, 2006). The local news media try to attract the people who live within a specific area, by providing them with news which is relevant to that group. People who live in small towns and rural areas depend on their local paper to connect with each other and the locality (Lauterer, 2006). To create this sense of community – both from a sociological and a media perspective, as discussed above – the newspapers attempt to target their content at a specific group and, through that practice, assist in shaping and creating a sense of “us-ness,” a shared intersubjectivity, associations, and engagement, within the local vicinity.

The local and regional press play a dual role in their localities. Firstly, they are actors in the life of the local area. Secondly, they co-create a sense of the local and regional. Local and regional press is an under-researched area (Hanusch, 2015), so this study makes an important contribution to the knowledge of local media and its relation to the public, the public’s relation to local media, and through this, to each other.

We argue that the conceptual dimensions we introduced at the beginning of this paper – proximity, feelings of closeness and shared interests – are dynamic and change during the course of reporting news. Different readers are interested in different kinds of news.

Earlier research has established that journalism has a role to play in communities (here defined as people who live in close proximity to each other and share (at least partly) interests and values) (Goe & Noonan, 2007). This consists of informing the public, reporting citizens and their representatives about matters of public interest, and leading advocacy and debate (Bartzen Culver, 2014). Local press is rooted within the lived experience of those who live close by in the locality, which helps in constructing their realities (Howley, 2005). Readers who feel a connection to news stories or a part of the locality that the stories affect believe that the news affects them and has meaning for them (Hartley, 2009).
Hatcher and Haavik (2015) found that Norwegian local journalists’ news values depended on their relationships with the community and their place as members of the community. This concurs with research conducted in the mid-1900s (Janowitz, 1951), which proclaimed that press in a community setting acts as a system that aims to maintain a consensus based on common values.

“Proximity” is a key term in this paper. This includes news and events which are geographically close to the readers and so are seen as important and valuable for both readers and journalists. Moreover, proximity can be perceived in an emotional sense as well (Hess & Waller, 2013).

Research has shown (Hatcher and Haavik, 2015; Yamamoto, 2011; Hartley, 2009) that people who read a local newspaper feel a connection to the locality, so local newspapers are one important way to engage with the community. In this paper, we argue that there is a connection between attachment, involvement, and participation in a community, and reading the local newspaper. There is a sense of social coherence in the area that is covered by a newspaper and is defined by that. The locality shares common values, which support social networks and help to form a collective identity (Yamamoto, 2011). This brings us back to our study’s key research questions – who comprises “us” in the local setting? How is the sense of “us-ness” formed?


This research applies a mixed methods research design, which offers a complementary pluralistic strategy (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). The data is based upon empirical data obtained from 65 semi-structured interviews intersecting these three regions in South East and South West Sweden, involving 9,413 survey respondents, 8 focus groups, and 9 elite/expert interviews (with journalists and editors), during 2016.

This study mainly used snowball sampling when it comes to the semi-structured interviews (across our regions), since this enabled us to gain more respondents through the potential sample members (Everitt, 2002). The survey14 covered all three regions (with some additional respondents living outside them) and was distributed by Linnaeus University and Gota Media.15 The content of the survey was designed upon the information gathered by the qualitative interviews with readers. The survey consisted of an online questionnaire which asked newspaper readers about their media use, as well as their socioeconomic circumstances, to ensure a diversity of respondents. The survey provides descriptive statistics (Ostle, 2012) in our empirical data.
This paper discusses data from reader interviews, surveys and interviews with journalists and editors, not from the focus groups.


General trends. The data confirmed that most respondents read their local newspapers (about 96 percent), while only 43% read the national news; showing that the proximity matters in their choice of news outlets. Through the practice of reading a paper, the reader forms mutual, dynamic patterns of association, gaining a sense of connectedness, and shared understandings. These patterns of association and engagement vary in accordance with the factors of proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests. Readers create relational and dynamic clusters of perceived importance around these, some of which are shared with others living in close proximity. This kind of intersubjectivity is also important from the journalists’ point of view, which is why this section of our paper includes journalists’ responses.

The most important of our three theoretical concepts is proximity – firstly the immediate area around an individual, their hometown or city, followed by the municipality, and then the county. The local society can also be considered an active participant, not just an area division, because it impacts on the local setting.

