Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 3

If You Build It, Will They Come? An Exploratory Study of Community Reactions to an Open Source Media Project in Greensburg, Kansas

Sam C. Mwangi, J. Steven Smethers and Bonnie Bressers

This exploratory study seeks to ascertain whether community engagement behaviors among residents of Kiowa County, Kansas, and their attitudes about the new community information portal affect their intentions to contribute content. Results indicate that while most residents are engaged and have a favorable view of this citizen journalism project, technology-based communication hubs pose unique challenges beyond civic engagement that creators of information hubs should consider.

Greensburg, Kansas, was thrust into the national limelight when an EF5 tornado hit the city on May 4, 2007, killing 12 people, injuring 90 more and destroying 95 percent of the city (Ablah et al., 2007). In the aftermath of the storm, it soon became clear that this small south Central Kansas farming community of approximately 900 people and residents of surrounding areas had vital information needs that could not be met through the existing communication infrastructure (Smethers et al., 2010). The local newspaper, the Kiowa County Signal, is a weekly publication and therefore was unable to provide the constant information updates that local residents needed. The paper’s website was in no position to fill the void because electricity and the cable system were equally affected. Area radio and television stations located in Wichita, Dodge City and Pratt, Kansas, were too remotely located to provide constant emergency communications essential to the rescue and cleanup efforts. Residents established improvisational communications networks to fill the void including use of cell phones, bulletin boards, interpersonal communication and a daily duplicated paper bulletin called the Yellow Sheet.

As rebuilding efforts got underway and area media got back on track, the Signal was a model community newspaper, providing residents with extensive information associated with rebuilding efforts. But civic leaders did not forget the frustrations of their inability to communicate with residents in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. With technical advice from Kansas State University, city and county leaders began to explore ways to fill such a void and to get information to citizens in-between the weekly editions of the newspaper (Smethers et al., 2010). An idea gradually emerged that would bring together several information sources and use modern technology to communicate with the public. The centerpiece of this communication hub is the Kiowa County Commons, which was dedicated in November 2011 and houses the Kansas State University Research and Extension office, the county museum, county library, and a state-of-the-art media center that includes a radio and audio production studio, a television studio, and a Web portal to disseminate multimedia content via a WiMAX system installed on the highest point in the community: the local grain elevator (Wilson, 2008).

Though the Media Center was not at full capacity at the beginning of this research project, the facility nonetheless had the capability to offer a myriad of information services, including streaming local government meetings and community news. More importantly, the media center plan embraces “open sourcing” as an ideal that Reader (2012) has pointed out as synonymous with good community journalism practice. Residents in Greensburg were expected to contribute a good portion of the content to the information hub as a way of building the civic vibrancy of the rebuilt city (Watson, 2011). From the beginning, it was understood that the county-owned Media Center would be on its own in terms of collecting and providing local information, as Gatehouse Media, the publisher of the Kiowa County Signal, foresaw active partnership as a potential conflict of interest (Smethers et al., 2010).  In 2001, the Center’s board of directors hired producer/manager Grant Neuhold, who attempted to transform the founders’ lofty expectations for the facility into reality. Neuhold began soliciting volunteers, who were initially a handful of local adult volunteers, and a more energetic––and electronic media savvy––group of high school students.  He launched a training program that covered basic audio-video production techniques, theorizing that building community participation and promoting buy-in of the open source aspects of the project would likely begin with a nucleus of trained citizens. Neuhold also began providing some local offerings produced by his cadre of citizen journalists, including a limited schedule of Kiowa County High School athletic events (Grant Neuhold, personal communication,  January 30, 2013).

Neuhold’s ambitious efforts to demonstrate what the Media Center could provide for the community were generally met with enthusiasm, but serious questions remained that affect the operationalization and sustainability of the center’s mission: How do local residents view the project, and what are their attitudes about contributing content to the local information network?  Although the media center and its goals seemingly serve as a model of the critical connection between communication and civic engagement, there is still the unanswered question of whether residents will use the center’s services or contribute content.

The purpose of this study is to examine civic engagement behaviors among residents of Kiowa County, their attitudes towards the new community information portal and their likelihood to contribute content. After a discussion of the literature, the study uses survey methodology to gather information to explore the research questions.


Communication and Civic Engagement

Civic engagement has been defined as a heightened sense of responsibility through which individuals, acting as citizens of their own communities, their nations and the world, are empowered as agents of positive social change for a more democratic world (Coalition for Civic Engagement and Leadership, 2004).

French scholar Pierre Bourdieu is credited with laying the theoretical foundations for the civic engagement movement through his writings on social capital which described circumstances under which individuals could use their membership in groups and networks to secure benefits. Bourdieu (1986) argued:

Social capital is an attribute of an individual in a social context. One can acquire social capital through purposeful actions and can transform social capital into conventional economic gains. The ability to do so, however, depends on the nature of the social obligations, connections, and networks available to you.

Sociologist James Coleman, who wrote widely on public issues involving schools and families, advanced Bourdieu’s ideas by helping bridge the gap between the individualistic market-oriented thinking of economists and the sociologists concerns with social networks, values and norms (Coleman, 1988). He used the term “social capital” to show ways in which social ties and shared values and norms can help people become better educated, amass economic wealth, make careers and raise well-socialized children. He argued that economists should pay attention to social ties and culture (Coleman, 1990).

Political scientist Robert Putnam borrowed some of Coleman’s ideas on social capital in his seminal book, Making Democracy Work, to explain effective democratic governance in Italy. Putnam found that regional governments in Italy, which looked very similar on paper, worked very differently depending on which region had a rich array of voluntary social groups (Putnam, 1993). In a follow-up book, Bowling Alone, Putnam used social statistics to argue that the United States has experienced a decline in social capital in the late twentieth century as Americans became less likely to join groups such as churches, bowling alleys or civic organizations. Putnam argued that the problems facing U.S. democracy and governance can actually be traced to the decline in social connections (Putnam, 1995).

Putnam’s research has inspired other scholarly works and discussions on social and political change, including studies on social capital that pay tribute to such networks as significant in development of a democratic culture and participation of citizens. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) (2003) has compiled a comprehensive list of indicators of civic engagement, which include: voting in national elections, joining a political party, being a candidate for local office, and civic activism, such as writing letters to a newspaper about social or political concerns, collecting signatures for a petition, collecting money for a social cause and boycotting products or services because of social concerns. For citizens to be engaged in civic life, they must be equipped with certain skills such as knowledge and understanding of community issues, values that support a civic culture, a willingness to act to advance the public good, and the skills and ability to imagine a better society and direct social change (Pratte, 1988; Carpini, 2000). Political communication research has demonstrated that news media consumption and interpersonal political discussion play important roles in civic participation (McLeod et al., 1996; Shah et al., 2001). News media provide a resource for political discussion and create opportunities for exposure to conflicting viewpoints, encouraging political talk that might not otherwise occur (Mutz & Martin, 2001: Mutz, 2002). In turn, political discussion raises awareness about collective problems, highlights opportunities for involvement, and thereby promotes civic participation (McLeod et al., 1999; Kwak et al., 2005).

Citizen journalism adds another layer to civic engagement by creating opportunities for citizens to be involved in the production and distribution of media content. Citizen journalism has been defined as ‘the act of a citizen, or a group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information in order to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires (Bowman and Willis, 2003, p. 9). This study also acknowledges and adopts as its definition and understanding of citizen journalism the participatory (Deuze et al., 2007) and user-centered (Hermida and Thurman, 2008) nature of this trend. As Rosen (2008) noted: “When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.”

Participatory media technologies that allow the creation and distribution of user-generated content have subverted the traditional power dynamics that separated sender and receiver, thus allowing for multiple discourse through blogs, podcasts, virtual reality (e.g. Second Life), collaborative technology (e.g. Wikipedia), social networking sites and video sharing sites (Freidman, 2005; Tancer, 2007; Birdsall, 2007). These technological developments as well as a cultural trend that increasingly encourages citizens to produce media content has led to a rising embrace and popularity of citizen journalism (Tapscott and Williams, 2006).

Citizen journalism impacts the democratic process by allowing citizens to be part of a conversation in the public sphere as envisaged in the ideals of Jurgen Habermas (1989) where public deliberation becomes an integral part of democracy and civic engagement. Scholars have argued that communication is essential in the development and sustenance of civic engagement (Dewey, 1927; Kim & Ball-Rokeach, 2006a). They argue that a community with a communication infrastructure that citizens can use as a storytelling network to share their lived experiences is a stronger community.

Kim and Ball-Rokeach have developed a theoretical framework that differentiates communities in terms of whether they have communication resources that can be activated for common purpose. In developing the communication infrastructure theory, they posit that there are three forms of story telling within communities: macro, meso. and micro storytelling agents. Macro-storytellers refers to the mainstream media which tend to focus on larger populations such as city, state, or a country. Meso-storytelling agents include neighborhood associations and tend to focus on one particular section of a place. Micro-storytelling agents are the individuals who live in a neighborhood. The theory confers significant importance to the  meso and micro story tellers. According to Kim and Ball-Rokeach, “when residents talk about their community in neighborhood council meetings, at a neighborhood block party, at the dinner table, or over the fence with neighbors, they become local storytelling agents — participants in an active imaging of their community,” (2006a, p. 179). They further argue that while each agent is important, the value of agents is multiplied when they come together to form a storytelling network. “In an ideal community, meso-and microstorytellers form an integrated network where each story teller stimulates the others to talk about the local community (Kim & Ball-Rokeach, 2006a, p. 181). The Kiowa County Media Center has been an effort to provide such an integrated communication network for the community.

Local Media Use and Civic Engagement

Numerous studies have linked local media use with civic engagement and community integration, what Stamm (1985) and other researchers, such as Rothenbuher, Mullen, DeLaurell, and Ryu (1996), have called “community ties.” In this sense, media content is seen as a vital component of one’s sense of belonging to a particular locale (Janowitz, 1952; Stamm, 1985; Rothenbuhler et al., 1996).  Community attachment and local media use do not have a causal impact on one another (Hoffman & Eveland, 2010), but the two concepts do have a strong relationship in the formation of individual civic engagement and the propensity of local individuals to be involved in community issues and events (Stamm, 1985; Rothenbuhler et al., 1996). Moreover, media play a key role in the local interpersonal communications infrastructure, the “neighborhood storytelling network,” through which integrated citizens share important information gleaned from media in face-to-face or computer-mediated conversations (cf., Hayden & Ball-Rokeach, 2007; Kim & Ball-Rokeach, 2006; Mehart, 2008).

Interestingly, while studies linking media content and consumption with community cognition and affection are numerous, few studies have attempted to determine if factors relating to community engagement are predictors of an individual’s propensity to actually create news content, a key element in citizen journalism projects. Studies do link such activities as writing letters to the editor with community engagement traits (CIRCLE, 2003), but there is little literature to establish how or if one’s attachment to a community translates into the willingness to contribute news and/or visual content to a newspaper or any kind of communications hub. Littau, Thorson and Bentley (2007) attempted to determine if community engagement was a predictor of reader propensity to actually contribute content to a citizen journalism newspaper project. The study was inconclusive on these variables, although the researchers did conclude that an open-source newspaper is a viable medium in the communications infrastructure of community-involved people (p. 21).

Citizen journalism projects have occupied the imagination of both the journalism and academic professions since the development of the concept nearly a decade ago. But studies about citizen journalism sites have primarily focused on the content and goals of such ventures (cf., Lacy, Duffy, Thorson & Fleming, 2010). While content is undoubtedly important, so are the perceptions and attitudes of the audience toward such projects. Citizen journalism is based on what Watson (2011) calls “the active audience” that is engaged, technically savvy and interactive in both consuming and providing content. To ensure the viability of citizen journalism as a community medium, then, we need audience studies that gauge the consumer attitudes and their perceived willingness to participate, especially in small towns and communities such as Greensburg and surrounding Kiowa County, where the media project is based on the assumption of community contributions.

The Kiowa County experiment in providing an electronic citizen journalism hub thus provides a unique lens through which scholars may view an actual audience perspective of an open source project. Such a study was first undertaken by Smethers, Freeland and Rake (2010), who conducted focus groups in Greensburg to ascertain the feelings of county residents toward the perceived benefits of the project. That study sought to determine the propensity of residents to accept an open-source news outlet as a bona fide source of local news, and to determine the propensity of users to regularly read and contribute information in audio and video formats. Panelists quickly realized the potential of the information portal as a storytelling medium and a community information hub. However, they also forecast that sustaining the project was only possible if the Media Center’s staff could conduct regular reporting and production training sessions to teach the skills involved, and panelists’ propensity to be active contributors was still mixed, based on how they saw their technical capabilities and how they viewed the journalistic value of possible contributions. The study did not probe the actual community engagement tendencies of the panelists.

This exploratory study seeks to ascertain attitudes of residents about the community information portal in the Kiowa County Media Center in Greensburg. Specifically, the research attempts to ascertain whether behaviors of community engagement may contribute to positive attitudes about the Center and people’s intentions to become regular contributors to the content of the computer-mediated information hub.

The research questions guiding this study are:

RQ1: What is the level of community engagement among residents of Kiowa County, Kansas?

RQ2: What are the attitudes of county residents towards the Kiowa County Media Center and citizens’ perceptions of the Center’s perceived benefits to the community?

RQ3: Beyond the known criteria of individual community engagement, what other factors are unique to the adoption of a computer-mediated communication hub?


In line with Tse’s summary (1998) that outlines the multiple advantages of electronic surveys including cost, ease of process and speed, a 32-item online questionnaire containing semantic differential, dichotomous-choice and open-ended items was designed.  Following previous studies finding that civically engaged people are active local news consumers (Stamm, 1985; Rothenbuhleret al., 1996), researchers for this study sought to survey individuals who were likely to fit such a description, and in that regard, the subscription list for a local electronic newsletter, the Yellow Sheet, proved to be an effective purposive sample.  The Yellow Sheet was originally designed to provide daily emergency communications in the aftermath of the 2007 tornadoIt was a necessity at the time, considering that the Kiowa County Signal’s seven-day news cycle was inadequate to meet the community’s “24/7” news needs.  The e-publication’s constant news updates and publication flexibility proved to be so popular that it remains today as an alternative source of local news. While the sample was not random and not without limitations, Yellow Sheet subscribers nonetheless represented local business owners and managers in this county of only 2,549 total residents.  Despite the age homogeneity––they were all over 30 years old ­­–– respondents were nonetheless judged to be knowledgeable about the Media Center and display characteristics of civic engagement.

Questions that sought to examine respondents’ levels of community engagement were consistent with Littau, Thorson and Bentley (2007). Other questions involved awareness of the Kiowa County Media Center, attitudes toward it, perceived difficulties in accessing or providing content to the Media Center, possible solutions to those obstacles, and respondents’ preferred news and information subject categories. Demographic questions were also asked. The questionnaire was initially pretested with six individuals who were not part of the targeted sample but were nonetheless familiar with the Media Center project and its mission.

An introductory letter about the project was emailed one week prior to the distribution of the questionnaire. Mindful of Dillman’s dictum (1978) that follow-up reminders should be sent one, three and seven weeks after an initial mailing, but also recognizing Andreson and Gansneder’s (1995) argument that the faster delivery speed of email requires a different and faster schedule of reminder notices, researchers sent weekly follow-up reminders during the three weeks of the questionnaire’s availability.

A total of 36 surveys were completed and returned for a response rate of nearly 21 percent (20.8 percent).  Below, responses are reported through percentages on items in the semantic differential and dichotomous-choice responses, in addition to comments obtained through more qualitative open-ended questions. All spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors appear in this study as they appeared in the survey responses.


RQ1: What is the level of community engagement among residents of Kiowa County, Kansas?

Results suggest a high level of community engagement among survey respondents, as measured by behaviors such as participation in activities or causes, politics and elections, and current affairs. All but one respondent reported Kiowa County residency, and literally every respondent reported volunteering in the community to some degree, with nearly 28 percent (27.8 percent) volunteering “Very Often,” 33.3 percent volunteering “Often” and 38.9 percent volunteering “Occasionally.”

Similarly, only one respondent reported never working with someone to solve a community problem. Most, 38.9 percent, worked “Occasionally” with others to solve a community problem, while 33.3 percent “Often” did, and one-quarter “Very Often” did.

Almost half (47.2 percent) “Occasionally” participated in fundraising for a community charity or cause, with 30.6 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively, participating in fundraising “Often” or “Very Often.”

Reflective of the older demographic of respondents — none were less than 30 years old and 59.4 percent were 50 or over — 80 percent of the respondents (n=35) reported voting in elections “Very Often” with 14.3 percent voting “Often” and 2.9 percent “Never” voting or voting “Occasionally.” That voting behavior did not necessarily extend to political volunteerism. The majority (58.3 percent) “Never” volunteered to work for a candidate for political office, although one-third (33.3 percent) “Occasionally” did. A total of 5.6 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, “Often” or “Very Often” volunteered to work for a candidate or political organization. Respondents were likely to voice their opinions to people in office, however. The overwhelming majority (77.8 percent) “Occasionally” contacted a public official about an issue, and 5.6 percent “Often” did. A total of 8.3 percent “Very Often” did, which was the same percentage as respondents who “Never” contacted a public official.

In response to other indicators of community engagement, 81.3 percent of respondents (n=24) reported owning their home and 71.9 percent belong to a church or other religious group. Asked about membership in community organizations, all who responded (n=16) listed traditional groups such as the Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

Fewer than one-third of the respondents (31.3 percent, n=32) reported subscribing to the local weekly newspaper. Respondents nevertheless reported high levels of interest in community affairs. A total of 87.1 reported following city and county news via traditional media, the Internet or other sources “Very Often” or “Often,” and 80.6 percent said they talk about current affairs with others “Very Often” or “Often.”

While they may not be subscribing to the newspaper, nearly 72 percent (71.9 percent, n=32) of respondents reported contributing a news item to it, which could bode well for the Media Center’s goal of providing citizen-generated content. General news was the most frequently contributed followed by birth announcements, social news, church news, weddings/engagements, club news and Chamber of Commerce/economic development news. One respondent reported contributing a weekly news column for several years.

