Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 4

Classic Elements of Engagement in U.S. Journalism Apply to Irish Online Community News Sites

A content analysis of community news sites affiliated with Irish newspapers shows that content selection reflects classic community news values and fulfills roles and functions similar to ones documented in historical research about community press and social organization in the United States. This illustrates the potential for Irish local media sites to be important agents of constructing community identity.

In the United States, one of the deepest parts of the research about community journalism extends from the community ties hypothesis. Starting with Morris Janowitz’s seminal early 1950s research into neighborhood community newspapers and extending through the work of Keith Stamm and others in the 1980s and beyond, this research agenda established a view of the community press as both an indicator of – and an impetus for – social change and community-building through exploration of intimacy of the relationship between local newspapers and their communities.

Little if any work has been done exploring such community/media interactions in the European context, however. This project seeks to address this deficit with a content analysis of online news sites in Ireland to examine whether the classic principles and relationships found in U.S. community media apply among Ireland’s community-news publications today.


A primary theme through the literature of U.S. community journalism is the intimacy that news organizations share with the institutions and individuals they cover, especially as it is articulated through the topics selected for coverage. A classic text, frequently cited to establish principles of community journalism, says that weekly newspapers should report “details of local news not included in stories that are in other papers” (Byerly, 1961, p. 5).

This intimacy between the community media and its audience that develops through news selections was explored deeply by Morris Janowitz (1951, 1967)[1] in a study of weekly newspapers in Chicago neighborhoods around 1950. Janowitz did content analysis of three such papers, and also analyzed neighborhood demographics, surveyed readers, and conducted in-depth interviews with the papers’ managers and residents of the neighborhoods they served. As a result, he concluded that the urban community press was “one of the social mechanisms through which the individual is integrated into the urban social structure” (Janowitz, 1967, p. 9). According to Janowitz, the community press:

  • Provides support for and draws support (advertising) from satellite business districts within cities.
  • Helps to maintain local consensus through an emphasis on common values rather than on conflicting ones.
  • Shapes and reflects the neighborhood social and political structure.
  • Provides a forum in which mass communication effects are interrelated with personal communications and social contacts.

In short, local media can help build the communities they cover.

This is accomplished with a high concentration of news coverage on community organizations and institutions, especially voluntary social, cultural, religious, and youth groups. “The community newspaper’s emphasis on community routines, low controversy and social ritual are the very characteristics that account for its readership,” Janowitz noted (1967, p. 130).

Building on Janowitz, Edelstein and Larsen (1960) also determined that content selection could affect community-building. They concluded that coverage of clubs and associations developed community consciousness, news of individual activities and accomplishments contributed to community identity, and crime and accident reports disclosed threats to the community.

Also growing from Janowitz’s work was a body of research in the 1970s and ’80s that explored how media usage, community characteristics, and an individual’s sense of community connectedness related to one another, which came to be known as the community ties research agenda. Many research projects at the time defined community according to geography and examined newspaper usage in light of variables such as home ownership and length of residence in a given geographic market (e.g. Stone 1978). However, Stamm and Fortini-Campbell (1983) introduced the idea that community, which traditionally had been rooted in a physical locale, should be construed on multiple dimensions of not only place (geography) but also structure (community institutions) and process (shared interests and interaction of community members). They further maintained that residents developed ties to each of these independently. This classification became the basis for investigations into the relationship of media usage and development of community attachments (Stamm 1985, 1988).

More recent updates of this work include design and testing of a 22-item index linking the news values reflected in content selection and the process of community-building by Lowrey, Woo & Mackay (2007). Paek, Yoon and Shah (2005) similarly found that news readership increased the likelihood of community participation.

The reasonableness of using these news values documented in American journalism as a framework for investigating Irish news sites rests in theories that explain the export and diffusion of news values from dominant countries such as the United States to the rest of the world. Among the widely used theories of international communication that propose this are Galtung’s structural imperialism (1971), Schiller’s cultural imperialism (1976) and Boyd-Barrett’s media imperialism (1977).   In the seminal work in this area, Galtung and Ruge (1965) noted that “consonance” of values such as culture and language would lead to similarities in news presentations. Clearly that sort of cultural and linguistic consonance exists between Ireland and America.

These theories of international communication, which developed around the same time as the evolution of the U.S. community ties hypothesis in the 1970s and ‘80s, generally sought to address the impact of news and other information flows on less-developed regions of the world. Galtung (1971), for example, separated the world into the “core” (developed countries) and “periphery” (developing and underdeveloped ones) and argued that news by and about the core dominates worldwide, even in the periphery. In an example of this, Chang (1998) studied Reuters news service reporting of a World Trade Organization conference in Singapore and concluded that more reporting was done on core countries (especially the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Union) than peripheral ones, and that coverage of peripheral countries was mostly in the context of their relationship with the core.