Proximity. The issues that matter most to readers are those that happen the closest. “Closest” here can be specific to an area or to an issue. For some readers, the closest proximity means their immediate circle, such as their neighborhood. For other readers, proximity is a wider concept which branches out to places where they work or have some other relationship to – for instance, their children’s school, or the store where they buy their groceries.

With the local news, I feel I am a part of the local community; they talk about issues that are relevant for me (RP1:16 Man, over 60, post-secondary education). The newspaper is an important tool for finding out what is happening in the local proximity, according to 78% of our survey respondents, while 45% believed that the local paper helped them feel part of the local “community” – at least sometimes. Only about 4 percent of respondents never felt that the local paper helped them feel part of local society. The local press acts as a social glue which holds areas together by reporting current events which the reader perceives to be important – according to both the literature (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009) and our respondents.
The readers perceive, define and talk about themselves as members of a group, and a sense of shared realities is vital for this. This varies in accordance with issues and areas. People living in close proximity to each other perceive a shared intersubjectivity, which is constructed and reinforced through interacting with each other, but also through interacting with institutions (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009), such as the local newspaper.

It is fairly typical for the local newspapers to follow local politicians and decision making in the city, mixed with family news, organizations’ news, and trivial things that are happening. And all of it is the glue between people and creates a collective “yes that’s right, it was in the newspaper.” So, I think the local newspapers have a social function, it’s only local news media that can do it… But also as a social glue, a reinforced feeling of “us,” especially where I live among the people in my neighborhood, but also where I work (RP2: Woman, 41-60, masters-level education).

The Swedish word “närområde,” meaning “immediate area” was used frequently and prominently by interviewees discussing close proximities. As Goe and Noonan (2007) assert, physical and geographic spaces are still extremely important for forming a sense of community. People who live and work in a certain locality want to know what is happening in the immediate area because it matters to them and affects them. It has high relevance for them, as individuals and as a group; through shared associations and interactions with members of the locality, they become members of a collective. Some participants used the word “gemenskap,” or “community” to describe this attribute, as well as mentioning their collective engagement.
People within a locality engage in social interactions and share ties to the local proximity and each other, through mutual interests and values (Hillery, 1955).

Local newspapers are really important to me. I want to keep track of what is happening in my immediate area, in politics, culture, and everything else that is important for a society. With the help of newspapers, we bind together to form a whole and not as fragmented, all of us who live in […] are affected by what is happening here and, with the newspapers’ help, we are woven together and merge into a larger collective than those you would otherwise be close to – your neighbors and your colleagues. With the newspapers, we become part of a greater whole (RP3: Woman, 26-40, bachelors-level education).

The “närhetsfaktorn” or “closeness factor” was also prevalent when discussing proximity, being defined as the dynamic relationship between the closeness of something and its importance. It was notable that individuals did not consider everything in close proximity to be relevant to them, but this dynamic enables people to form a cluster around what does – or does not – matter. The “closeness factor” also provides a tool for readers to navigate through all the material in a newspaper and offers a pathway into shared associations in the immediate vicinity.

…they report the news so that it will be interesting for me as a reader, mainly with the proximity factor that I mentioned earlier… It might be good to start reading the newspaper to get into the community, I had not really thought about that before… (RP4: Woman, 18-25, bachelors-level education).

Everything that happens locally is very interesting, of course. Everything that happens in […] is very interesting to me because I live here. Even trivial news is interesting. If a garden shed burns down somewhere, I want to know. I would not care if it happened in Halland [other part of Sweden] (RP5: Man, 26-40, post-secondary education).

Journalists described proximity as both a geographically-demarcated area and a connection between people living near to each other. Existing shared associations are enhanced by tangible factors such as a newspaper’s geographic orientation and ambition to reinforce intersubjectivity, which creates group feelings of “us-ness,” or senses of community, as French et al. (2014) observe. Thus, understandings of what is local can be formed through a symbiotic relationship between local journalists and their readers (Lauterer, 2006).

Well, local community is a group of people geographically, but above all sociological demarcated, therefore that you somehow feel that you have a community that interacts together. I think that’s a bit more important than the geographical; the geographical can be divided in any way (RP6: Editor).