Utilizing measures of involvement well established in community engagement scholarship, respondents displayed a high-level of participation in community activities and issues, perhaps as a result of being an older demographic group with long-standing roots. Of those who reported their number of years of Kiowa County residency (n=30) — as opposed to “all my life”, etc. — the median was 30 years.

RQ2: What are the attitudes of county residents towards the Kiowa County Media Center and citizens’ perceptions of the Center’s perceived benefits to the community?

Respondents (n=32) responded affirmatively to a qualifying question: “Have you heard of the Media Center…?” Most frequently, they reported learning about it from the local newspaper, friends/word of mouth and “through all means of publicity.” Typical of small communities, responses also included, “They are located next to my office,” “watched it being built,” “If you live in Kiowa County, who hasn’t heard of the Media Center,” and, simply, “I live here.”

Nearly two-thirds (65.6 percent) of the respondents said they saw the Media Center benefiting Kiowa County. Responses about both the positive and negative aspects of the project were sought. Some respondents expressed unequivocal enthusiasm and several cited benefits to young people. One respondent said, “They work closely with the school. Kids love it. Administration of the school think Media Center can walk on water. Will broadcast games and public service meetings etc. It’s fantastic,” with another saying it’s “Another avenue for learning for the young people,” and yet another saying “students of Kiowa County will benefit from the exposure to the technology offered.” Finally, respondents said it will allow “new and more opportunities for young people to discover new passions in their lives. and give them something new to work towards or to be a door to do something else in a professional career” and it will “give the younger people something to be involved in.” Other respondents said the Media Center can promote the environmental goals of the county, it will help tell the Kiowa County story, it will promote public outreach and it can, in the future, offer worthwhile programming. “It will bring our population into the electronic age,” said another respondent.

Most of the negative responses centered on costs to the county versus perceived benefits; as one respondent said, “The county should not be in the media business. What is being funded is not worth what is being produced.” Another respondent said, “Not sure how that is a necessity to have to spend money on,” and yet another said, “I believe the cost to the county will be greater than any benefit.” One respondent pointed out the unequal access: “I don’t think it’s necessary. The basketball games did not broadcast right and if you don’t have a computer you can get no benefits.” One respondent, prefacing the comments by saying, “Really I wanted to say maybe” there are benefits, but “It is costing the county way to much for what little benefit I see. Do we need that whole center to videotape Santa with Kids? It isn’t doing anything like they initially put in their business plan.” Other respondents said they are not sure — or not sure at this early stage — what the positive or negative benefits are or will be. A couple of respondents saw a political component to the Media Center, including one who said the sentiment is shared by “a lot of people here in town.” “It seemed like an unnecessary expenditure and costly luxury wanted by only a few citizens with political pull,” said another.

Of the 27 respondents who listed categories of information they like to see on the Media Center’s Web portal (local government news, high school events, senior citizen news, community events, obituaries, etc.), most listed “all of the above” or “all of the above and more.” Some respondents specifically identified school news, community events, local government news, and news of interest to senior citizens such as “interviews with older generations about family and local history made before this generation passes.” Identified, but slightly less often, were obituaries, church news, business news, organizational news and current events. One respondent wanted “any community information that is not available on other local websites” and another said, with emphasis: “Live and/or taped coverage of City Council and County Commissioner meetings. Working with the Kiowa County Signal newspaper — not in competition against it — to further information dissemination in the community….” Some respondents reported never using the Media Center website and others said there is no content they would like to see on it.

Although a majority of respondents (53.1 percent) said they would “Occasionally” contribute information to the Media Center (news stories, social news, pictures or videos, etc.), over one-third (37.5 percent) said they would “Never” contribute content. Nearly 10 percent (9.4 percent) said they would contribute content “Often” but no one predicted contributing content “Very Often.”

Respondents universally were aware of the Media Center, and a majority saw benefits to it, particularly among the younger demographic. But concern about costs versus benefits and lack of full community buy-in was observable. While respondents seemed appreciative of the local-news and information potential of the Media Center’s content and would occasionally contribute content, a sizeable percentage of respondents did not plan to participate.

RQ3: Beyond the known criteria of individual community engagement, what other factors are unique to the adoption of a computer-mediated communication hub?

Researchers sought to examine what factors and/or obstacles may need special consideration due to the nontraditional nature of a multi-platform, open-source, nonprofit computer-mediated communication center. In response to the question, “What do you see as the obstacles to your getting involved (lack of equipment, technical skills, time, interest, etc.?),” lack of technical skills was the most frequently cited obstacle that respondents (n=26) perceived would prevent them from creating content for the Media Center Web portal, followed closely by lack of time. The next most frequently cited obstacle was a collapsed category of lack of interest and lack of relevance, presumably meaning the Media Center’s perceived lack of relevance. Lack of equipment also was cited.

In response to a question seeking perceived solutions to factors and/or obstacles preventing participation in the Media Center (n=18), the most frequently suggested solution to perceived obstacles was a collapsed category of adult classes, workshops and volunteers to help would-be contributors’ content creation, perhaps an unsurprising finding given the number of respondents who saw lack of technical skills as problematic. On a related note, one respondent noted that (s)he needed to be “about 50 years younger!” The second most frequently cited solution related to community awareness of the project. “They need a PR plan to sell the benefit to the public,” said one respondent. “That thing is a divisive issue here.” Another respondent suggested more publicity in the Kiowa County Signal, which is the local weekly newspaper; in the County Research and Extension Agent’s weekly electronic newsletter; and on the community’s sign. Yet another suggested “Better PR advertising the Media Center’s offerings. Working within the community to offer program & services that are actually needed. Working with the Kiowa County Signal on a shared information platform.” One respondent, acknowledging that corporations have donated much to the Media Center, said corporate donations of equipment should be explored to an even greater extent because “the locals are getting pretty tapped out after the tornado.” Solutions to the obstacles of time included “retirement” and the unlikely “more hours in a day.” The respondent who cited the solution, “And more people to watch my son,” also may have been responding to a perceived lack of time.

Throughout the results, there appears to be a small, but noticeable, minority who see no value to the Media Center and have no plans to participate at least partly because of a perceived political component to the Media Center’s inception and at least partly because of the public-dollar financing component. Fifty percent of the respondents (n=32) said they do not support using public funds to finance the Media Center. Those who did ranged from somewhat supportive (28.1 percent), to supportive (15.6 percent) to very supportive (6.3 percent).


Because of concerns reported in earlier focus group research (Smethers, et al., 2010), one question asked about perceptions of duplication between the Media Center and the local weekly newspaper. Most (61.3 percent, n=31) perceived “Some Duplication and 9.7 percent perceived “A Lot of Duplication.” Still, a substantial number (29 percent) perceived “No Duplication.”

In addition to demographic results reported earlier, respondents’ age categories (n=32) were: 18-29, 0 percent; 30-49 years, 40.6 percent; 50-64 years, 37.5 percent; 65-74 years, 15.6 percent; and 75 and older, 6.3 percent.

More than half (54.8 percent, n=31) of respondents were male; 45.2 were female.

Nearly half (48.4 percent, n=31) of respondents graduated from college or technical school, nearly two-fifths (38.7 percent) had postgraduate education and 12.9 percent graduated from high school.


This exploratory study examines community engagement and the acceptance of a computer-mediated communication hub in the rural Kiowa County, Kansas, community of Greensburg.  Results suggest a high level of community engagement among survey respondents, as measured by behaviors often associated with community engagement and affection (Littau, Thorson and Bentley, 2007), including community volunteerism, a propensity to vote in elections, experience working with others to solve community problems, fundraising, interest in community affairs, home ownership, and membership in churches, civic and social organizations. Community-engagement results may be influenced by the fact that respondents represented an older demographic of longtime Kiowa County residents. It can be further surmised that residents who opted to return and rebuild their homes and businesses after the 2007 tornado devastated Greensburg were, by definition, people who had made an affirmative, proactive decision to engage in their community.

The previously mentioned criteria for the success of citizen journalism projects cited by Watson (2011) –– engagement, technical skills and user dependency on interactivity in consuming and providing content –– is relevant when examining the results of this study, where a mostly community-engaged sample population expressed some skepticism toward the news portal, which, by the admission of many subjects, relates to their perceived skills.  This is the second time that research in Greensburg and its surrounding county has reflected some reservations about individual citizen use and propensity to participate (cf., Smethers, Freeland & Rake, 2010).  By the admission of many respondents in this study, there is a question relating to the technical competence required to participate in Media Center functions. The overall older age of the respondents in this study, a group that has been accustomed to traditional media consumption and less reliant on computer-related platforms, may not see themselves as ready for the interactive nature of a citizen journalism venture. Indeed, that sentiment could explain the tendency of respondents to single out young people as prime beneficiaries of the Media Center project.

Obviously, this points to education in video and audio storytelling as a major factor of sustainability, but it also suggests a possible “technophobia” (Brosnan, 1998) toward the skills needed for participation. The need to overcome that barrier is among the most important findings of the study because sustainability of the Media Center is dependent on broad-based participation among county residents, including the older demographic. To date, the vast majority of participation and content creation involves high-school students who may relocate to other areas after completing their education. That said, it must be acknowledged that the Media Center has identified education and training of community participants as a need, a need that could not be fully realized in the short time since the Media Center’s inception.

A related concern is the identifiable lack of buy-in from a small segment of the community. The fact that more than one-third of respondents reported that they would never contribute content to the Center should not be overlooked by this or any entity seeking to establish a similar model for communitywide storytelling. It can be acknowledged that the social dynamics of small-town America may well include a small, but often vocal, contingent whose lackluster response to innovation can be frustrating to community leaders. However, in this study, a measureable number of people, who had exhibited high levels of community engagement, also called for more and better marketing, public relations and advertising. As every respondent indicated awareness of the Media Center, a promotional/public relations campaign would be advantageous if it focuses less on the Center’s existence and more on the value of programming and benefits of participation to individuals and community. Further, soliciting more community involvement and feedback prior to content creation could help inform what types of news and information would be most desirable.

While this study is largely exploratory, it is significant in two ways. First, it fills an existing void in communication and civic engagement scholarship. Literature on civic engagement suggests that media consumption, as well as writing letters to the editor on community issues, are indicators of civic engagement (CIRCLE, 2003). Similarly, Kim and Ball-Rokeach (2006) view the existence of a communication infrastructure and micro- and meso-storytellers as vital to the civic health of communities. But as the findings from this study seem to point out, computer-mediated communication infrastructures pose unique challenges such as fear of technology, lack of skills, and demographic patterns that must be considered. Even in communities with higher levels of civic engagement, citizens’ propensity to contribute to a local community journalism project might hinge on factors and indicators that are not currently addressed by the literature. There is clearly a gap that ought to be acknowledged in the literature as a possible hindrance to the success of technology-based community communication hubs.

Second, this study reveals a void in existing literature: studies examining the need for community involvement in designing information hubs. By its very nature, citizen journalism breaks down the gatekeeping role of traditional media organizations in determining what is newsworthy and vests such power in community storytellers. It is equally important to remove or address the gatekeeping role of civic leaders while designing such communication hubs. Some of the resistance detected in the survey results stem from a feeling of community exclusion in the initial decision making process, underscoring the need to rethink how noble community journalism innovations are introduced in communities.

Last is the thorny issue of financing the Media Center and similar proposals. Half of the respondents did not want public funding for the center, which could be state and federal grants and other monies and, perhaps more to the point, local tax dollars. Clearly, the Kiowa County Media Center must establish independent revenue streams, a challenge exacerbated by its nonprofit status. Current plans include identifying and cultivating revenue sources in larger regional cities, which could at least temporarily shift attention from the citizen journalism, community-storytelling goal of the Media Center. That said, partnerships with commercial enterprises beyond the community might be a necessary forerunner to achieving a sustainable citizen journalism hub.


Although the sample for this study can be regarded as a limitation, the purposive nature of the population surveyed is nonetheless important, since it was necessary to yield subjects who were most likely to contribute information germane to this study. In this case,  the non-random sample yielded valuable feedback from local business leaders and managers who were familiar with the Media Center and the community, and they provided unique and meaningful input on the central research issue: if a community builds a state-of-the-art multimedia operation that relies on citizen-produced news, will local residents support it? Because of their standing in the community, the 36 people who completed the survey — 20.8 percent of the total solicited — were believed to possess characteristics of civic engagement who would also be active local news consumers (Stamm, 1895; Rothenbuhler, et al., 1996), an assumption that data supported. Further, the age homogeneity — no respondent was under 30 years old — was not unanticipated because the respondents were established in the business community. Thus, they were judged to possess both sufficient knowledge of the research issue and have the capacity and willingness to participate in the research.

Clearly, the findings reported here open the door for further research that would provide richer data, such as a more broadly focused survey distributed to the 2,549 residents of Kiowa County to gauge their levels of civic engagement, their degree of support for the Media Center initiative, and their willingness to participate in content creation for the Center. Additionally, an analysis of the origins of the content distributed by the Media Center would suggest actual levels of citizen participation. Certainly, future studies should focus on a key finding yielded here: effective methods for recruiting and teaching laypersons the fundamentals of audio and video production and storytelling. Such studies need to delve into attitudes toward learning these new skills and how to overcome certain barriers associated with teaching such skills to adults.

While the Kiowa County Commons with its multi-million dollar Media Center was a direct result of a tornado that devastated the tiny, Midwestern rural community, this and future research could provide prescriptive insight for other rural communities that could find such a model — albeit whatever the size and scope — useful in the creation and distribution of the communities’ news of the day.


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About the Authors

Dr. Sam C. Mwangi is an associate professor at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University.

Dr. J. Steven Smethers is an associate professor at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University.

Professor Bonnie Bressers is an associate professor at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University.


Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 3

Web-network Social Capital: Exploring Network Actions and Benefits for Online News Community Members

Jeremy Littau

This research introduces a new measure of social capital for users of online news communities by applying social capital concepts used to measure networks in real-world communities.  “Web-network” social capital measures the strength of ties created online for the benefit of engagement that is non-local.  Using the concept of the “networked individual” as a theoretical tool, this research sampled users of news sites that offered online community forums for comment.  The results show that traditional social capital measures rooted in local community increase both local forms of engagement and engagement in causes that are more national than local.

Work regarding civic ties and engagement by researchers such as Putnam (2000) tends to look at people’s relationships with others in the community, in conjunction with media variables such as news use, as a predictor of their civic behavior both in their hometown and nationally. Others have looked at how online community joining has increased the tendency to participate in one’s own local community (Norris, 2002). This research attempts to study those two concepts together more explicitly by examining the growing trend of news sites that offer online forums for community conversation and are built around niches (whether they be local geography or topics of interest).

Despite concerns scholars have voiced about the potentially isolating effects of heavy Web use (Ng & Wiemer-Hastings, 2005; Becker & Mark, 1999), the ease of joining online communities has led to people being engaged in places far away with those they’ve never met as the Web has evolved to include more social and networked forms of communication, particularly on news sites that cater to niche interests. At the center of this divergence is the question of how and when the use of social networks online isolates users, enhances offline actions, or represents a new type of engagement. Recent research on Americans’ Internet use from the USC Annenberg School for Communication adds to the picture. In 2013, about 62% of Americans reported some type of activity in an online community, defined as a range of uses from specific sites built to cater to user interests to social media sites such as Facebook or dating sites. This percentage reflects accelerated growth from the 2009 version of the study, wherein only 15% of respondents reported the same type of activity (Center for the Digital Future, 2009). In addition, 76% of respondents in the 2013 study reported that online involvement has not detracted from their offline community participation, and 33% of online community members reported taking an offline action due to some online activity at least once a month (Center for the Digital Future, 2013).

The purpose of this research is to understand the relationship between online community participation on online news sites that offer community forums, specifically by examining the benefits that come with that type of network engagement via a rethinking of social capital research. Whereas past research tends to focus on online participation for offline benefit, this study also is interested in understanding actions that are specifically about benefiting the online community itself. Such actions can be a stabilizing force for the community itself as well as a driver of continued engagement with the news content. News use in particular is highly correlated with community engagement (Beaudoin & Thorson, 2004; Shah et al., 2001b), so a logical next step would be to understand the role news communities themselves play. Traditional social capital measures, which measure network strength and attempt to assess community engagement, are inadequate for understanding how online communities are built and maintained. Understanding how communities built around news exchange work would help create new communities and improve existing ones. Given that both engagement with news and involvement in one’s community (whether local or virtual) is a byproduct, it is a question worth exploring for news practitioners.


Online media in the age of the “networked individual”

Internet use among Americans is higher than it has ever been, with time spent online at 20.4 hours per week on average.  Most of the distribution of time spent seems to be clustered with either light or heavy users of the Internet, with light users reporting an average of 2.8 hours per week compared to 42 hours per week for heavy users.  While some forms of Internet use can take place via web pages, self-reports of use of online communities has been on a steady rise the past few years (Center for the Digital Future, 2013).

The term “community” as applied to online (or “virtual”) worlds has undergone a steady evolution as the Web has evolved from a static product to one that is more interactive . Wellman and Gulia (1999) note that offline communities are traditionally defined in terms of geographic space but that online communities that exist have complicated the picture because of the Internet’s ability to transcend local ties. Thus came attempts to define “virtual” forms of community, which consist of organizations of people made possible by communication technology. Rheingold (1994, p. 58) was the first to define virtual community, saying it is a group of people who “exchange words and ideas” through a technologically created medium such as an online bulletin board, but this definition was not specific enough given the rapid development in ways people communicate online via different social offerings. Others have added layers of refinement by describing other features and uses. Virtual community is community enabled by the use of a networked communication technology, bonding people along lines other than geography (Hiltz & Wellman, 1997). While virtual community does not preclude bonding along geographic lines, other factors that aid in the formation of virtual communities include shared interests, purpose, goals, and values.  Early research explored geographic features and boundaries (Preece, 2000; Dennis, Pootheri & Natarajan, 1998) as well as characteristics that make up interpersonal relationships such as shared traits or affiliations (Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1998; Preece, 2000; Wellman, 1997). Preece (2000, p. 3) defines online community as “any virtual social space where people come together to get and give information or support, to learn, or to find company” and notes that it exists independent of geographic borders.

The “locality” in this sense is in the shared interest, not in the geographic sense of place, and it is important to news organizations because they traditionally have organized themselves by geographic region.  As one would find in a real-world community, the common bond is a shared interest and the existence of norms and protocols that govern virtual community life (Brint, 2001; Wilson & Peterson, 2002) as well as information exchange. Porter (2004, para. 10) defined virtual community as “an aggregation of individuals or business partners who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least partially supported and/or mediated by technology and guided by some protocols or norms.” Ridings and Gefen (2004) note two other factors that are critical in defining virtual community. The first is that the collection of people must be defined as more than having a virtual space to visit; there must be clear structures that facilitate community norms and building long-term relationships with one another. Second, in virtual communities people form an attachment to the group such that they visit often.

For the purpose of this research, a study by Ridings, Gefen and Arize (2002) offers a definition of virtual community that seems the most complete and flexible given the different types of community that have emerged on the web, and indeed it is commonly used among those who research virtual community. Ridings et al. define virtual community as “groups of people with common interests and practices that communicate regularly and for some duration in an organized way over the Internet through a common location or mechanism” (p. 273). This definition is far-reaching and flexible enough to encapsulate participation in many types of Web-based communities, from bulletin boards to social networks such as Facebook.

Scholars such as Putnam (1995) have famously argued that online associations have the potential to balkanize people rather than bring them together, but there is evidence to support the idea that the Internet can bring people together. The Internet’s relatively short history does show that the first adopters to any new communication technology trend often have been people who are marginalized due to holding a minority viewpoint or because they are a particular minority group in real-world culture (Rodzvilla, 2002), but the Internet also plays a strong role in bonding people of like interests, beliefs, and life experiences together (Norris, 2002) and has the power to create bridges between disparate groups due to egalitarian discourse online (Lin, 2007) or to accomplish other types of goals. For example, adolescents have reported finding greater social satisfaction and connection online, and people with disabilities also have used the Web to create social connections that are difficult in everyday life (Hasselbring & Glaser, 2000). Similarly, in virtual gaming worlds players accomplish tasks together in cooperation for mutual benefit (Ducheneaut et al., 2006). As it relates to online communities, online community members tend to be highly social and possess strong communication skills (Lee & Lee, 2010).

In thinking about people and how they interact both online and offline, the notion that these are separate experience arguably is a false dichotomy. Rainie and Wellman (2012) argue for the concept of the “networked individual” in an era where much of our web interaction is socially connected. In their model, which provides a theoretical layer to understanding Internet use from a networked perspective, individuals do not exist solely offline or online. Instead, individuals shift with ease between online and offline spaces, often occupying both at the same time. Offline community life and online community life are constantly interfacing with one another even while serving as discrete modes of communication at times.  In this view, while online communities do represent a new type of public that is distinct from offline publics, they are not distinct by the fact that they are separate. Instead, the conclusion from Rainie and Wilson is that we need to define online vs. offline community according to their respective functions, the actions one takes in those communities, and the locus of who is affected by those actions.

To do so requires examining network characteristics and outcomes, and the framework used for this study is the concept of social capital. Popularized by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, social capital is the idea that communities gain strength and work better when people take advantage of social ties to work together for mutual benefit in the form of civic engagement behaviors such as voting, volunteering, or aiding others in need (Putnam, 2000).  The core benefit is that people gain a sense of efficacy needed to change their communities for the better when they are empowered to help others through social relationships. People’s attitudes toward institutions such as government are key markers of social capital, but so is a person’s use of news for democratic purpose and association with civic groups because the latter creates networks necessary for exchange and reciprocity (Putnam, 1995, 2000).

Social capital research has two distinct scholarly streams of progression.  The first path, which invokes Bourdieu (1986) and Coleman (1988), focuses on networks between people as a type of roadway for reciprocity.  In Bourdieu’s view, economic transaction is still the building block of societal relations, but it is built within a system of social exchange.  He defines social capital as networked obligations (“connections”) that in certain circumstances can be converted to economic capital. Coleman builds on Bourdieu’s thinking as it relates to the use of social capital in the transmission of resources.  He defines social capital as a network or social structure that allows for certain actions by actors to take place within that system.  For Coleman, the benefit of social capital is that it allows a person in a community to access resources via weak-tie affiliations that they do not have via their own bonded networks (Coleman, 1988). Social capital, which he calls the changes in relationships between people that facilitate action, benefits everyone in a community when it is invested, and the benefit is that it gives people in that community access to physical and human capital.  Similarly, Lin (2001, p. 6) defines social capital as “investment in relationships with expected returns” by using network relationships to serve as ways of helping and vouching for one another in economic or idea exchange.

A second stream made famous several years later by Putnam (2000) takes a less-networked approach and homes in more on the idea of generalized trust (Foley & Edwards, 1999).  In the Putnam conception of social capital, a “virtuous circle” exists between norms, networks, and social trust that spur participation in one’s community in a self-feeding way. Network is merely a variable in social capital, not the basis of the concept itself (Putnam, 2000).  This conception combines networks and participation efforts into a definition of social capital that is distinctly different from the Bourdieu and Coleman conception because engagement then becomes a measure of networks rather than an outcome variable. Unlike the Bourdieu/Coleman branch of research, which sees engagement as an outcome of social capital created by networks (engagement is a dependent variable predicted by social capital), Putnam tends to argue that engagement is a sign of social capital.  This different conception of the relationship between networks and engagement is one reason why scholars have argued that social capital is an ill-defined concept in scholarship (Edwards & Foley, 1998).

The drawback to Putnam’s approach is there is no measure of network quality embedded in his conception. Merely having trust networks are a factor leading an individual around the virtuous circle, in Putnam’s conception, but this relationship doesn’t include measures of network importance, cohesion, type, or quality. In doing so, this conception assumes that networks lead to other factors on the virtuous circle without looking at the factors of how or why. This is why scholars have attempted to understand networks better, and in doing so treat community engagement as the outgrowth of strong, high-quality networks. This research will operate under the same principle and use Coleman’s conception of social capital.

Within the concept of social capital are two distinct forms: bridging and bonding. Bonding social capital exists between members of groups, binding together small homogeneous units such as families, ethnic groups, or religious communities. Bridging social capital consists of heterogeneous ideological and social connections between members of separate bonded groups that provide an avenue for both groups to benefit via a transfer of knowledge or resources (Putnam, 1995). Bridging social capital works because of these “weak-tie” relationships that exist between bonded members, allowing a members of a bonded community to share resources using the social connection created by the weak-tie bridge (Granovetter, 1973). The Internet is good at making weak-tie connections and diversifying a person’s real-world connections, but it also is useful in bonding groups in online community environments (Norris 2002; Hampton, Lee & Her, 2011). An even better predictor is news use. Researchers have found a consistent link between news use and social capital in communities both at the local and regional level, particularly for print and Internet-based sites (Beaudoin & Thorson, 2004; Shah et al., 2001b)

As noted earlier, most scholarship looks at social capital with offline forms of engagement as an outcome variable. Shah et al.  (2002) found that time spent online had positive relationships with engagement in the form of volunteerism and associations.  Others pointed to clear signs that reciprocity was not only happening online, but also that it was serving the purpose of bringing people together across geography for offline action (Wellman et al., 2001; Wellman & Hampton, 1999).  Shah found the same use differences that helped determine whether television use was positively or negatively correlated with social capital (entertainment vs.  information seeking) also applied to the Web, and in fact that generations that were heavily criticized by Putnam as low social capital generators actually were showing more signs of using the Web to connect socially with others in prosocial offline ways (Shah et al., 2001a; Shah et al., 2001b).  Still, there seems to be some real-world influence that is necessary to connect social capital with online community use. Lee and Lee (2010) found that key markers such as trust were missing in online community users unless they possessed high amounts of it in the real world, underscoring Rainie and Wellman’s argument that the online and offline self influence one another.

Williams (2006) found support for the existence of both online and offline social capital that contains both bridging and bonding forms. In this conception, offline social capital is offline engagement for offline benefits and online social capital is engagement in online community for offline benefits. This research attempts to expand on Williams’ work. Rainie and Wellman (2102) argue that online and offline community are distinct elements even as they are intertwined. If this is true, then we should be able to identify a type of social capital that is created online for the benefit of an online community. This research seeks to uncover that variable, called “web-network social capital.”

The research reported here uses the conceptions found in Williams, but for the sake of clarity the variables are renamed.  The “offline” social capital that Williams used will be “local community social capital” for this research, while the “online” version will be “Web-local social capital” to emphasize the ties that are created online for offline benefit in local community, as illustrated in the following figure:

  Localcommunity Web-local Web- network
Relationships formed … Locally Online Online
Benefits of formed relationships exist … Locally Locally Online

The reason for this renaming is that “Web-network social capital,” will be introduced in this study as a way of distinguishing online ties created for the benefit of online networks and communities.  These concepts inform the following research question.

RQ1: Is web-network social capital a concept that is distinct from offline and online forms of social capital?

Social capital and local engagement

This network approach is how Williams (2006) conceived of the relationship between online media and social capital.  By extending on the work Norris (2002) did, Williams conceived of social capital much as Coleman did by noting that it was explained by network ties via bridging and bonding.  Williams then measured bridging and bonding within both online and offline contexts, accounting for results that show social capital can be created in both contexts and that these network ties can be separate from one another.   Online community users report more involvement in clubs and volunteer organizations than non-online community users (Center for the Digital Future, 2009), and thus those who use these communities who report high levels of local-community and Web-local should report higher levels of different types of engagement as their media usage creates stronger and wider social bonds via social capital.  The following hypotheses, then, will serve to examine whether the measures used in this study are in line with past findings.

H1a: There is a positive relationship between local community bonding social capital and local civic engagement in virtual communities.

H1b: There is a positive relationship between local community bridging social capital and local civic engagement in virtual communities.

H2a: There is a positive relationship between Web-local bonding social capital and local civic engagement in virtual communities.

H2b: There is a positive relationship between Web-local bridging social capital and local civic engagement in virtual communities.

These hypotheses, based on the past research previously discussed, will be used for two purposes.  First, they test to see whether relationships that have been previously found in online research apply to online communities.  Second, they are a test of whether social capital as it exists in the real world applies to these online settings.  In that way, these hypotheses are the beginning of an argument about how social capital exists in virtual communities and offer a way of determining face validity to the Web-network social capital construct that will be discussed in the next section.

Social capital and distance engagement

One additional problem comes in differentiating engagement behaviors Putnam (2000) noted as types of “checkbook democracy.”  He posited that a weaker form of engagement is affiliation in national groups that do advocacy but require no commitment beyond a donation.  The ease of joining such groups, he argued, meant it was a form of joining but not as meaningful as joining in a local community.  At the same time, recent presidential election cycles showed a new type of trend on the Web, that of people volunteering to staff phone banks for candidates in faraway districts or donating money to candidates for whom they could not vote due to regional location (Banks, 2009).  In addition, research has shown that reciprocity between people who have never met in the real world but know one another online is taking place in the context of Web communities.  Traditional social capital research has not been able to capture this type of non-local civic engagement, but it seems as if this is fundamentally distinct from checkbook democracy.

This research proposes that behaviors that constitute this non-local type of civic engagement be added to Putnam’s checkbook democracy measure to split out some types of engagement from traditional community-based ones.  One of these non-local indices is based on non-geographic political and cause-based work (distance activism) and one is based on acts of reciprocity and aid through distance (distance helping).  The following hypotheses examine these relationships.

H3a: There is a relationship between Web-local social capital (both bridging and bonding) and distance helping in virtual communities.

H3b: There is a  relationship between Web-local social capital (both bridging and bonding) and distance activism in virtual communities.

H4a: There is a positive relationship between Web-network social capital (both bridging and bonding) and distance helping in virtual communities.

H4b: There is a  relationship between Web-network social capital (both bridging and bonding) and distance activism in virtual communities.


This research employed an online survey method that sampled users from four different niche online news communities.  The specific communities used were chosen because they tend to transcend geography, and thus the topic and theme for the site was more important than the location.  Past research has shown strong gravitation to topics such as politics, parenting, sports, and religion, among others (Porter, 2004; Preece, 2000, 2001) and this served as the starting point in choosing sites.  The survey sampled users from a political Web community, a parenting Web community, a religion Web community, and a sports Web community.  All of the sites used in this study tend to draw mostly users from the United States, according to the sites’ Webmasters, but within that context the sites draw users from many parts of the country. The sites contain both a mix of content and community discussion through forums that users can use to interact with one another via the Web. This mixture was a key characteristic of the sites chosen, as we were interested in news sites that had a forum for community conversation, not merely sites that were entirely built around a forum.

A key methodological problem with online surveys is that they are a convenience sample, and thus not always an accurate look at the population being studied (Williams & Monge, 2001).  To mitigate this problem, the method used for this study employed a random sampling technique by contacting individual members of the community in order to solicit responses in coordination with a message from the site operators so that users would know it was coming from a trusted source.  From this we generated a response rate statistic. The number of surveys filled out served as the numerator, while the number of potential participants served as the denominator.

Responses to the survey (N=582) were generated over a six-week period, across the four sites.  The response rate for the four sites, based on using only the randomly selected participants as outlined in the methods section, was 32.1%, which represents 582 responses from 1,808 selected users.  Several variables were scales constructed from several items.  All of these scales were analyzed using exploratory factor analysis (EFA) with Varimax rotation, and values below an absolute value of 0.6 were not included in the scale.  Only factors with an Eigenvalue greater than 1.0 were accepted for analysis.  The indices also were tested for reliability using Cronbach’s alpha, with a minimum threshold of 0.7 required for a reliable scale.

Independent variables

Three independent variables measuring the types of social capital proposed by this research were used in this study (local community social capital, Web-local social capital, and Web-network social capital).  Each of these variables consisted of multi-item indices for the factors of bridging and bonding, consistent with past research, and the questions used to build each are found in the appendix.   The local community social capital and Web-local social capital scales come from Williams (2006), and the Web-network social capital scale was created by using the questions and making them specific to online networks only.

Local community social capital is defined as the degree to which people were connected socially to people in their local community.  It had two facets consistent with the literature, “bonding” and “bridging” and is consistent with Williams’ version of offline social capital.  Bonding is typified by such questions as, “The people I interact with in my neighborhood or community would be good job references for me.”  Bridging is typified by such questions as, “Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community gives me new people to talk to.”  The variable based on this construct was measured using a 5-point Likert scale.  EFA found two factors that accounted for 65.03% of the variance and values under 0.6 were discarded (see Appendix 1 for the questions).  Reliability scores for local community bonding ( = .92) and local community bridging ( =.94) were both acceptable using the .70 threshold.

Web-local social capital (IV/DV2) was defined as the degree to which people are connected socially to people in their online community in ways that bring offline benefit and is based on Williams’ version of online social capital. What distinguishes this version from the local community social capital construct is that while the benefits come to people in terms of improved trust and contentment in the context of their home community, the networks and relationships that facilitate these benefits are created in online contexts similar to what Norris (2002) found. Consistent with the local community version of this measure, it has two facets found in the literature, “bonding” and “bridging.” Bonding is typified by such questions as “When I feel lonely, there are several people on this community site I can talk to.” Bridging is typified by such questions “Interacting with people on this community site makes me interested in things that happen outside of my town.” This variable was measured using a 5-point Likert scale. Factor analysis for Web-local social capital was performed using the same method as the method for local community social capital. EFA found two factors that accounted for 62.67% of the variance and values under 0.6 were discarded (see Appendix 1 for the questions).  Reliability scores for Web-local bonding ( = .94) and Web-local bridging ( = .92) were both acceptable using the .70 threshold.

The final independent variable used for this research is the new construct being tested in this research. Web-network social capital (IV/DV3) was defined as the degree to which people are connected socially to people in their online community in ways that bring benefit to the online community in which they participate. What distinguishes this Web-network social capital from the other two versions being measured in this research is that it examines the networks of relationships that exist within the context of that online community in order to see what civic-type behaviors exist that might help build and maintain that online community. Consistent with both the Web-local and local community versions of this measure, Web-network social capital maintains two facets consistent with the literature, “bonding” and “bridging.” Web-network social capital from bonding comes from the results of relationships that help people find connections with groups or individuals that share common traits such as common ideals, beliefs, or interests that form the common reason for their Web community’s existence. It is typified by such questions as, “There are several people on this community site I trust to help solve problems I am having with the site.” Web-local social capital from bridging comes from the result of relationships that expose the person to a set of ideas or people outside their own Web community and indicate interest in what other Web communities are doing.  It is typified by such questions as, “Interacting with people in this community site makes me interested in things that are happening in other Web communities” and “Interacting with people in this community site gives me new people to read about on the Web.” This variable was measured using a 5-point Likert scale. Because this is a new variable being tested in this study, factor analysis and reliability results are contained in the next section as the answer to RQ1.

Dependent variables

The final two variables are purely dependent variables used to test the hypotheses and the ultimate goal of the model: local engagement and distance engagement.

Local engagement was defined as actions done within a local community that help others or further civic or democratic goals. The measurement in this case would scale different types of democratic or pro-social behaviors and is split among three different facets:  participation in community activities, work on community projects, and activism within the community. This variable was measured using a 5-point Likert scale.  EFA resulted in three factors accounting for 64.68% of the variance. The first factor, called “community issues,” grouped questions related to working in local politics or working to create change in communities using awareness and the political process. The second factor was related to involvement and work in organizations such as churches or charities, and thus the factor was called “service.” The third factor grouped questions about helping neighbors or socializing with them, and thus this social bonding variable was labeled “neighbors” due to the strength of connections being measured in this index. “Voting” loaded as a fourth separate factor as a single item measuring voting frequency. Reliability scores for community issues ( = .88), service ( = .79), and community ( = .81) were both acceptable using the .70 threshold.

Distance engagement was defined as actions done that help others or further civic or democratic goals in places other than where a person lives. The measurement in this case was split between two different facets: involvement in issues of national interest and giving to national causes or campaigns. This variable was measured using a 5-point Likert scale.  EFA found two factors that accounted for 58.00% of the variance. The first factor grouped contributions or work done for national campaigns, issue advocacy, or candidates in regions other than the participants’ local home, and the factor was named “distance activism” to account for this. The second factor encompassed the aspect of helping others financially or otherwise when the only bond between the helper and the person being helped is that the connection was forged first online. Thus the variable was named “distance helping.” Reliability scores for distance activism ( = .87) and helping ( = .79) were both acceptable using the .70 threshold.