As mentioned above, local media has traditionally been identified as a tool to emphasize the connections between people and a place, through its tendency to publish things of importance for the locality (Hess & Waller, 2017; Franklin, 2005; Lauterer, 2006). Local journalists and editors live and work in close proximity to their readers, while people depend on the local paper to connect with the area and each other, and to gain information that interests and affects them (Lauterer, 2006). Journalists discussed their interactions with local society as both relevant and unavoidable, since they depend on this connection with others to do their job. Furthermore, they talked about these exchanges as being essential for gaining ideas from, and initiating discussions in, the locality.

As a journalist, I think I’d rather not write about things that concern the area nearest to where I live. I think that’s too close to me, so it can be difficult for me to be objective, like when it’s as close as my children’s schools, or nursery. Therefore, I would rather not cover that. I think it’s better as a journalist to monitor other areas of the slightly wider local community, like issues at large in the region. But I would prefer not to write about things related to those very closest to me (RP7: Journalist).

Feelings of closeness. Feelings of closeness are, in some respects, linked to proximity, although where proximity denotes an actual physical closeness, feelings of closeness derive more from an emotional sense of how a person perceives closeness and what they feel as close to them. An important term in discussing feelings of closeness is “lokalanknytnig,” that is, “local attachment.” Readers explained that they felt a sense of closeness, or local attachment, to a certain area and what went on there. This attachment forms when a reader feels a connection to stories which contain something that affects them personally and, therefore, has meanings for them Hartley (2009).

For some, this local attachment came from the close physical proximity mentioned above but, for others, it was a connection to a place they had once lived, where their parents lived, or something they felt an affinity to. As Hess (2013) remarks about the “geo-social,” it comes from a “sense of place,” which might not necessarily be a physical space, but could also be a relational one.
Even those who report the news can make use of local attachment by adapting broader news articles to fit a local level, making them more relevant for their readers. Newspapers contain different sections to guide their readers to certain subject matters, and reinforce the feeling of closeness.

[…] is good at covering what’s happening locally, I really get the feeling that I know what is happening in […] by reading the newspaper. What they write about tends to be relevant to us who live in the city and not just meaningless chatter to fill the newspaper, I think that is good. Sometimes I see a news story that I read about in the DN [a national newspaper in Sweden] and SvD [a national newspaper in Sweden] that has been taken down to a local level in […] and I think that’s good because it gives a perspective on its significance locally. I really think they are good at making a local connection in the news and I think that means that it feels more like the news affects me; it makes the news more interesting for me as a reader (RP3: Woman, 26-40, bachelors-level education).

This local attachment creates a bond of intimacy between the news and the reader, as well as producing a sense of connectedness to the locality. This was noticeable in both the survey and the interviews. This feeling of closeness also generates ties of association in the places where people live and work, and those they share common experiences with (such as reading the same reports and being affected by them). Thus, it serves a social function by connecting people who read the same news stories. They become part of a mutual understanding in a shared context, which creates a common “us.”
The journalists and editors interviewed said that the most important thing local journalists should do was make their readers believe that the paper had a local affinity with them. The goal was to be perceived as being close to the readers, so they felt the coverage was meant for them and would feel close to the things reported. They said it was difficult for the news they reported to affect everyone who read it, but they tried to reach those people who were personally impacted by stories. They aimed to provide diverse content, to appeal to the wider public.

The best news is that kind that concerns lots of people (RP8: Journalist).

The practitioners stated that your immediate locality is the place where you are interested in the smaller issues and, within which a sense of belonging, “us,” is developed. This “us” has similar interests as a group and is (at least partly) affected by the same things. Local journalism also contributes towards creating the sense of local and regional because their choice of what to report or omit defines the boundaries of a perceived locality (Hanusch, 2015).

Shared interests. Events that occur in a person’s immediate vicinity are perceived by them as the most important (however, the definition of an “immediate vicinity” varies). The close locality, where an individual feels a sense of connectedness, a sense of engagement and a shared intersubjectivity, is the area they are most affected by in relation to smaller issues (such as the school their family members attend or local healthcare). These are examples of the elements the papers cover which influence people’s constructions of their perceived realities (Howley, 2005) People in the immediate area have some kind of fundamental common interests, including issues that are important to them, both as individuals and as group members. The more nearby the issues were, the more important they were perceived as.