This study attempts to determine the existence of Web-network social capital as a distinct concept. RQ1 asked whether Web-network social capital is distinguishable from Web-local social capital. The results indicate there is support for these scales. EFA on the 20 Web-network questions (10 for bonding and 10 for bridging) along with the 40 questions for the local community and Web-local social capital scales showed that each of these three types of social capital was distinct from one another and that each factor split along bridging and bonding facets. Table 1 indicates these six factors accounted for 64.50% of the variance and provided the first evidence that Web-network social capital is a separate construct from the other two measures of social capital and describes something new about online communities. A separate EFA on just the Web-network bridging and bonding factors, done in order to confirm that these two facets were indeed separate from one another simply in the context of the construct Web-network social capital, found that these factors accounted for 57.32% of the variance that emerged in the factor analysis. Thus, support was found for the notion of Web-network social capital having bonding and bridging factors through this exploratory factor analysis.


Factor loadings based on Principal Component Analysis with Direct Oblimin rotation for 60 items involving Local Community, Web-Local, and Web-network social capital (N = 582)

  Local Bridging Local Bonding Web-local Bridging Web-local Bonding Web-network Bridging Web-network Bonding
LCBr1 .67          
LCBr2 .70         .52
LCBr3 .68          
LCBr4 .72          
LCBr5 .88 -.51        
LCBr6 .79          
LCBr7 .72          
LCBr8 .82          
LCBO1   .84        
LCBO2   .80        
LCBO3   .83        
LCBO4   .86        
LCBO5   .90        
LCBO6   .78        
LCBO7   .72        
LCBO8   .83        
WLBr1     .67      
WLBr2     .69      
WLBr3     .77      
WLBr4     .62      
WLBr5     .82      
WLBr6     .91      
WLBr7     .85      
WLBr8     .86      
WLBr9     .71      
WLBr10     .58      
WLBO1       .53    
WLBO2     .52 .67    
WLBO3       .83    
WLBO4       .76    
WLBO5       .79    
WLBO6       .83    
WLBO7       .90    
WNBR1         .83  
WNBR2         .66  
WNBR3         .74  
WNBR4         .83  
WNBR5         .82  
WNBO1           .77
WNBO2           .91
WNBO3           .90
WNBO4           .94
WNBO5           .74

The final step was to do a confirmatory factor analysis in order to determine whether the theoretical basis for these factors would hold up under more robust factor analysis testing. The CFA was done in AMOS 16.0 using only the loadings that were over .60 in the EFA run beforehand. The final Web-network social capital model presented two different factors (bonding and bridging) and was found to be a good fit without losing any questions from the EFA (2 = 1.85, df = 9, CMIN = 0.21, p > .05; GFI = 0.95; RMSEA = 0.01). Reliability tests found these two facets to be above the .70 threshold. Thus, the results show support for the existence of Web-network social capital as a construct that is distinct from two other forms of social capital previously seen in mass communication research.

H1a predicted there is a positive relationship between local community bonding social capital and local engagement among users of virtual communities. Table 2 indicates this hypothesis was supported. Local community bonding (M = 3.38, SD = .95, N = 582) had a highly significant positive relationship with community issues (M = 2.25, SD = 1.15, N = 582; r(580) = .21, p < .01), service (M =2.59, SD = 1.31, N = 582; r(580) = .26, p < .01), neighbors (M = 3.36, SD = .99, N = 582; r(580) = .49, p < .01), and voting (M = 4.48, SD = 1.08, N = 582; r(580) = .12, p < .01).

H1b predicted there is a positive relationship between local community bridging social capital and local engagement among users of virtual communities. Table 2 indicates this hypothesis was supported. Local community bridging social capital (M = 3.57, SD = .85, N = 582) also had a highly significant positive relationship with community issues (M = 2.25, SD = 1.15, N = 582; r(580) = .17, p < .01), service (M = 2.59, SD = 1.31, N = 582; r(580) = .26, p < .01), neighbors (M = 3.36, SD = .99, N = 582; r(580) = .33, p < .01) and voting (M = 4.48, SD = 1.08, N = 582; r(580) = .13, p < .01).


Correlations between the measures of Local Community social capital and the measures of Local Engagement (N = 582)

  1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Local Community Bonding 1.00 .66** .21** .26** .49** .12**
2. Local Community Bridging   1.00 .17** .26** .33** .13**
3. Local: Community Issues     1.00 .12** .23** .27**
4. Local: Service       1.00 .30** .19**
5. Local: Neighbors         1.00 .17**
6. Local: Voting           1.00

** p < 0.01

The results of this hypothesis are in line with the literature that finds a strong relationship between social capital built in local communities and people’s engagement in those communities. Recall from previous research that high social capital in local communities tends to predict civic activity. The results from these hypotheses serve as face validity for the measurements given that the results are in line with previous research.

H2a predicted a positive relationship between Web-local bonding social capital and local engagement in virtual communities. This hypothesis was partially supported. Web-local bonding social capital (M = 3.07, SD = 1.05, N = 582) was positively associated only with neighbors (r(580) = .08, p < .05) while it was negatively associated with community issues (r(580) = -.04, p < .01). Table 3 indicates web-local bonding was not significantly correlated with service or voting, although the relationship was approaching significance. H2b predicted a positive relationship between Web-local bridging social capital and local engagement in virtual communities. Table 3 indicates this hypothesis was supported.  Web-local bridging (M = 4.12, SD = .65, N = 582) had a significant positive relationship with community issues (r(580) = .12, p < .01), service (r(580) = .08, p < .05), neighbors (r(580) = .16, p < .01), and voting (r(580) = .15, p < .01), although none of the three Pearson correlation figures was above .20.

The results of this hypothesis are in line with the finding of Norris (2002) that the ties created by Web-local bridging are more effective at creating engagement in local community than Web-local bonding. While the literature review noted that bonding can play a role in creating engagement in communities, it is considered a weaker predictor because it is a more insular form of networking than the weak ties created by bridges.


Correlations between the measures of Web-Local social capital and the measures of Local Engagement (N = 582)

  1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Web-Local Bonding social capital 1.00 .45** -.04** .03 .08* -.03
2. Web-Local Bridging social capital   1.00 .12** .08* .16** .15**
3. Local: Community Issues     1.00 .12** .23** .27**
4. Local: Service       1.00 .30** .19**
5. Local: Neighbors         1.00 .17**
6. Local: Voting           1.00

** p < 0.01 ; * p < 0.05

H3a predicted a relationship between Web-local social capital (bridging and bonding) and distance helping in virtual communities. This hypothesis was supported. Web-local bonding was positively correlated with distance helping (M = 2.90, SD = 1.26, N = 582; r(580) = .38, p < .01) as was Web-local bridging (r(580) = .31, p < .01). H3b predicted a relationship between Web-local social capital (bridging and bonding) and distance activism in virtual communities. Table 4 indicates this hypothesis was not supported. Web-local bonding was negatively correlated with distance activism (M = 2.34, SD = 1.33, N = 582; r(580) = -.20, p < .01) but Web-local bridging was not associated with the dependent variable.

The correlations for distance helping were stronger than they were for forms of activism.  The hypotheses did not predict a direction because of the nature of the Web-local social capital construct. These are online community users used to making connections online, but it was unclear whether those online ties would lead to online forms of engagement. It should be noted that Web-local bonding and bridging both are highly correlated (r(580) = .45, p < .01) and thus these factors are working together with each of the distance engagement variables.


Correlations between the measures of Web-Local social capital and the measures of Distance Engagement (N = 582)

  1 2 3 4
1. Web-Local Bonding social capital 1.00 .45** -.20** .38**
2. Web-Local Bridging social capital   1.00 .05 .31**
3. Distance: Activism     1.00 .19**
4. Distance: Helping       1.00

** p < 0.01

H4a predicted a positive relationship between Web-network social capital (bridging and bonding) and distance helping in virtual communities. Table 5 indicates this hypothesis was supported.  Web-network bonding (M = 3.68, SD = .78, N = 582) was positively correlated with distance helping (M = 2.90, SD = 1.26, N = 582; r(573) = .34, p < .01) and Web-network bridging (M = 3.50, SD = .69, N = 582) also was positively correlated with distance helping (r(580) = .15, p < .01). H4b predicted a relationship between Web-network social capital (bridging and bonding) and distance activism in virtual communities. Table 5 indicates this hypothesis was not supported. Web-network bonding was negatively correlated with distance activism (M = 2.34, SD = 1.33, N = 582; r(573) = -.23, p < .01) but Web-network bridging had no relationship with the dependent variable

Taken together, H3 and H4 seem to support that activity online is not necessarily strong for political engagement, but it is strongly associated with helping others that one meets online.  Just as was the case with Web-local social capital, the stronger correlations were found with helping others whom a person meets online. The results indicate that the relationships built offline connect people to resources both within the community and beyond that network and that the result is that users of these communities are more likely to help people they meet online as a result of those connections.


Correlations between the measures of Web-network social capital and the measures of Distance Engagement (N = 582)

  1 2 3 4
1. Web-network Bonding Social Capital 1.00 .23** -.23** .34**
2. Web-network Bridging Social Capital   1.00 .08 .15**
3. Distance: Activism     1.00 .19**
4. Distance: Helping       1.00

** p < 0.01

The question, then, is whether ties created offline via local community social capital behave in the same way. An additional analysis, examining the correlation between local community social capital and the distance engagement variables , as shown in Table 6, shows differences. In this analysis, distance activism (M = 2.34, SD = 1.33, N = 582) was positively correlated with local community bonding (r(580) = .12, p < .01) and local community bridging (r(580) = .12, p < .01). But for distance helping, it was positively correlated with local community bonding only (M = 2.90, SD = 1.26, N = 582; r(580) = .14, p < .01)

Given the results in H3 and H4 plus the extra analysis with local community social capital, it seems clear that these six social capital variables are behaving differently depending on whether the form of engagement is local or over distance due to online ties. Regression analysis was used as the next step in order to determine which forms of social capital were having the most impact on the distance engagement variables after accounting for demographics. The hierarchical regression employed entered demographic variables into the first block, followed by a block consisting of local community bonding social capital, local community bridging social capital, Web-local bonding social capital, Web-local bridging social capital, Web-network bonding social capital, and Web-network bridging social capital. A separate regression was run for each of the two distance engagement factors, activism and helping.


Correlations between the measures of Local Community social capital and the measures of Distance Engagement (N = 582)

  1 2 3 4
1. Local Community Bonding 1.00 .66** .12** .14**
2. Local Community Bridging   1.00 .12** .03
3. Distance: Activism     1.00 .19**
4. Distance: Helping       1.00

** p < 0.01


Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for Demographics and Social Capital variables predicting the measures of Distance Activism (N = 582)

  Model 1
Model 2
Social Capital
Demographics B SE b B SE b
Gender (Female = 0, Male = 1) .20 .11 .07 .23 .11 .08 *
U.S. Citizen? (No = 0, Yes = 1) -.45 .21 -.08* -.52 .21 -.09*
Education .10 .03 .11** .08 .03 .09*
Employment .04 .02 .07 .03 .02 .07
Income .06 .02 .12** .06 .02 .12**
Marital (Unmarried = 0, Married = 1) -.03 .08 -.02 -.08 .08 -.04
Ethnicity .11 .07 .06 .04 .07 .02
Time Online (Hours per day) .01 .01 .02 .01 .01 .02
Posts per day -.03 .01 -.12** -.03 .01 -.12**
Age .05 .01 .44** .05 .01 .11**
Social Capital   B SE b
Local Community Bonding   .17 .07 .40**
Local Community Bridging   -.01 .08 -.01
Web-Local Bonding Social Capital   -.07 .08 -.05
Web-Local Bridging Social Capital   .28 .11 .12*
Web-network Bonding Social Capital   -.14 .12 -.08
Web-network Bridging Social Capital   .05 .09 .03
R2 .53 .56
Adjusted R2 .29 .32
F for R2 change 22.31 (p < .01) 15.95 (p < .01)

* p < .05
** p < .01

The final model, shown in Table 7, explained a strongly significant proportion of variance distance activism (R2 = .32, F(16, 553) = 15.95, p < .01). Of the social capital constructs, the strongest predictor in the whole model was local community bonding (b = .42, t(553) = 2.51, p < .01) and Web-local bridging (b = .18, t(553) = 2.51, p < .05) also was a strong predictor. No other social capital indices were significant.

The second regression looked at helping others online. The final model, shown in Table 8, explained a significant proportion of variance in distance helping (R2 = .27, F(16, 553) = 12.79, p < .01). Of the social capital predictors in the final model, Web-network bonding (b = .37, t(553) = 5.73, p < .01) emerged as the strongest predictor in the whole model and also got positive prediction from Web-network bridging (b = .16, t(553) = 2.80, p < .01) and local community bonding (b = .18, t(553) = 3.47, p< .01). Local community bridging, on the other hand, was a negative predictor (b = -.20, t(553) = -3.84, p < .01).


Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for Demographics and Social Capital variables predicting the measures of Distance Helping among online community users (N = 582)

  Model 1
Model 2
Social Capital
Demographics B SE b B SE b
Gender (Female = 0, Male = 1) -.73 .11 -.27** -.49 .11 -.18**
U.S. Citizen? (No = 0, Yes = 1) .50 .22 .09* .41 .21 .07
Education .11 .03 .14** .14 .03 .17**
Employment .03 .02 .06 -.01 .02 -.01
Income -.05 .02 -.10* -.04 .02 -.08*
Marital (Unmarried = 0, Married = 1) -.00 .08 -.00 -.01 .07 -.01
Ethnicity .20 .07 .12** .06 .07 .04
Time Online (Hours per day) .02 .02 .05 .00 .01 .01
Posts per day .04 .01 .19** .02 .01 .08*
Age -.04 .01 -.04 -.00 .00 -.03
Social capital   B SE b
Local Community Bonding   .24 .07 .18**
Local Community Bridging   -.30 .08 -.20**
Web-Local Bonding Social Capital   -.19 .12 -.12
Web-Local Bridging Social Capital   .04 .08 .02
Web-network Bonding Social Capital   .45 .08 .37**
Web-network Bridging Social Capital   .31 .11 .16**
R2 .39 .52
Adjusted R2 .15 .27
F for R2 change 10.15 (p < .01) 12.70 (p < .01)

** p < .01
* p < .05


Considering the context of this research, that it was conducted by surveying users of online community news sites, the results show there is promise in building places for community conversation into news sites. Past research already has shown a strong link between news use and social capital in local communities, and with the emergence of the Web-network social capital variable in this research it shows that giving people forums for comment and discussion beyond the comments section of a news story offers people another avenue for building and spending social capital. When news sites give users online community tools, they are cultivating a new type of audience that has different characteristics than its offline readership.

Given the strong link between news use and involvement in communities, the results here have several implications. First, giving local users some ability to participate on the site and get to know one another in a community forum could help local engagement. One way to think about this is as a step-ladder of engagement based on what past research has shown, where association with neighbors is considered the easiest form of civic engagement because you live in the same area and see one another; bonding and bridging were both positively associated with this construct. Next in the thread is voting, volunteering, or doing service in the community, and while the Web-local bridging was positively associated with it, bonding was showed no relationship. The step that requires the most effort is activism, which requires a continuous investment of time, effort and attention to community issues. In this case, bonding is a negative predictor and bridging is a positive predictor. As one goes up the ladder, bridging takes on more importance as bonding’s role decreases.

Second, the key finding in this research is that the new concept of “Web-network” exists as a way to describe the makeup of online communities, and the results of the final regressions show how it can help predict offline activity in concert with a user’s local place of residence.  Like the Web-local version of social capital, which consists of ties created online that extend into one’s local community offline, Web-network social capital in online communities appears to work best when paired with local community social capital. While the Web-network and local community measures are distinct per the factor analyses, the final regression model shows that the two are working together to predict non-local forms of engagement. This also offers some validation to the theoretical layering offered by Rainie and Wellman (2012), which noted a distinct but intertwined relationship between the online and offline self. The web-network social capital generated by the online self is distinct from the local networks built in geographic communities, but they do influence one another and work together.

The final regressions suggest a window into how news sites can encourage online community behaviors that have an impact on faraway causes, a topic traditionally unexplored because so much social capital and news research is done at the local or regional level. The presence of a strong bonding predictor matches some of what Putnam (2000) notes when he talks about how the “checkbook democracy” that comes with giving money to causes rather than doing the harder work in local community is an indicator of insular ties that are akin to bonding rather than ties created across people groups in local community. Web-local bridging’s presence is an indicator that people are using their online ties to get involved in causes outside their local community. While this might seem contradictory to the local community bonding argument, consider that it might be that these two variables work together when it comes to distance activism. Because the literature defines Web-local social capital as networks created online for the purpose of local offline action, perhaps in the case of distance activism the Web-local bridging in online communities serves as a bridge to resources online as well. That is, an unengaged person in a local community might not think to be involved locally or by distance even if they have only strong local community bonding in their network of relationships.

Web-local bonding, then, might work to spur a person to begin turning their attention outward. In a sense, local community social capital is a precursor to online forms of engagement (either helping or distance activism), Web-network social capital is the conduit that allows people to direct their offline resources toward reciprocity in the form of helping others online, while Web-local social capital is what helps users direct resources in the form of distance activism. Thus, a user of these communities enters having the trait of high local community social capital, but the networks and relationships created online via social capital allow the user to extend that trait to people they meet virtually and to treat online communities in a similar way to how they regard offline civic community. A person’s Web-network social capital could be at work in online interactions while also serving as a conduit to online forms of helping that is a natural extension of a user’s proclivity toward offline engagement.

With Web-network social capital established as a concept, there are future research directions worth pursuing. First, past research has shown that motivations for using different types of media have played a role in determining how traditional social capital works. It would be worthwhile to see how motivations for online news community use work with Web-network social capital. Second, this study aggregated results without attention paid to the topic that bound the user’s particular community together. It could be that different communities behave differently when it comes to web-network social capital depending on the community’s common interests (i.e. some communities might tend toward activism or helping others depending on topic). Third, it might be useful to further explore the concept of distance engagement now that it is a distinct variable from local forms within this strain of social capital research. Perhaps there are differences between helping other institutions and helping individuals met online. Finally, it might be that certain types of communities might be more or less prone to generating web-network social capital. Perhaps certain structures (such as chat, web forum, or diary-based formats) are better at creating this web-network social capital than others.

As with any research, this study has limitations. The sample pulled from users of news communities, and thus the results might not be indicative of all online community users. Second,  because users were sampled after posting or commenting, it should be understood that this was a sample of active online community members. Because of this, the conception of what it means to be a community member is different than if a researcher were sampling a real-world population because in that case there would be a mix of active and non-active members.


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IV: Local community social capital

Measurement: 5-point Likert scale

Factor 1: Local community bonding

  1. There is someone in my neighborhood or community I can turn to for advice about making very important decisions.
  2. There is no one in my neighborhood or community that I feel comfortable talking to about intimate personal problems.  (reversed)
  3. When I feel lonely, there are several people in my neighborhood or community I can talk to.
  4. If I needed an emergency loan of $100, I know someone in my neighborhood or community I can turn to.
  5. The people I interact with in my neighborhood or community would put their reputation on the line for me.
  6. The people I interact with in my neighborhood or community would be good job references for me.
  7. The people I interact with in my neighborhood or community would share their last dollar with me.
  8. I do not know people in my neighborhood or community well enough to get them to do anything important.  (reversed)

Factor 2: Local community bridging

  1. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community makes me interested in things that happen outside of my town.
  2. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community makes me want to try new things.
  3. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community makes me interested in what people unlike me are thinking.
  4. Talking with people in my neighborhood or community makes me curious about other places in the world.
  5. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community makes me feel like part of a larger community.
  6. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community makes me feel connected to the bigger picture.
  7. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community reminds me that everyone in the world is connected.
  8. Interacting with people in my neighborhood or community gives me new people to talk to.

IV: Web-local social capital

Measurement: 5-point Likert scale

Factor 1: Web-local bonding

  1. There are several people on [enter Web community site here] I trust to help solve my problems.
  2. There is someone on [enter Web community site here] I can turn to for advice about making very important decisions.
  3. When I feel lonely, there are several people on [enter Web community site here] I can talk to.
  4. If I needed an emergency loan of $500, I know someone on [enter Web community site here] I can turn to.
  5. The people I interact with on [enter Web community site here] would put their reputation on the line for me.
  6. The people I interact with on [enter Web community site here] would be good job references for me.
  7. The people I interact with on [enter Web community site here] would share their last dollar with me.

Factor 2: Web-local bridging

  1. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me interested in things that happen outside of my town.
  2. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me want to try new things.
  3. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me interested in what people unlike me are thinking.
  4. Talking with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me curious about other places in the world.
  5. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me feel like part of a larger community.
  6. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me feel connected to the bigger picture.
  7. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] reminds me that everyone in the world is connected.
  8. I am willing to spend time to support general [enter Web community site here] activities.
  9. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] gives me new people to talk to.
  10. On [enter Web community site here], I come in contact with new people all the time.

IV: Web-network social capital

Measurement: 5-point Likert scale

Factor 1: Web-network bonding

  1. There are several people on [enter Web community site here] I trust to help solve problems I am having with the site.
  2. There is someone on [enter Web community site here] I can turn to for advice about the site
  3. There is no one on [enter Web community site here] that I feel comfortable talking to about intimate personal problems.  (reversed)
  4. The people I interact with on [enter Web community site here] would put their reputation on the line for me if I was involved in a dispute on the site.
  5. The people I interact with on [enter Web community site here] would help me freely if I had any questions.

Factor 2: Web-network bridging

  1. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me interested in things that are happening in other Web communities.
  2. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me want to be a part of other Web communities.
  3. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me interested in other Web communities are talking about.
  4. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] makes me feel like part of a larger network of Web communities.
  5. Interacting with people on [enter Web community site here] reminds me that everyone on the Web is connected.

DV: Local engagement

Measurement: 1-5 semantic differential scale, Never to Regularly

Factor 1: Community Issues

  1. I work for local political campaigns
  2. I help with local efforts to get petition signatures
  3. I work to help raise awareness on important issues in my community

Factor 2: Service

  1. I volunteer or work for a local charity.
  2. I work on activities through my local church or service organization.
  3. I attend religious services.

Factor 3: Neighbors

  1. I help neighbors when they are in need.
  2. I take care of my neighbors’ children when the need arises.
  3. I host or attend dinner parties with friends or neighbors

DV: Distance engagement

Measurement: 1-5 semantic differential scale, Never to Regularly

Factor 1: Distance Activism

  1. I have contributed money to candidates running in areas outside my community even though I cannot vote for them
  2. I donate to national or state political campaigns
  3. I have campaigned for candidates running in areas outside my community even if I cannot vote for them
  4. I am a member of a national issue-advocacy organization (such as the NRA or Sierra Club)
  5. I donate money to national causes that I care about

Factor 2: Helping

  1. I have helped out someone that I have never met in-person via the Internet
  2. I have given money to help out someone I first met online


Community Journalism Journal

A Rural Drought in a National Flood: Washington State Residents’ Assessments of Local News

Doug Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam

The ubiquity of national-level outlets creates the illusion of an abundance of news even as the number of local outlets declines. This study is a report of state and national surveys assessing local news by rural and non-rural residents of Washington state. The findings point to a lack of locally relevant content, not a lack of skills or interest among rural Washingtonians. Implications for rural Washington state citizens’ political knowledge and civic participation are discussed.

The authors are grateful for the support of the Knight Foundation of New York and Murrow College Founding Dean Lawrence Pintak.

The multiplicity of national-level sources of news, such as cable news channels and the Web sites and social media sites of national news organizations creates the impression of an abundance of news. The reality is that locally relevant news coverage, particularly in small, rural communities, has diminished, even as national-level sources have expanded (Waldman, 2011, July, p. 5). Crucial links among news media, citizen participation, and community cohesion are threatened by a diminished local news presence (Yamamoto, 2011; Yamamoto & Ran, 2013).

This study assesses local news from the perspectives and behaviors of residents of Washington state. Specifically, the study compares rural and non-rural residents of Washington state in their assessment of the difficulty in accessing local and non-local news from a variety of media. In order to provide a context, Washington responses were compared with those from a representative national-level survey fielded one year earlier by the Pew Center (Pew Internet and American Life, 2011, January 1).

Previous research suggests that rural areas were disproportionately affected by the elimination of regional correspondents and the long-term trend of a pullback of the non-metro circulation of metropolitan dailies (Donohue, Tichenor, & Olien, 1986). Those trends were exacerbated by continued media consolidation, broadcast deregulation, economic pressures including the 2008 recession, and challenges to the news industry posed by free online content and classified advertising (Waldman, 2011, July).


The most ubiquitous sources of local news are television stations, community newspapers, and local radio stations. Local television is the source of local news for the majority of Americans (Pew Research Center, 2014a, p. 6). Increasingly, few television stations are producing their own local newscasts in the wake of a flurry of station consolidation and cost-cutting (p. 7). Both newspapers and radio stations have reduced news staffs over the past 30 years in response to declining revenues and audiences (Waldman, 2011, July, pp. 62-66). American citizens have noticed the decline in local news, and nearly one in three have turned away from a media outlet because it no longer provides the news they expect (Enda & Mitchell, 2013).

Newspaper revenues in 2012 were less than half of 2007 levels (Edmonds, et al., 2013, March 8). The recession of 2008 affected big city dailies more than small town weeklies; however, the impact on regional communities was felt as big city dailies closed regional bureaus (Cross, Bissett, & Arrowsmith, 2011 July). Regional daily newspapers have increasingly limited coverage of neighboring towns and cities (Waldman, 2011, July, p. 46).

Local radio news has declined since the deregulatory era of the 1980s, which conflated public interest with marketplace viability (Benton Foundation, 1999, May 3). Commercial radio news is limited to top-of-the-hour newscasts; news/talk/personality stations are more talk than news and feature almost exclusively nationally syndicated programming (Santhanam, Mitchell, & Olmstead, 2013, March 8). The median full-time radio news staff size for all markets in 2012 was 1 employee (Papper, 2012, November 13).

Local television stations, the preferred source of news cited by U.S. adults (Edmonds, et al., 2012), have turned their news departments into profit centers. Television news departments produced nearly half of all station revenues in 2012 and nearly 60% of news departments turned a profit (Papper, 2012, November 13). About 45% of stations added newscasts from 2011 to 2012, primarily in the early morning hours, to capture additional revenue.  A record 5.5 hours of news aired on local stations in 2012, almost an hour more than in 2008 (Papper, 2012, November 13). In spite of these adjustments, local TV revenues, when adjusted for inflation, were at a 15-year low (Edmonds, et al., 2012). While employment levels have nearly rebounded to the peak reached in 2000 (Papper, 2012, November 13), many veteran reporters have been replaced by entry-level novices resulting in fewer investigative reports and less consistent coverage of local public affairs (Schwanbeck & Schwanbeck, 2011, April 22).

Considering the issues in local news discussed above, the main research questions raised in this study are:

RQ1: Do rural and non-rural Washington residents differ in their perception of the difficulty in accessing local news now versus five years ago?

RQ2: Do rural and non-rural Washington residents differ in the frequency by which they access local and non-local news from a variety of news media, and are these different in Washington state from those at the national level?

RQ3: Are rural and non-rural residents of Washington State different in terms of political knowledge and civic participation, and is there a relationship between frequency of local news access and political knowledge?


To answer these questions, the researchers fielded a survey of Washington state adults from March 21 to April 27, 2012. This study includes an analysis of the findings from that survey. For comparison, this study also includes analyses of specific items that were repeated in a national survey fielded by the Pew Center for the People and the Press in January, 2011 (Pew Internet and American Life, 2011, January).

The Washington State adult sample included 995 adults age 18+ invited by Qualtrics and its online sample providers to participate in the survey to earn points that could be exchanged for rewards, such as money or items. The sample included an over-sample of 200 rural respondents to allow for sufficient statistical power for comparisons with non-rural residents. Nearly 3,000 participants began the survey. Respondents were disqualified for: not completing the survey; taking too long or not enough time to complete specific items; or for not meeting demographic targets such as age, Washington residence, or sex. The completion rate was 33.4%.

Panel members were randomly sampled from quota groups to produce a final sample that was comparable to the 2010 Washington State census parameters for age, sex, and race. Appendix Table 1 shows the Washington sample was slightly lower in the youngest age category, with 9.8% in the 18-24 age group versus 12.6% in the 2010 U.S. Census, and slightly higher in the Washington 50-64 and 65+ age categories than in the 2010 U.S. Census. The Washington sample was comparable to the Census parameters for sex. For racial categories, the Washington sample had a higher percentage of Whites (82.6 vs. 77.3%) than the 2010 U.S. Census, and a significantly lower percentage of Hispanics (3.9 in Washington versus 11.2 for the 2010 U.S. Census).

Due to the large increase in reliance of cellular phones and the Internet as primary communication outlets, especially for young people, random digit dialing is no longer a feasible method to reach a probability sample (Schaffner, 2011). There is ongoing debate in the survey science community about how to best resolve recent challenges to gathering representative samples. Matched quota opt-in Internet panels provide an alternative sampling method to reach members from a population. Some validating survey research has found little to no difference in terms of response quality when comparing opt-in quota samples to traditional probability sampling techniques (Sanders, Clark, & Stewart, 2007; Ansolabehere & Schaffner, 2014). Others have found higher levels of error in this comparison (i.e. Chang & Krosnick, 2009; Yeager Krosnick, Chang, Javitz, Levendusky, Simpser, & Wang, 2011).


RQ1: Evaluation and uses of traditional, Web-based, and mobile media sources of local, state and national news.

The question of whether rural and non-rural respondents perceived a difference in the local news environment (“today compared to five years ago”) was first raised by the Pew Internet and American Life  (2011, January 1) U.S. survey, and again in the 2012 Washington state survey.[1]  Figure 1 below shows that the difference between rural and non-rural Washington residents’ perceived difficulty in keeping up with local news today compared with 5 years ago was statistically significant, with non-rural residents finding it easier to keep up with news about local communities than rural residents.[2]  Overall, Washington adults’ responses were statistically closer to the “easier” pole than respondents in the sample of U.S. adults (see Appendix Table 2).


These results require a somewhat nuanced interpretation. Overall, respondents considered it between “easier” and “the same” as five years ago in keeping up with information and news about one’s local community. This would seem to indicate that respondents do not perceive a problem with the availability of local news and information. However, the systematic tendency of non-rural residents to score closer to the “easier” category than rural residents of both Washington and the United States suggests there are significant geographic-based differences that require further analysis.

The majority of the following results demonstrate that the disparity between rural and non-rural residents persists regarding the frequency of obtaining local news from traditional and new media. These differences disappear, for the most part, in measures of frequency with which they access state and national news media.

RQ2: Differences between rural and non-rural Washington residents in accessing local and non-local news from a variety of news media and between Washington state residents and U.S. adults in general.


As shown in Figure 2, rural and non-rural Washington residents report nearly the same frequency with which they obtain local news from the print version of a local newspaper. Table 3 shows the statistical tests associated with Figure 2.


For all respondents, the average frequency of using a local newspaper is “several times a month.”  This is a reasonable response for rural residents who rely on weekly newspapers. However, for non-rural respondents with access to a daily newspaper, “several times a month” is quite low, perhaps reflecting the declining circulation of daily newspapers (Newspaper Association of America, 2012, September 4).

The advent of newspaper Web sites is often posed as a geography-bridging technology to erase the rural penalty in access to local news (Hindman, Ernst, & Richardson, 2001). The results in Table 4 show that citizens across the nation report accessing the Web site or mobile site of a local newspaper almost as frequently as they access the print version: several times a month. The pattern of differences between rural and urban residents, both in Washington and the United States, also appears in Table 4. This shows that rural residents in Washington and the United States make less frequent use of the Web site of a local newspaper for local news than do non-rural residents. In general, however, Washington residents make significantly more frequent use of local newspaper Web sites than do U.S. adults.


Television is the most frequently cited means by which U.S. adults obtain news “yesterday” (Santhanam, Mitchell, & Olmstead, 2013, March 8). The results from the Washington survey consistent with that finding; the average frequency of obtaining information about one’s local community from local television news broadcasts was closer to “several times a week” versus “several times a month” for local newspapers. Figure 3 reflects the tendency of local news broadcasts to focus on metropolitan communities. Rural residents from Washington were significantly less frequent users of television for local news than were non-rural residents.


When comparing Washington residents with U.S. adults, Table 5 indicates that Washington residents were significantly less frequent users of local television news than were U.S. adults, and Washington rural residents were significantly less frequent local television users for local news than any other group. The likely explanation is the concentration of local television stations in four main metropolitan markets in Washington: Seattle-Tacoma, Spokane-Coeur d’Alene, Yakima, and Tri-Cities (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland), along with the domination of southwestern Washington by stations based in Portland, OR, which leaves many non-metropolitan communities underserved.

Television Web sites do not necessarily result in more local coverage for rural audiences. Reflecting this lack of local relevance, Table 6 shows that rural and non-rural disparities persist across the state and nation, and that rural Washington residents used local television news Web sites less frequently than any other group in the study.


A mainstay of local news reporting in all communities has been local radio stations. Rural Washington residents were no different from non-rural residents in their use of local radio. However, Table 7 shows that Washington residents were less frequent users of local radio as a source of local news than were U.S. adults in general. Respondents reported accessing local news from radio “several times a month,” which is about the same rate at which they read local newspapers. This seems low for a medium that has the potential for up-to-the minute coverage of local news, but given the decline in local radio news programming since the 1980s, the results are not surprising (Waldman, 2011, July).

Table 8 indicates that overall, rural residents were less frequent users of radio Web sites than were non-rural residents. Washington residents, in general, reported less frequent use of radio Web sites than adults across the nation. The frequency across the board was very low: between “less frequently (than several times a month)” and “never.” This indicates that local radio stations are either not attracting much attention to their local news coverage on their Web sites, or, more likely, they are simply not including enough local news on their Web sites to attract online visitors.

The emerging pattern is that rural residents are, in effect, voting with their feet by walking away from local television and radio to a greater extent than their urban counterparts. The effect holds, and in some cases is amplified, for Web-based versions of the local media.  In spite of apparently small differences in magnitude, the pattern is persistent. The following findings for emerging sources of local news reinforce the pattern established above.

Interpersonal Discussion

Common-sense explanations for the lack of rural citizen reliance on local sources of news suggest that rural residents obtain the majority of news via interpersonal discussion and gossip. This assumes, however, that all individuals are connected with the frequently small and insular power structures of rural communities (Hindman, 1996; Hindman, et. al, 1999). Instead, decisions affecting local citizens are often made in closed-door sessions before being publicly announced. This process preserves the outward appearance of consensus, while limiting public participation in community decision-making (Hindman, 1996; Tichenor, Donohue & Olien, 1970).

The results from the national sample of respondents, shown on the right side of Figure 4, is consistent with the notion that rural areas foster more interpersonal interaction than non-rural areas; rural residents are more frequent users of interpersonal communication as a news source about their local communities than non-rural residents. However, the left side of Figure 4 also shows there were no significant differences among Washington residents regarding local news via interpersonal discussion. Statistical analysis (Table 9) shows that the respondents represented in the national sample had significantly higher frequency of interpersonal discussion of news about their communities than did the individuals in the Washington sample.


Digital Media

One might expect that place-bound residents who are underserved by traditional media would compensate via access to new media news sources, such as locally relevant blogs, social network sites, and news aggregators such as However, new sources of information for local news were not being accessed as frequently as traditional media. In spite of the low frequency of use, significant differences emerged. Figure 5 shows that rural residents both in Washington and in the nation as a whole were less frequent users of blogs for local news than were non-rural residents.


Table 10 indicates that Washington residents overall were more frequent users of blogs for local news than were U.S. residents. This is one indicator that Washington residents are at least equally capable and willing to access local information from non-traditional sources as are their national counterparts. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between rural and non-rural citizens on the rate at which they accessed national news from social Web sites. Both means were slightly lower than the “less often” frequency category. The mean score for the non-rural respondents (M = 0.8, SD =1.1) was not significantly different from the mean score for the rural respondents (M =0.7, SD= 1.2; F (1, 981) = 1.5, p = 0.2).