For me, local journalism is important. It is important to be informed about events both in the world, in Sweden but also in my city […]. I believe that, as a citizen, I have a duty to be aware of what’s happening in my community locally, nationally, and worldwide. I also need to be informed because of my role as a teacher, in order to participate in discussions about what is happening, with both the children and my colleagues (RP9: Woman, 18-25, bachelors-level education).

Issues in the close locality, mediated through local media, offer a regional context, providing shared knowledge and conversation points. People get the information they feel they need, about the things they perceive to be relevant to them.

The local press is absolutely vital. Because you need to have a local attachment that makes it interesting for the individual. There are many big newspapers who write about things that are national and international, but I think it’s important to have the local perspective also and not to drop it (RP10: Woman, 26-40, masters-level education).

The practitioners asserted that journalism takes place in relation to the public and, therefore, the articles must have relevance for them. They said that a reporter’s purpose is to cover relevant and important issues – both those that are being talked about, and others – to help readers orient themselves in society.

I think if you read the local newspaper you expect it to be written for the readers at a close level. We are out where they are and we write about their schools, homes for the elderly, in a very close way, not only do we describe it in great detail, but we actually are out where they are. I definitely think the readers want us to be as involved as possible. If it’s something at an individual school we write about it, and perhaps it’s just the people who live there, in that particular area, who are really interested in it, but we write it for them and the next time we are in another area (RP6: Journalist).

The issues reported should be close to the readers and must resonate with them personally, according to the professionals. However, a recurrent theme that emerged in the interviews was a journalistic ambition to cover as much as possible of what was relevant to the people living in the local area. Two factors they considered in this were space and time, along with how many people were affected. The goal was to have a mix of these, since nothing would interest everybody, but some things interested some people. Above all, they felt there was a need to ensure local attachment, to make the news seem relevant.


This paper explores notions of shared intersubjectivity and engagement, in order to develop a deeper understanding of people who read their local newspapers (in the context of south Sweden), and how they create a sense of a dynamic “us” through that practice. This perception changes depending on the clusters formed around proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests.

The findings showed a sense of clusters forming around these concepts, both at an individual level, but also as group members, in people’s local areas. This point became apparent in earlier research which found that a shared sense of “us” was formed through dynamic relationships between people living within close proximity to each other and local news (French et al., 2014; Day 2006; Robinson, 2015; Hillery, 1955; Goe & Noonan, 2007; Tichenor et al., 1980). Some common elements of this sense of community and the notion of an “us” (for both consumers and producers) were shared values, ties to a geographic area, ties to each other, and social interactions.

These “us-ness” clusters are also generated by other key factors which were evident in both the literature and our interviews – common interests or issues, things that affect people as individuals, and as members of a group. Respondents felt that this created a sense of “us” and a dynamic cluster, where they could share patterns of association and engagement with other people in that same local proximity and context. This shows similarities with other researchers’ results – for instance, Tichenor et al. (1980) stated that shared associations interact when issues affect people as a group, while Hess (2013) asserted that news channels have an influential position on social flows in a local context.

Both proximity and a feeling of closeness were vital from the readers’ and the journalist’ points of view, as was a desire to connect. Readers want to read about things within close proximity that affect them, and journalists want to write about things that affect the readers in their own vicinity. This finding is supported by previous research about local and community newspapers (e.g. Hess &Waller, 2017; Franklin, 2005; Lauterer, 2006). Respondents explained that they felt this sense of connection through their engagement with, and links to, a geographic area; ties to each other through shared interests, work, lifestyle, culture etcetera.; and social interactions with each other within a group. These are the same criteria that Hillery (1955) considered necessary in order to have and reinforce a community – what we refer to as a dynamic cluster – and, through this, create a common “us.”
This creates connectedness to a locality, which aligns with the journalists’ belief that their task is to connect with the readers. News articles must be relevant for those who read them, but papers should still cover as many topics as possible, because not all the readers feel a connection to all the stories published, resulting in more generalist reporting.