Repeating the pattern of rural Washington residents accessing locally relevant news less frequently from both traditional and new media than non-rural Washington residents, Figure 6 shows that rural Washington residents were less frequent users of online news portals such as Google News or Yahoo! News for local news.


A different pattern emerges in the above figure regarding the frequency of accessing information and news about state and national topics. The pattern is that non-rural and rural differences disappear when it comes to accessing state and national news. The mean frequency for non-rural residents’ access of local news via Web portals was between “several times a month” and “less often” (M=1.4, SD 1.4) which is significantly greater than that of rural residents (M=1.0, SD 1.3; F (1, 981) = 18.9, p <.001). The mean frequency for both non-rural and rural residents’ access of state/national news via Web portals was not significantly different (non-rural M = 1.6, SD 1.4; rural M = 1.5, SD = 1.5; F (1, 982) = 1.2, p = 0.2). This supports the idea that the lower frequency by which rural residents access local news is less the result of a lack of skill or Internet access, and more the result of a lack of availability of local news.

The disparity between rural and non-rural resident frequency of accessing local information is repeated in an analysis shown in Table 11. Rural residents overall made less frequent use of Web search engines for local news than did non-rural residents across both samples. In spite of being in the state that is headquarters to Microsoft, creator of Internet Explorer and Bing, Washington residents used search engines less than adults throughout the country, and Washington rural residents were significantly less frequent users of Web search engines for local news than any other group.  This was in spite of the fact that there were no significant differences between rural and non-rural Washington residents in accessing the Internet (non-rural M = 2.8, SD 0.5, rural M=2.9, SD .04, F(1,984) = 0.93, p > .05), in reading the news on the Internet (non-rural M = 2.9, SD 1.0, rural M = 2.9, SD = 1.1, F(1, 981 = .93, p > .05), and in owning a cell phone (non-rural M = 0.9, SD = 0.3, rural M = 0.9, SD = 0.3, F (1, 991) = .08, p > .05).

With cell phones becoming more ubiquitous than personal computers, one might expect that cell phones would become a technology that bridges the rural—non-rural divide. This does not appear to be the case, however, in Washington. A significantly larger proportion of non-rural Washington residents reported using their cell phones to access the Internet than rural residents (47% non-rural vs. 25% rural, F (1, 991) = 39.3, p < .001). These findings are consistent with the lack of access to high-speed mobile service in rural areas of the state (Washington State Broadband Office, 2013, January, p. 37).

As shown in Figure 7, the problem of a lack of access to high-speed mobile service in rural areas is exacerbating disparities in the way rural residents use mobile technologies. By a wide margin, rural Washington residents were less frequent users of cell phones to read online news than were non-rural audiences (“How often, if ever, do you use your cell phone to read online news?”).  This is similar to national-level findings to a dichotomously-worded question, “Do you ever use your cell phone or tablet computer to go online for news or information about your community,” which showed 40% of rural residents versus 46% of non-rural residents answering “yes.”

These findings point to the lack of affordable mobile access in rural areas (Washington State Broadband Office, 2014, January 14, p. 12). The findings are also consistent with previous research documenting a lack of local news information created by journalists. However, a comparison of Internet skill (Hargittai & Hsieh, 2012) shows no difference between rural and non-rural participants. Combined with our findings from above, we conclude the lack of availability of local news in rural areas is the primary explanation for those residents’ less frequent use of a variety of media, both new and traditional, to access local news.


RQ3: Washington State adults’ political knowledge and social participation, with comparisons between rural and non-rural residents

The implication of a rural penalty in access to information and to broadband resources is a decline in social participation, and ultimately, a lack of social cohesion within rural areas (Yamamoto, 2012).

Surprisingly, in Washington State, there were no significant differences between rural and non-rural residents on a wide range of indicators of social participation including membership in religious or spiritual communities, adult sports leagues, youth organizations such as sports leagues, parents’ association like PTA, veterans’ groups, labor unions, service clubs, etc.

The findings shown in Figure 8 were surprising in that national trends consistently show significantly more social participation among rural than non-rural residents (Hindman & Yamamoto, 2011). In this case, a lack of significant differences may point to a decline in social participation among rural residents.


A covariate with social participation, however, is knowledge of civic and public affairs. Informed citizens are more likely to participate in the life of their community, and vice-versa.

One of the concerns regarding a lack of local news in rural areas is that those residents would be disproportionately uninformed about national and local public affairs. However, rural and non-rural residents of Washington were not significantly different in levels of political knowledge on a number of measures of national-level public affairs topics: knowledge of the components in the Affordable Care Act (scale is 0-4, non-rural M = 2.6, SD 1.1, rural M = 2.6, SD =1.1, F (1, 991)= 0.2 p > .5), that the U.S. Supreme Court is charged with determining whether a law is constitutional or not (non-rural = 78% correct, SD = 0.4, rural = 84%, SD = 0.4, F (1, 999) = 0.5, p = 0.07), which party is more conservative at the national level (non-rural = 80% correct, SD = 0.4, rural =78%, SD = 0.42, F (1,991) = 0.5, p > .05), the political party that is in control of the U.S. House of Representatives (non-rural = 50% correct, SD = 0.5, rural = 55%, SD = 0.5, F (1, 991) = 1.9, p = 0.2, the size of the majority required to override a presidential veto (non-rural = 41 % correct, SD = 0.5, rural = 41%, SD = 0.5, F (1, 991) = 0, p > .05), and the title of the job held by Joseph Biden (non-rural = 80% correct, SD = 0.4, rural = 80%, SD = 0.4, F (1,991) = 0.01, p > .05).

These findings support the observation that residents are not lacking in ability or interest in news. The proliferation of nationally-oriented news has resulted in rural and non-rural citizens having equivalent levels of national political knowledge. Rural and non-rural Washington residents held similar levels of locally-relevant knowledge including the names of their state’s representatives to the U.S. Senate, their congressional district’s representative to the U.S. House, and the names of their mayor and school superintendent (not shown).

None of these findings should be taken to minimize the importance of local news. As shown in Table 12, locally-relevant knowledge was significantly predicted by the frequency of exposure to local news sources, even when controlling for demographic variables and place of residence.

These findings highlight the importance of local news in produced informed citizens, regardless of their place of residence; those who attend to local media the most have higher levels of locally-relevant knowledge.


In summary, the following findings emerged from the study:

  • Both non-rural and rural residents find it easier today than five years ago to keep up with local news, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than their rural counterparts.
  • Rural residents were less frequent users of news media, both traditional and digital, for local news than non-rural residents.
  • Rural participants were seeking broadcast and online news sources as often as urbanites for state and national news.
  • Although there were no significant differences between rural and non-rural Washington residents in accessing the Internet, in reading the news on the Internet, in new media skills or in cell phone ownership:
    • Rural residents were less frequent users of local breaking news than were their non-rural counterparts.
    • Rural Washington residents used search engines less frequently than rural adults throughout the country, and Washington residents made less frequent use of Web search engines for local news than adults nationwide.
    • Significant numbers of rural Washington residents were not using cellular phones for news or for connecting with the Internet compared with urban residents.

This study has shown that rural residents in general, sought news about their local communities from local media less frequently than their non-rural counterparts. In 4 out of 9 measures of frequency of access to local news sources, rural Washington residents were significantly lower than non-rural residents, and in 7 out of 9 measures, rural residents were nominally lower in frequency than non-rural residents. The Washington state evidence is consistent with national-level data showing a decline in local news reporting (Waldman, 2011, July); rural residents may be seeking local news less frequently simply because local news is not available. This study also has shown that individuals who pay greater attention to local news tend to have greater knowledge of local political affairs. Together, these findings set the stage for the emergence of rural vs. non-rural disparities in locally-relevant knowledge. This potential disparity, should it occur, would not be the result of a lack of interest or a lack of skill on the part of rural residents, but instead, the result of a lack of local news in rural areas.

What might be the implications of these findings for community journalism? First, the data on declining sizes of newspaper and television newsrooms (Waldman, 2011, July, pp. 62-66), the reduction in the number of radio and television stations producing independent local news (Pew Research Center, 2014a, p. 7), and the replacement of veteran reporters with entry-level hires (Schwanbeck & Schwanbeck, 2011, September 22) all point to less availability of local news. The perception among respondents to this study that it is easier to access what is available from local media now versus 5 years ago may not be about the quantity or quality of local news but instead be about the convenience offered by digital versions of local news.

The more troubling statistic from a recent national study was that one in three citizens have left a media outlet source because it no longer provided the information that they expected (Enda & Mitchell, 2013). This raises the question, what can community journalists provide that local news aggregators such as cannot? It is a question of journalistic values and roles, not about audience interests, The assumption is that if local journalism is proving its value to the community, then its audiences will remain.

Insight into what value journalism provides its communities comes from journalists themselves. The latest report in The American Journalist surveys (Wilnat & Weaver, 2014) shows that 78% of respondents said “investigating government claims” was extremely important (p. 12). This “watchdog” role was at an all-time high since the surveys began in 1971. It is interesting to note that journalists, who are acutely aware of the pressures facing their profession, have identified the traditional watchdog role as most important. Perhaps it is because they understand that local news organizations are uniquely equipped to publicize the missteps of governmental officials.

Research placing the content and roles of editors into the context of the community’s size and complexity would suggest that news organizations serving small communities tend to have scant coverage of the types of local, inter-governmental conflicts that are typical of metropolitan communities (Olien, et al., 1968). This is not because of censorship on the part of the local news organization, but instead the result of the unwillingness of public officials in small communities to go on record criticizing other city leaders. Newspapers serving smaller communities would provide extensive coverage of disputes which pit local officials against non-local agencies (Hindman, 1996). This is because the external source of conflict is less threatening to the internal cohesion of a small community.

Community journalists can perform the watchdog role with the help of open records and meetings laws and independent investigative agencies within government such as state auditors and attorneys general (Schudson, 2008). Local news organizations, particularly those organizations facing staffing cuts, are generally not equipped to perform independent investigations of local governments. Journalists are, however, capable of writing interesting and important stories based on official investigations, particularly those which document mistakes by local officials or violations of the public trust. A majority (68.8%) of journalists in the Wilnat and Weaver (2014) survey also consider “analyzing complex problems” to be an extremely important role. In the absence of community journalism, a state auditor’s report critical of local government might go unnoticed.

Citizens depend on community journalists to inform citizens, not about every action of local government, but about those inevitable occasions when mistakes occur and when changes must take place (Schudson, 2008). Without reporting of the nature of the mistakes and the steps being taken to correct the resulting problems, citizens are left uninformed and unable to vote wisely. The absence of local news organizations in a community beset with official misconduct turns a drought of local news into a failure of local democracy.

A limitation of this study was the lack of measurement of actual news content. Future studies should compare news coverage of local and surrounding communities in order to supplement resident self-reports of their frequency of obtaining news about local communities from various sources. Another limitation of this study was a significant under-representation of Hispanic/Latino respondents. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 11% of the Washington population self-identified as Hispanic. The sample for this study was just under 4% Hispanic. Future samples of adult residents of Washington must include over-samples of Hispanics in order to analyze the use of local news by this growing and under-represented segment of the population. Future studies should replicate the measures in this study in order to detect changes in frequency of access a perceived ease of access to local news. The second wave of surveys would also allow for an analysis of changes in public affairs knowledge and community participation.

[1] For this analysis, “rural” is defined as the response to the question, “Which of the following BEST describes the place where you now live?” Those who chose “A rural area” (n=244) were categorized as “rural” and those who chose “A large city,” “A suburb near a large city,” or “A small city or town” (n=749) were categorized as “non-rural.” This measure likely underestimates the number of respondents who live in non-urban areas which is defined as towns with fewer than 2500 residents.

[2] When the text refers to a comparison as showing “differences” between groups, those refer to statistically significant differences. Visually, statistically significant differences are shown by bars with different colors (grey and red) whereas differences that did not reach significant levels are portrayed by bars with the same color (blue). Given the large sample sizes in the WASHINGTON (N: 995) and U.S. (N: 2250), even differences that may appear small in magnitude may be statistically significant. We reserve the term “no difference” to those that do not reach statistical significance. Please refer to the Appendix tables for statistical results corresponding to each figure.


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Category WA in US Census+ WA sample
18-24 12.64 9.8
25-34 18.16 17
35-49 27.24 25.6
50-64 25.87 30.4
65+ 16.09 17.2
  100 100
Male 49.8 49.2
Female 50.2 50.8
White 77.27 82.6
Black 3.57 3
Asian 7.15 5
Hispanic 11.24 3.9
Other/mixed race   4.8
Median Household Income* $57,244 $50 – $75K

Sources: *U. S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates. Updated every year.;

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 0.49 (0.69) 0.53 (0.7)
Rural 0.59 (0.69) 0.69 (0.74)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘easier’ 1 ‘the same’ 2 ‘harder’. Sample F (1, 9059) = 6.8**; Residence F (1, 9059) = 22.1***, Sample x Residence F(1, 9059) = 1.2.

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 1.9 (1.4) 1.9 (1.5)
Rural 1.9 (1.4) 1.9 (1.5)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = .35; Residence F (1, 7209) = .21, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = .13.

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 2.0 (1.4) 1.4 (1.3)
Rural 1.6 (1.9) 1.3 (1.3)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 91.5***; Residence F (1, 7209) = 36.0***, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = .43

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 2.8 (1.3) 2.8 (1.4)
Rural 2.5 (1.5) 2.8 (1.5)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) =3.9*; Residence F (1, 7209) = 7.3**, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = 6.1*

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 1.7 (1.3) 1.4 (1.4)
Rural 1.2 (1.2) 1.3 (1.3)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 6.2*; Residence F (1, 7209) = 24.5***, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = 14.7***.

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 1.9 (1.4) 2.2 (1.6)
Rural 1.9 (1.5) 2.2 (1.6)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 18.9***; Residence F (1, 7209) = .16, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = .17

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 1.0 (1.2) .72 (1.2)
Rural .84 (1.1) .62 (1.1)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 25.5***; Residence F (1, 7209) = 8.7**, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = .61

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural 2.2 (1.1) 2.5 (1.2)
Rural 2.1 (1.2) 2.8 (1.1)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 105.5***; Residence F (1, 7209) = 3.8**, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = .61

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
Non-rural .81 (1.1) .37 (.86)
Rural .59 (1.0) .25 (.67)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 116.8******; Residence F (1, 7209) = 23.1***, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = 2.1**

Residence M (SD) M (SD)
non-rural 1.6 (1.2) 2.3 (1.4)
rural 1.1 (1.2) 2.3 (1.5)

Note.  Entries are mean scores ranging from 0 ‘never,’ 1 ‘less often,’ 2 ‘several times a month,’ 3 ‘several times a week,’ 4 ‘every day.’  Sample F(1, 7209) = 3952***; Residence F (1, 7209) = 21.5***, Sample x Residence F(1, 7209) = 10.0*

    B (SE) β
  (Constant) -.085
  Age .227
  Sex (female) -.067
  Ethnicity (white) .228
  Rural residence -.047
  Education .212
  Local news frequency .241

Note: Adjusted R2 = 6.5%, F (6, 964) = 12.3, p< .001.
*p<.05, ** p<.01, *** p<.001

About the Authors

Dr. Doug Blanks Hindman is an associate professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

Dr. Michael Beam is an assistant professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.


Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 3

City Magazine Editors and the Evolving Urban Information Environment

Susan Currie Sivek

The urban information environment in which city magazines operate is changing dramatically, with the decline of local newspapers and the growth of user-generated local content. City magazine editors are re-envisioning their purpose as local information providers. This study provides a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with senior editors at 15 award-winning city magazines. The editors’ responses speak to the changing role of their publications today; the function of new technologies in informing local communities; and the public service that local journalism organizations offer in a constrained economic situation. 

Today’s global magazine industry is adapting rapidly to incorporate new technologies, changes in readers’ habits, and opportunities newly available due to shifts in complementary media industries. In particular, city magazines in the U.S. face serious competition from digital media, often based on user-generated content, that now supplant the magazines’ traditional local functions. However, city magazines also have new possibilities for public service journalism due to rapid changes in other local news outlets, particularly the decline of newspapers and the loss of much of their “watchdog” function within their communities. City magazines may in fact be developing into local news sources that can challenge the dominance of newspapers as providers of in-depth local journalism. Editors of these magazines express a blend of fear and excitement brought about both by this change and by the shifts in power among local information providers and audiences.

This study is part of a larger research project regarding the function of the U.S. city magazine (Sivek, 2014). The current study examines these magazines’ production processes through a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with senior editors at 15 award-winning city magazines. These magazines represent a mix of ownership, readership, and geographic circumstances. The editors’ responses reveal the current and developing roles of old and new technologies in informing local communities; the nature of local journalism in a shifting media environment, especially as audiences now can inform each other directly through social media; and the public service that local media can offer in a tightly constrained economic situation. More broadly, this study provides additional insights into the production and distribution of geographically focused journalism in a time of instability for the profession and industry.


The Role of City Magazines Within Local Communities

Many local media provide both information and emotional connections for citizens within cities. The role of journalism within geographically defined communities has been studied extensively, though scholars’ engagement with the term “community” has varied widely (Lowrey, Brozana, & Mackay, 2008). As these authors note, “community” may refer to shared physical location or to shared interest in a specific identity or symbols  (as in “imagined” or “interpretive” communities) – or to both of these.

In examining a wide variety of publications, magazine researchers have often analyzed the role of the magazine medium in creating the latter type of community. As Frith states, existing research supports “a shared belief that magazines can play a role in creating and reflecting community” (2012, p. 234). For example, Frau-Meigs (2000) examines the construction of the “netizens” in the early years of Wired magazine; Sender (2001) argues that The Advocate magazine crafted an imagined community of gay consumers through its gradually shifting content; and Théberge (1991) demonstrates how magazines for musicians in the 1980s represented musicians both to each other and to marketers as consumers of music products.

The present study unites both approaches to “community” because it addresses a media product that is primarily relevant to the needs of individuals within a physically defined location, but that can also be consumed by others outside that location. Thanks to digital technology, the community constructed by these city magazines is simultaneously based in both geography and imagination, without regard to where the individual audience member is located. This study examines how city magazine editors construct a shared understanding of this community through selection and representation of the locale’s primary symbols, stories, and concerns, all while responding to rapid changes in the local media environment. With this construction, city magazines, just like other local news media, highlight and define key local symbols, bring specific narratives to public attention, and even attempt to provoke action among citizens with regard to significant issues.

Most research in this area has focused on newspapers’ performance of these functions, but as Hatcher and Reader (2012) describe, there are now a wide variety of community information providers in traditional and digital media, including city magazines. For the purpose of this study, city magazines are defined along the lines used by the City and Regional Magazine Association (2014): general-interest consumer publications packaged in a traditional print magazine format, usually published on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Magazines that focus on specific topics within an urban area (e.g., parenting and family life, business) do not meet the “general-interest” qualification. Typical general-interest topics include travel and local attractions, food and dining, local personalities and leaders, local culture, business, and shopping.  Additionally, like the CRMA, this study considered only magazines that “demonstrate a commitment to editorial independent of advertiser interests”; in other words, magazines created by chambers of commerce or similar promotional publications would not qualify. These magazines represent community journalism through their focus on a specific, defined physical location, as well as through their presentation of a local identity in their depiction of key people, places, and issues within their cities.

Though city magazines of this type have come and gone over the years, the genre has persisted. Two of the magazines included in this study are notable examples of this longevity: Honolulu has been published since 1888 (under its original title Paradise of the Pacific), and Philadelphia since 1909 (Riley & Selnow, 1991). Riley and Selnow’s encyclopedic 1991 volume of profiles of regional and city magazines found that 920 such magazines were published between 1950 to 1988; 470 remained in operation in 1991 (Riley & Selnow, 1991). A similarly comprehensive survey of these magazines has not been repeated since Riley and Selnow’s book, but the city magazine genre still appears to be going strong.

Part of city magazines’ resilience may be attributed to the fact that they typically appeal to an upscale local audience that interests advertisers. A 2010 presentation by the CRMA offers some internal and external data on the medium. The presentation should be regarded with some skepticism, as its goal is to convince prospective advertisers of the value of city magazine advertising, but the presentation does at least reveal how the medium desires to present itself. The presentation claims that the association’s member magazines reach “an affluent, active audience” of over 18 million readers that is about 55 percent female, with a median age of 45 and a median household income of about $83,000 (CRMA, 2010, pp. 6-8). CRMA ranks its members’ publications, considered in aggregate, at 12th on a list of 15 U.S. magazines with “most affluent” readerships (CRMA, 2010, p. 17). Finally, CRMA cites an Erdos and Morgan study to argue that city magazines matter to local opinion leaders, claiming that “better than 8 of every 10…[read] one or more of the last four issues of their city magazine” (CRMA, 2010, p. 22).

This CRMA sales pitch provides some rare comprehensive data currently available on city magazines. This medium is undergoing a great deal of change at present, just like other news media, and few current studies have sought to explore their production, content, or reception.  Three decades ago, a set of studies was published in Journalism Quarterly that provided insights into city magazines. Their findings are still relevant to the current research because they explored the attitudes of city and regional magazine publishers regarding the perceived function of the city magazine. For example, Hayes (1981) found that magazine publishers believed that readers were “champions” for their cities; readers were thought to be interested in city magazines because the publications supported their pride in the cities. The editors Hayes surveyed also felt their magazines were popular because their service stories helped “educated, upwardly mobile, credit-card-carrying adults” effectively use their “increased leisure time and money” (1981, p. 295).

City magazine editors also wanted to offer readers a visually attractive, upscale, and lasting medium that addressed the city in an authentic, knowledgeable local voice: “Metropolitan or city magazines provide the only medium which has the capability of establishing the ‘identity and flavor’ of a market … to capture the true ‘picture’ of the market it serves” (Fletcher & VandenBergh, 1982, p. 14). Of greater specific relevance to this study, city magazines were found by Hynds (1979) to be unique providers (during that study’s time) of perspectives and information newspapers didn’t offer, specifically entertainment, food, and lifestyle coverage. Hynds also asked editors about their perceptions of the city magazine’s function in its community, and found that most expressed “some interest in pointing out local problems and needs … about half see themselves as possible alternative voices to local newspapers” (p. 622).

A somewhat more recent study by Greenberg (2000) provides a critical look at city magazines that combines an analysis of their content and design with insights into their ownership. Greenberg’s analysis found that when major media companies purchased city magazines from their formerly independent publishers, the magazines lost their unique local feel. Instead, their design and content began to match that found in the other city magazines already owned by the major companies. That formula usually provided “toned down and reduced editorial content, increased pages of advertising and lifestyle reporting, new ‘special sections’ filled with consumer reports, and encyclopedic high-end listing sections at the back” (Greenberg, 2000, p. 251). Greenberg argues that this formula addresses local readers not as active citizens of their cities who might be concerned with significant local issues, but rather as consumers of products and services made available by magazine advertisers.

These older studies suggest that city magazine publishers and owners may primarily seek to advocate for their cities and to profit from advertising within the pages of a generally promotional publication — as opposed to seeking to provide serious local journalism. This study explores whether these findings from decades ago continue to represent correctly today’s city magazines. Though it may be tempting for the casual viewer to dismiss city magazines as more entertainment than journalism, these publications do represent a prominent way in which citizens learn about their communities. Though she focuses on local newspapers and television, Kaniss (1991) argues that local news media define urban issues and influence policymaking through their definition of local identity. City magazines also play a part in this process. City magazines claim a particular kind of authority over local identity within their communities. They typically use their cities’ names in their titles. They assess local businesses, personalities, and events in the creation of “best of” lists or local awards that they adjudicate. They are highly visible on newsstands in stores and suggest through their covers what is of value in the local community, based upon their assertion of local expertise.

Moreover, although this study focuses on American city magazines, insights here may also speak to similar publications offered in other countries. For example, Cook and Darby (2013) found that British “county magazines” tended to construct an idealized vision of life in their areas in order to present a positive environment for readers’ encounter with advertising; however, they also argue that the magazines represented a missed opportunity to “fill the news gap” left by weak local newspapers.

City Magazines and the Changing Local Information Environment

Cook and Darby (2013) suggest that space may be opening for city magazines to become more robust local information providers, especially as newspapers’ resources for original, in-depth reporting diminish. In addition, city magazines’ presentation of certain types of information may be best positioned to compete with user-generated media in terms of its innate authority and credibility.

Though local newspapers continue to provide the foundation of original reporting upon which other local news media typically rely (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2010), they have also suffered deeply in recent years. Economic turmoil and increased competition from digital media have led to shrinking papers and dramatic layoffs. Between 2000 and 2012, U.S. newspapers reduced their editorial staffs by roughly one-third, from 56,400 to 38,000 (Edmonds, 2013). Decreased resources have limited the amount of in-depth coverage that newspapers can provide. The Federal Communications Commission’s report on the information needs of local communities (2011) found that newspapers’ coverage of local and state politics, crime, and health has diminished the most, though these remain issues of significant public concern.

Newspapers also have not performed well online in terms of constructing strong visual and content linkages to their local areas. Funk (2013) found that newspapers’ websites do not express a strong sense of local identity or of their specific communities, sometimes omitting the names of their communities entirely from the banners of their websites in favor of more “professional” images. As such, online audiences may not sense the newspapers’ local contribution as deeply, experiencing them only as yet another website to be surfed, not as a distinctly local resource. In contrast, city magazines cannot help but proclaim their local connections, given that most of them are titled with some variation of their cities’ names both in print and online.

New media consumption patterns, such as digital magazine editions, social media, and mobile reading, could generate more audience interest in such strongly local magazine content, while public interest in print newspapers declines. The Project for Excellence in Journalism (2012) found that almost three quarters of survey respondents followed local news “closely”; this audience generally preferred the local newspaper for their news. However, younger local news enthusiasts – the city magazine subscribers of the future – paid attention to a wider variety of local news sources, including traditional media, websites, and/or social media (PEJ, 2012). Younger local news users gather local information from varied sources, which may include city magazines’ print and digital products, both today and in the future. This shift in audience preferences may represent a concern and an opportunity for city magazine editors.

City Magazine Structure and Management

City magazine editors may be relatively well positioned to guide their publications’ efforts during this time of change. Although, like newspapers, they must address rising printing expenses and diminishing advertisers’ support, magazines can often better compensate for economic challenges and technological innovations. With non-unionized employees and a significant reliance on freelance writers, magazines can shed staff when resources are tight, rehire new employees with up-to-date technological skills, and assign and pay for work on a more flexible basis (Ekinsmyth, 2002). They do not have to fill a daily news hole. Magazines’ designers are also better equipped to create visual products suited for digital media distribution, such as tablet editions, than most newspaper designers; the print magazine format is easier to translate to digital media.

While adaptation to this new context will always be subject to publishers’ and advertisers’ desires, editors maintain some power to shape their magazines’ futures. While they know their print publications may be imperiled, they are also attempting to innovate so that their publications remain profitable and useful within their communities (e.g., Carr, 2013; Landau, 2014; Mickey, 2013). Editors are particularly critical to this development. They are “community connectors,” with both personal and professional interests in their local communities, fitting Hatcher and Reader’s description (2012) of community journalists. These editors respond to the changes in their local environment and audience based on those interests; they then conceptualize the right blend of content to accommodate those changes and allocate resources accordingly. For some magazines, this transformation has involved a greater investment in investigative public interest journalism; for others, audience engagement and community outreach, in both online and face-to-face forms, have become paramount.

City magazine editors may now choose to move beyond the narrow range of lifestyle topics upon which their coverage has traditionally focused. They may also be motivated to explore new topics by the fact that some of their “turf” — the restaurant and entertainment information for which they have been known — has now been encroached upon by online sources. Over half of Americans, and especially those ages 18-39, use online sources for such information, according to a 2011 survey (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2011); that statistic is likely now much higher. Moreover, city magazines themselves are no longer limited to the print format, and can reach audiences at all times, instantaneously, through their own websites and through social media — tools for which they may already be better prepared, in terms of staffing, than newspapers. Clearly, this is an intriguing set of circumstances for city magazines; “creative destruction” of the old model of city magazine publishing is possible, but the degree to which these publications will choose to shift their mission and format is as of yet unknown.

Though city magazine editors may represent just one genre of journalism, their perspectives reveal larger insights about the impact of changing economic and technological structures on the production of journalism as a whole. To determine whether and how citizens are informed about their cities, it is important to understand how each local information provider develops and distributes its own unique contribution to a city’s information environment.

Given the existing knowledge about the state of city magazines today and the various market and technological forces to which they are subject, this study explored the following research questions:

RQ1. What do city magazine editors perceive to be the role of city magazines in their communities today?

RQ1a. How do the city magazine editors differentiate their magazines’ journalism from that provided by other local news organizations?

RQ1b. Whom do city magazine editors perceive to be the audience for their publications?

RQ1c. What are city magazine editors’ criteria for selecting the major stories their magazines will cover?

RQ2. Are city magazines trying to use new digital technologies to engage their audiences in significant local issues, and if so, how?

RQ3. What are city magazine editors’ strategies for developing their medium in the future?


This study explores these questions through interviews with editors at a number of U.S. city magazines. The selection of these magazines began with the compilation of a list of winners of City and Regional Magazine Awards (CRMA, 2013) from 2008 to 2012. CRMA award-winning magazines were selected because these would presumably be magazines doing the “best” work in the field, with regard to satisfying the journalistic norms valued by their peers. This list included magazines receiving awards in these specific categories: General Excellence, Reporting, Personality Profile, Feature Story, Reader Service, Civic Journalism, Community Service Project, Excellence Online, and Multimedia. These award categories are all specifically relevant to editorial content and the magazines’ community engagement. Additionally, all of these awards are given across three different circulation ranges, permitting the inclusion of publications in cities of various sizes.

This initial list was then reduced to include magazines focused on specific cities, as opposed to state or regional magazines. This narrowed list included just 20 magazines for further analysis. This shortened list of magazines also represents diversity in other key factors, including city size, geographic region, circulation, and ownership (independent vs. chain). Magazines’ content, technological savvy, and resources may differ based on city size, ownership, and popularity. The final list of magazines in the study represents variation in these factors.

With this list in hand, highly placed editors at each magazine were contacted via email and asked to participate in an in-depth interview regarding their magazines. These were editors-in-chief, managing editors, or senior editors of long tenure at their magazines. Editors were appropriate interviewees for the gathering of insights about these magazines. They possess unique insights both into the construction of their magazines and into their publications’ perceived functions in their communities. As Holmes and Nice describe, magazine professionals “must have a keen sense of audience and market imperatives and a finely tuned understanding of the culture and power nexus in a specific subject matter” (2012, p. 52). These established professionals know their magazines, their audiences, their communities, and the needs of each. As such, they were able to characterize their magazines’ content, functions, goals, and opportunities.

Of the 20 magazines contacted, interviews were completed with 15, resulting in a 75% response rate. Magazines whose editors participated were: 5280 (Denver), Atlanta MagazineBostonCharlotteCincinnatiD Magazine (Dallas), Evansville LivingHonoluluIndianapolisMadisonMemphisMPLS St. PaulPhiladelphiaPortland Monthly, and Washingtonian. Table 1 provides additional detail on participating magazines’ circulation, city population, and ownership.

Magazine Name and State Circulation U.S. CensusLocal Population Ownership
5280 (Denver, CO) 77,027 610,345 Independent
Atlanta Magazine (GA) 66,996 540,922 Emmis Publishing
Boston (MA) 110,390 645,169 Metrocorp
Charlotte (NC) 35,000 704,422 Independent
Cincinnati (OH) 37,426 333,012 Emmis Publishing
D Magazine (TX) 22,000 1,299,542 Independent
Evansville Living (IN) 13,000 116,584 Independent
Honolulu (HI) 35,000 390,738 Independent
Indianapolis Monthly (IN) 41,000 820,445 Emmis Publishing
Madison (WI) 20,833 235,419 Independent
Memphis (TN) 22,500 676,640 Independent
MPLS St. Paul (MN) 17,710 2,968,806 Independent
Philadelphia (PA) 116,840 1,547,297 Metrocorp
Portland Monthly (OR) 52,892 566,143 SagaCity Media
Washingtonian (DC) 137,002 599,657 Independent

“Independent” ownership refers to local ownership, versus ownership by a larger, national magazine publishing group. Magazines marked “independent” may be one of a few magazines published within their cities by the same publisher, but the publisher focuses solely on one metropolitan area. (Complementary publications often include a business- or family-focused magazine.) Circulation and census data gathered at time of interviews (spring/fall 2012).

The researcher conducted these interviews during spring and fall 2012 by phone. Interviews averaged 30 to 45 minutes in length. The interviews followed an informal format, structured by an outline of key questions (see Appendix), but not confined exclusively to those questions (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). Such interviews permit the researcher and respondent to together explore the respondent’s experiences and the issues they represent: “The subjects not only answer questions prepared by an expert, but themselves formulate in a dialogue their own conceptions of their lived world … [gaining] knowledge that can be used to enhance the human condition” (Kvale, 1996, p. 11).

The editors’ interview responses were then summarized and analyzed to answer the research questions above. All interviews were transcribed by the researcher, and portions of responses representing the issues identified in the research questions were gathered for analysis. Among those responses, common themes, as well as points of divergence, were noted and developed for presentation here by the researcher. To encourage greater freedom of expression in discussions of business and editorial strategy, editors were promised that their interview responses would not be attributed to them by name.

In combination with the other components of the aforementioned larger research project on city magazines, the interviews provide insights into the editorial and business concerns of these magazines, and illuminate the findings of other portions of the study, such as the magazines’ content and their uses of social media. The triangulation provided through the application of these multiple methods will lead to a deeper understanding of all aspects of today’s city magazines in the U.S.


City magazine editors are aware of and are responding to the changing status of their publications in their local information environments. They are actively working to adapt both the format and content of their magazines to take advantage of new opportunities in ways that will still represent their defining attributes and appeal to their key audiences. Editors were able to clearly articulate a distinct function for their publications within their cities, which included the provision of not only service journalism, but also, in many cases, in-depth, long-form journalism on substantive local issues. The editors offered nuanced descriptions of their audiences that revealed a thorough understanding of their readers, beyond simple demographic descriptions that advertising sales staff might use. Editors also provided detailed story selection criteria that reflected their desire to continue to improve the journalism offered in their publications, while maintaining the types of coverage for which they were known. This blend of the new and familiar was thought to be most likely to sustain their publications during technological change.

Finally, the editors were both excited and daunted by the ways their staffs were working to engage more readers in the magazines’ coverage through social media and other digital tools, and they recognized the possibilities for the transformation of their publications through these media. Though experimentation with these methods varied greatly among the 15 magazines included in the study, the range of uses offered an intriguing snapshot of the opportunities offered by digital media for the reinvention of today’s city magazine.

Editors’ Perception of the City Magazine’s Local Role

Research question 1 concerned editors’ perceptions of their magazines’ role in local communities.  Editors were asked to describe what they believed their magazines did or should do for their local audiences. A frequent, broad response to this question included variations on the concept of the city magazine as an “owner’s manual” for the city. Editors said their goal was to help readers “get the most out of living in their city” and “decipher the city they live in.” The editors were somewhat divided on how true this representation of their cities ought to be to reality. For example, one editor said that the magazine offered “generally a positive picture” of the city, a sentiment echoed by others; yet some editors felt that the representation of the city in the magazine ought to include “what’s good about the city and also what’s bad … we also do a lot of critical stories because we want to call it like we see it.” As one editor put it, “We certainly don’t want to be like a Chamber [of Commerce] piece … [we think,] ‘Is this [story] going to help folks live their lives better here?’” Unlike Hayes’ findings (1981), the city magazine editors interviewed for this study appeared to be interested in presenting a well-rounded picture of their cities, even if it challenges readers’ pride.

Specific topics mentioned by these editors as recurring within their coverage included “our lifestyle coverage, whether that’s dining or travel or restaurants” and “everything from politics to sports to business to style to health … that kind of broad view.” Another editor noted the magazine’s use of content “that’s, frankly, more geared toward conspicuous consumption … that’s part of the equation … of what city magazines do.” Another type of content perceived by an editor to be essential to the city magazine was the usual “‘best of,’ ‘top docs’ [stories] — the things you have to do to sell the magazine.”