By being part of the same news space and, particularly, reading news that affects them personally, readers form their own notion of a cluster or a group, a distinct “us,” while journalists must make assumptions about their intended public which help to create these clusters, by setting the agenda of what comprises a “newsworthy” story. In order to reinforce a successful community, it is important to know your audience and to choose which information to disseminate based upon that insight (Safko, 2012). People who read their local newspaper feel a connection to the locality, so these papers are important for engaging with and in the community, as Yamamoto (2011) notes. It helps people to form a collective around common values.

The sense of “us” and the clusters which arise from this, are dynamic and fluid, depending on proximity, feelings of closeness, and shared interests. It is also important to recognize that not all the people who read local news feel this way. However, the result is still significant, because many people who read the newspaper do see themselves as part of a collective, contributors to an “us.”
Similarly, journalists help to create the sense of a common “us” through their attempts to communicate with their readers as members of a group with common characteristics, such as shared interests. In this way, the journalists reinforce intersubjectivity, engagement, associations and the sense of a local “us.”


In this media-saturated, globalized world, journalists and newspapers need to understand how their readers cluster around particular interests in a local setting and how this creates a sense of “us-ness” in relation to others nearby. Since the focus here is local newspapers, there’s a given sense of content density. Because the media content must, in some way, relate to its audience. A local audience wants to learn about local news. However, relating to the news can create a sense of an “us.” Not only by publishing news of a certain local content density but how the news was presented and perceived.

In today’s media climate there is a lot to be said in regards of reader engagement, however this article strived to investigate how the reader perceives themselves and their community.

This study has identified the three dynamic key factors of local newspaper readership – proximity, feelings of closeness and shared interests. We have developed a conceptual

framework from this to understand the dynamic clustering of interests and feelings of closeness which are enacted by people living in the local community and through the relations between local newspapers, local journalists, and citizens. Local journalists and their journalistic practice can be seen as a catalyst in creating a sense of “us-ness.”

However, it is important to recognize that our findings were generated in a context where there is a strong and influential press, with high rates of newspaper subscriptions, in one area of Sweden. This represents an active readership, which the local press work hard to sustain. Not only by publishing news, the local press is also present in the society in other ways than just as a publisher, such as sponsoring events and cooperating actively with the municipalities and the other organizers in public events – which they use as part of sustaining their trademark and publicistic values.

It is still uncertain whether community is the right word to use in this context, due to the lack of clarity. We have chosen to include it mainly because it was the term readers used when describing themselves, and it matches previous research about what constitutes community.

Either way, there is a clear sense of an “us-ness,” or a dynamic clustering, which forms around the three dimensions described.
In order to develop this research further, one idea would be to use the same research design to discover how this interplay occurs in other parts of Sweden or within other Nordic countries, using this study as a basis. Another potential future line of inquiry would be to include younger people (aged 15-18), to ascertain how their use of local media differs in terms of engagement, intersubjectivity, and shared associations. In that case, it might be beneficial to adapt the research design according to the geo-social concept discussed by Hess and Waller (2013), because this might be even more relevant for young audiences’ media engagement in the digital world.

End Notes

  1. “Us”, from the Swedish word “vi”, here means the sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people.
  6. TS Media is an impartial media audit, which examines Swedish media and the media market.
  7. Kantar Sifo is a Swedish company that conducts market research, media and opinion polls.
  8. Nordicom is a Nordic knowledge center for media and communication, and it’s an institution within the Nordic council of ministers (Nordiska Ministerrådet).
  9. SCB, 2015.
  11. 11 Regpress, LNU.—gemensamma/regpress/regpress_preliminary-content-analysis-1.pdf
  13. The SOM Institute:
  14. through SurveyMonkey.
  15. The dominant regional media group.
  16. To ensure anonymity, survey, interview and focus group respondents are referred to as a numbered ‘RP’ instead of their name, and some socioeconomic details about them are provided for context.

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About the Authors

Emelie Kempe (main author) (Linnaeus University) can be reached at

Annelie Ekelin (Senior Lecture, Linnaeus University) can be reached at

Anette Forsberg (Senior Lecture, Linnaeus University) can be reached at

Britt-Marie Ringfjord (Linnaus University) can be reached at

Mats Wahlberg (Linnaeus University) can be reached at

Bridgette Wessels (Professor, Glasgow University) can be reached at