These findings resemble those of Hayes (1981) and Fletcher and VandenBergh (1982), revealing little change in this aspect of city magazine coverage in three decades. The “formula” of service content described by many of the editors also sounds quite similar to the model articulated by Greenberg (2000), which appears to be concerned primarily with readers’ role as local consumers. Yet many editors strove to venture beyond this familiar formula of service content in their publications. Regarding this content, one editor explained,

The analogy I’ve always given for it is in Hollywood: you’ll see stars doing a blockbuster movie, or they can do the indie project. That’s what I see us doing. We do the ‘best restaurants’ [story]. It helps pay the bills and it sells on newsstands, but right next to it … we’re tucking a serious investigative piece about a business, or government, or politician, that is paid for by that other story.

That type of substantial content was not often mentioned as a primary purpose of the city magazine, but editors did feel it was important and sometimes indirectly rewarding from a financial perspective:

The journalism is what resonates with people … The fact that we’re putting such clear attention and thought, heart, soul, money, resources into the journalism tells the community, ‘You are important to us. This place is important to us. We’re not just phoning this in.’ … You get that back in advertising dollars because your advertisers know people are paying attention; it’s being discussed.

Finally, one editor noted that the city magazine was more resilient during difficult economic times because it is “tied to local, not national, advertising accounts,” permitting a wider variety of coverage even when market conditions would seem to encourage an emphasis on easier-to-sell content.

Differentiating the city magazine from other local information sources.

Research question 1a addressed how editors differentiated their publications from other local information sources. First, it is worth noting that most of the city magazine editors felt little competition from their local newspapers in terms of coverage or advertising. Newspapers were uniformly recognized to be struggling, and that struggle had varying effects on the city magazines. One editor stated:

15 years ago, 12 years ago, we worried a lot about what the newspaper might do before we started to do a story. Now we don’t even really consider it … recognizing they’re not doing the kinds of stories they used to do.

Newspapers were perceived to lack the resources to investigate and promptly break major investigative stories. Moreover, the editors believed city magazines could cover those stories differently, and perhaps more effectively. The city magazines could offer the “context and perspective in a way that newspapers don’t”; they “can do a more in-depth story that would give more perspective”; they “might not break the news, but … can tell [readers] what news matters and what it really means”; they “do the how and the why, whereas newspapers really focus on the who, what, where, and when.”

City magazines’ ability to build stories during a slower news cycle and to publish longer-format stories allows them, as one editor stated, to “pick up the accountability function that newspapers offered,” though within some limits. Constantly providing fast-paced, breaking news was beyond the scope of the city magazines’ structural and staff resources. But they could do in-depth service ‘packages’ on topics “no one else does, that require work and time other local media don’t have or aren’t willing to invest in, whether the best breakfast in town or a full-scale look at [the local] start-up economy.” In general, while newspapers’ decline was apparent to these editors and they welcomed the opportunity to engage with some of the stories newspapers might once have covered, they also expressed civic concerns about their ability to “fill the role that daily newspapers do and take up their slack,” given their different structures, publishing pace, and advertiser and audience expectations.

This mode of differentiation from newspapers is distinct from that seen in the responses from editors interviewed by Hynds (1979), revealing change in the perceived function of the city magazine in the interim. Hynds found that only 61 percent of the city magazine editors in his survey felt it was important for their magazines to provide “an alternative viewpoint to that of the local newspaper” (1979, p. 621). In contrast, the editors interviewed in this study could readily articulate the relationship between what their city magazine produced and what the local newspaper produced, offering clear explanations of the two information sources’ complementary roles. As media enterprises’ economic situation has become direr and new technologies have offered challenges, perhaps it has become more pressing for city magazines to contemplate their position as local information providers and to determine the best way they can serve audiences and advertisers in this volatile time. As mentioned above, Cook and Darby (2013) describe the growing “news gap” in many communities resulting from newspapers’ decline. It seems city magazine editors are quite aware of this dilemma. Many are actively working to find ways to help fill the gap, within the constraints of their audience’s and advertisers’ expectations.

The editors also noted two other key differences between their publications and other local information sources. One of these was their writing and visual style. The city magazines felt they could provide a point of view and storytelling structure in their stories that newspapers could not. Magazines can “have a voice … and not worry with objectivity in the same way” that newspapers must. Magazines can even choose to advocate for a specific position on an issue: “It’s OK to pick a side as long as you can intellectually and emotionally defend it, and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s the right side to be on.” Magazines’ writers can have “recognizable individual voices … it makes the stories memorable regardless of topic.” One editor also suggested that when newspapers did long-form articles, they tended to be “badly edited and clichéd” and didn’t “really tell stories.” Multiple editors also mentioned the appeal of their magazines’ “beautiful design” that could appeal to readers and represent topics in visually attractive and informative ways: “A magazine … it’s just prettier. It’s glossy. The photos look much more clean and clear, and the color sparkles in a way that you never get out of a newspaper.”

A second important difference from other local information sources was the degree of authority that city magazines could assert in their content. For example, one editor argued that user-generated online content about topics like local destinations or dining (as on Yelp or similar sites) couldn’t replace the city magazines’ “unbiased” and trustworthy critical analysis of service information. That analysis offered a “curated or authoritative edge” that other media couldn’t provide. That distinctive quality was a key feature of the city magazine, one editor said, and “is certainly something we’ve played up in recent years because it’s such a singular thing,” not found in other information sources. As one editor said, “User-generated content is awesome, but there’s still a place for someone who tells me where the best restaurant is this month, or five things I’ve got to put on my calendar this month.”

Perceived audience for the city magazine

Research question 1b asked about editors’ perceptions of their audience, which the editors described in relatively similar terms. Beyond simple demographics of relatively high wealth and education, editors often described readers similarly: “the leaders of the city”; “smart … sophisticated … we’re aiming for their brains”; “free time and free cash”; “curious about the city.” Editors also often made statements like “great stories transcend demographics … they resonate with everyone.” The editors believe their readers are enthusiastic about the city (“all magazines are enthusiast publications”) and about journalism. They also see themselves as similar to their readers, at least with regard to their shared attitude about the city. In other ways, they were rather different from the readers: “None of us who work at this magazine are anywhere near the demographic of it.” Therefore, they tended to use their own values and preferences to shape the magazine. Many editors suggested their staffs aimed to create “a magazine we’d want to read.”

Editors’ story selection criteria

Research question 1c asked about the criteria editors use when selecting the major stories their magazines choose to cover. The editors gave a variety of responses when asked about the criteria they used to select specific stories — particularly long-form or investigative stories — for their magazines to cover. These criteria incorporated assumptions about the audience, as described above, but also basic storytelling, competitive, and financial considerations. The editors often first responded that they just wanted “good stories,” which, upon elaboration, they explained meant “human stories” that “transcend just the people involved,” stories with “existential” significance, and stories that created “an emotional connection between us and our audience.” The stories needed to have strong narratives and contain suspense so that readers asked, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen next?” Stories also had to have true, not just tangential, local connections that deepened readers’ understanding of the city: “It’s easy to fall into a trap of what looks like a really interesting story, but when you’re done with it, your understanding of the city isn’t improved … Our big stories tell a story about the city.”

In order to maintain their differentiation from other local information sources, the city magazines also sought to be ambitious with their stories, but not too ambitious in terms of the investment required for any one story. Generally, articles needed to “advance the story” beyond the newspaper’s coverage, if any existed: “We’re choosing stories we know we can do in our own way, put our imprint on … really bring more nuance and depth to than anyone else in our market.” One editor said that rather than commissioning long-form stories, the city magazine was planning to publish excerpts of recently published books on locally relevant topics. This approach was “overcoming the challenge in producing some coverage without resources.”

Finally, one editor mentioned the key role of visual components to the city magazine’s stories, and stated that stories with strong “visual storytelling” opportunities would be more likely to be covered in the magazine. For example, this editor wanted to create more infographics, though it had been difficult to “find an illustrator who could translate what we wanted in an easy-to-understand graphic.”

Digital Technologies for Audience Engagement in Local Issues

Research question 2 addressed the extent to which city magazine editors use digital technology to reach their audiences. Perhaps the most clearly transformative issue for city magazines today is their engagement with digital media. Both their actual social network accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, and their own websites provide opportunities for the immediate publication and distribution of content. Readers can respond to magazines’ content through comments and conversation, share their own “user-generated” content, and interact with the magazines’ staff and with each other.

While the city magazine editors often noted the “challenge of keeping up with new innovations,” they also described many ways in which the web and social media provided new opportunities to serve readers. The editors saw other websites as potential competition for some of their content, particularly service content about dining and travel, but recognized the opportunities for reporting and engaging with readers that the web and social media offer. They also mentioned that digital media could generate “more eyeballs” for advertisers, making digital outreach potentially profitable.

The city magazines’ websites were central to their digital strategies. Notably, they saw their websites as “news sources,” though not typically as providing breaking news. As one editor stated, “We don’t have enough boots on the ground to do [city hall or the state capital]. We have to be more reactive on things like that. We rely on other media,” like local television news or the newspaper, to provide initial coverage that could be pursued further on the magazine’s website.

The magazines’ websites were also places to use their writers’ expertise on a daily basis, complementing long-form pieces in the print magazines. One editor explained the relationship between the website and the print magazine:

Before, they [our writers who are experts on local topics] might only be able to do a story two months down the road, and maybe it’s really long. And now they can provide you with constant updates and analysis and commentary on the same topic. So I think they complement each other, the very short [posts on the website/blogs] and the very long.

The city magazines saw their websites and social media outreach as engaging readers between print issues. With these digital tools, “rarely does a day go by that we don’t have a connection with our readers.” One editor described re-posting stories from the magazine that had been previously published in response to news events. The republication could “make a connection that this was happening in our community today, and we’d published this piece. We already knew this [personality in the news].” This re-posting allowed the no-cost reuse of existing content, connected the magazine’s audience to the news, and demonstrated the magazine’s authority on community matters.

The websites also serve as hubs for video and other multimedia content to complement print articles. The magazines’ online content tended to reach a younger audience than their print editions. That more youthful audience appeals to advertisers. On the websites, the magazines sought to foster interactions with their readers through comments and social media integration. Multiple editors mentioned the value of having conversations with readers about stories on their website, with dialogues and sharing of stories even occurring on a national and international level, well beyond the city magazine’s local focus. The interactions were “definitely a two-way operation or a multi-way operation. [The website] isn’t just us broadcasting out, for sure.” One editor mentioned that a cover story had developed in response to a reader comment on a blog post on the magazine’s site.

Social media similarly enabled these conversations between magazine staffers and the public. One editor commented on the natural fit between the typical style of social media communication and magazines’ conversational, personal voice. Editors appreciated that social media allowed readers to share the magazines’ longer stories widely, and that social media could “reach an audience that the magazine doesn’t and prepare them for future digital products” that the magazine might offer. The social media audience likely skews younger than the audience for the print publications, given the PEJ (2012) findings described above, and so these magazines’ digital outreach may indeed be anticipating the youthful audience’s future desire for more sophisticated local news products. Some editors also described uses of social media for contests and promotions.

One editor noted the more serious potential for city magazines’ social media use: its ability to maximize an investigative story’s impact on not only the audience, but also on relevant policymakers. In this case, the magazine’s writers followed through with social media activity during legislative action pertaining to an investigative story:

As that bill was moving through … [we] were tweeting about it like crazy … Those tweets became part of the debate. The state reps started re-tweeting our tweets, which had links to the piece. And … everybody who had anything to do with this decision has read our piece, and it has dramatically reshaped the debate. And that’s all because of social media.

This example demonstrates how sophisticated use of social media can enable city magazines to disseminate their work, gain support for a specific perspective, and enable conversations around topics that matter within a local area or region.

As a whole, editors saw digital technology as supporting and maximizing the print publication’s circulation and advertising, but also as creating new opportunities for online advertising, interaction with the public, and multimedia reporting. As one editor described, “We try to create a virtuous circle where people are moving back and forth between the website and the print magazine,” with references to each medium embedded within the other, and subscription offers everywhere. While the editors felt the impact of their digital efforts on their print circulation was hard to quantify, some were fairly confident that “all these little [digital] touches” through the website and social media could “get a reader committed” to a print subscription. One editor also mentioned the hope that these interactions could serve a mutual benefit, so that readers also could “get something else out of … interacting with us via Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest.”

City Magazine Editors’ Strategies for the Future

Research question 3 concerned editors’ strategies for developing city magazines in the future. Although many of the plans for their publications’ futures revolved around digital technology, these city magazine editors also stated their intent to continue developing their print products as well. As one editor stated, “people still value the physical object of the magazine as a luxury good or leisure activity … sometimes people are disappointed to find that they were interviewed for our website and not for the ‘real magazine.’ Things in the magazine seem more real and valuable.” The print magazine still holds a certain social prestige among its audience. Within that print publication, editors often said that a major goal was to continue to improve the writing within the magazine: “I want the magazine to really become known to good writers as their home.” That writing would also ideally be applied to a greater variety of topics, for some editors. One editor would like to “put less service on the covers of the magazine and try to do at least two more covers each year that were not service covers … whether it’s profiles, or just important investigative stories.” This editor noted that some in the city magazine business argue that service covers are more appealing on the newsstand than serious topics, but still felt that shifting some covers toward serious topics would be a worthy goal.

In terms of digital strategies, the city magazine editors described the challenge for small publishing companies of taking risks with digital formats. As one editor said, the current situation is one of “confusion in the market,” with many different platforms and tools available to publishers and audiences. Some expressed a desire to let larger publishers “figure it out and make the tools cheap enough for us … without having critical mass, we risk getting caught in between and not being able to keep up.” There was some experimentation occurring, as at one city magazine that had chosen to publish a Kindle Single (one long-form story, sold as a standalone digital product through Amazon) of one of its major stories. This magazine was actively thinking about ways to address its “non-paginated economic future” — a future in which a print publication with static paper pages would no longer be central to its business. Along the same lines, another editor referred to the magazine as a “multimedia event company,” drawing income from not just the print magazine, but also from its online products and from its sponsorship and organization of local events.

Overall, as one editor stated, these city magazines are well positioned in many ways to serve local audiences and advertisers:

It’s really a great market for city magazines because we consumers increasingly want more and more local content. Advertisers and marketers are continuing to look for ways to drill down and be more local. All that speaks really well to city magazines and to making ourselves relevant across media platforms.

As these interviews demonstrated, city magazine editors are working today to explore their magazines’ capabilities in both print and digital media, to differentiate their product from other competing local information sources, to understand and interact with their audiences, and to select stories that serve that audience and take advantage of their medium’s distinctive qualities.


This study has demonstrated city magazines’ ongoing adaptation to changes in the local information environment. As newspapers’ resources and influence have declined, digital media have developed to compete with some aspects of their coverage, and with that of city magazines. City magazines have identified key strengths of their own medium and coverage style that can continue to distinguish them to audiences even as this environment and audiences’ preferences shift toward digital media. While they remain fairly focused on specific audience segments traditionally targeted by city magazines – the wealthy and the well educated – they also recognize the potential for digital media to bring their content to broader audiences and to affect local and/or regional opinion leaders.

Data on the media preferences and habits of younger media audiences, mentioned above, suggest that these editors may need to accelerate their magazines’ movement toward digital and mobile platforms. Younger readers, and especially those with higher education and income, use mobile and other digital media for local news and information (Caumont, 2013). Some of these media have encroached upon city magazines’ traditional topic areas, and have done so with user-generated content that costs nothing to produce. For example, Yelp and similar websites/mobile applications collect crowdsourced restaurant reviews that are free and easy to access anywhere. Other sites/apps offer entertainment and local event information.

These sites have only grown since the 2011 Pew report, cited above, which showed that over half of Americans use these sources for food and entertainment information – particularly those aged 18-39, those with greater education and income, and those who use mobile devices, precisely the demographic that city magazines traditionally target. Moreover, most of these young news users have not developed habits of seeking local information in print media and will need to be convinced of the city magazines’ unique utility. Whether these users will consider city magazines’ distinctive presentation of this kind of service information to be worth the magazines’ cost remains to be seen. The availability and popularity of these digital local information sources should encourage city magazine editors to differentiate their magazines’ entertainment and food coverage – along with all of their local content – and to better market their publications’ unique qualities.

This study presents a snapshot of the perspectives of a small group of city magazine editors at a time of volatility for the magazine industry and for journalism as a whole. Though the 15 editors represented a variety of publications, the study does not comprehensively cover all American city magazines, each of which faces a unique set of local circumstances and constraints. Additionally, although the editors expressed their own beliefs about their magazines’ contributions to local information, these views were not gathered concurrently with those of newspaper or television journalists, nor were they tested within this study against actual analysis of their magazines’ content (a final component of the larger research project that is still underway).

Future research should look more closely at these city magazines’ content to determine to what degree they are in fact engaging in the kind of investigative or “serious” coverage that many editors mentioned as desirable, versus city magazines’ traditional focus on service stories. A longitudinal examination of city magazines’ content would document their shift to fill the “news gap” left by newspapers’ decline, if that movement is indeed occurring. Finally, contrasting this coverage with that of local newspapers or local digital news providers would illuminate the differences in coverage content and style among these media. As the literature review revealed, most of the research on city magazines prior to this research project is quite outdated. This study can inform additional research on these publications’ contemporary status and function.

This study also raises questions about how city magazines form and engage a community of readers within a defined geographic area, suggesting that this medium should also be incorporated into future studies of community journalism. The effects of city magazine readership on local audiences should be examined. Do these local readers actually connect with the magazines’ coverage of their cities in the ways imagined by these editors? How does city magazines’ print and digital content invite the formation of a community, and who is or is not included in that community, given these magazines’ traditionally wealthy and educated readership? Do city magazine readers possess deeper understanding of or stronger emotional connections to their cities? To what degree does reading a city magazine support a relationship to the city, or to specific communities within the city? An analysis of uses and effects of local information sources that includes these magazines would aid both researchers who seek to understand the changing urban information environment and all local journalists (magazine and otherwise) who must plan effective content and digital strategies.

Overall, extending our analysis and understanding of information providers within cities beyond just newspapers appears to be increasingly important during this time of transformation in the local information environment.


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About the Author

Dr. Susan Currie Sivek is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College.