These theories are not wholly relevant to the current case because Ireland clearly is a part of the core, rather than the periphery. Yet they are relevant for explaining diffusion of news values from dominant players – in this case, the U.S. – to other parts of the world. For example, Boyd-Barrett and Rantanen (1998) said major news agencies (wire services) were agents of the globalization and commodification of news. Rantanen (1998) also described the process by which national news systems developed with values similar to those of larger international news agencies, and McPhail added that wire services “directly and indirectly promote a core-based focus and emphasis in reporting values” (2002, p. 159, emphasis added).

Thussu (2006) notes that many American news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, Time, Fortune and Forbes produce regional editions for Asian, European and South American markets, which furthers the spread of American news values. The global success of CNN also contributed to proliferation of American news values (McPhail, 2002). A more recent investigation of international diffusion of news practices found partial support for two hypotheses that European news systems over time had developed a “hard news” paradigm with sourcing patterns more similar to U.S. coverage (Esser & Umbricht, 2014). Overall, it is reasonable to assume that the globalization of media described in these theories can predict a homogenization of news values that could include community news.

The specific research question to be explored here is: What degree of consonance exists between historically documented community news values of American papers and contemporary Irish coverage? This will be demonstrated with a comparative analysis of topical themes for community news coverage presented in each country.

This is an especially relevant line of investigation because no direct cross-cultural comparison with American media could be located in literature about Irish news and media. It also is important given the findings that community media can contribute to construction of social identity – in this case, Irish identity.  Studies of Irish news content were found that focused on news coverage related to national and regional identity. But mostly these addressed historical events, such as the early 20th century independence struggle (Foley, 2004), the Good Friday peace accords (Baker 2005), Northern Ireland’s annual “orange marches” (Fawcett 2002; Ferman 2013), and the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy (Cawley 2012a). Studies of media contributions to identity at more local levels in a more contemporary context are lacking.


Answering the question of whether Irish community news sites would present coverage consonant with news values found in American publications was done with a content analysis of material on the websites of Irish newspapers. News items published on the sites were classified by topic (e.g. community events, government, sports, police news, etc.) and the results were evaluated with a factor analysis to discern whether any patterns underlay the topics in ways that related to the purposes and functions described by Janowitz and Stamm. This approach is similar to a content study of print and online U.S. newspapers that used factor analysis to ascertain underlying determinants of coverage in testing a proposed community news index (Lowrey, Woo & Mackay, 2007).

Ireland is a small country; with a population of 4.6 million people on 33,600 square miles it is just slightly larger than the U.S. state that ranks 25th in population and 40th in area: South Carolina
(4.2 million people; 31,117 sq. miles). So like a small U.S. state, Ireland’s universe of media outlets to investigate is relatively small as well. Combining the results of a search in two different listings of online news sites ( and and eliminating duplicates and broken links, a database of 122 Irish newspapers with an online presence was developed. They ranged from large ones based in Dublin with national circulation all the way down to local and regional dailies and weeklies. This small number of outlets made it possible to do a very generous sampling of 50 percent of the available universe (n = 61) for a comprehensive look at the coverage patterns for the country as a whole.

Although comprehensive circulation statistics could not be located, the vast majority of these can be considered community papers. Eight publications in the 122-outlet universe are national papers – but even the largest of them, the Independent, is the size of a mid-market daily by American standards with a circulation of 112,000. Even most of the “nationals” have circulation of around 50,000, which is commonly used by U.S. trade associations as a cutoff for “small” publications (Lauterer, 2006). It is reasonable therefore to consider that the rest of Ireland’s newspapers are smaller still and focused on serving local geographic areas, and therefore that the cross-cultural analysis of examining them for traditional community journalism values as articulated in small U.S. newspapers makes sense. As one journalist from Cork remarked, “Almost every newspaper in Ireland is hyper-local” (Weckler, 2011, para. 11).

Ireland has consistently been documented as a place with strong newspaper readership (Brennan, 2005; Elvestad & Blekesaune, 2008). Irish newspaper readership tends more strongly toward print than online, although online is growing with a 26 percent increase in 2013-14 compared with 2012-13 in the Joint National Readership Survey (2014). This survey, released in August 2014, said 2.9 million people read an average issue in print with 565,000 online (in a country of 4.2 million population). It reported high crossover between print and online readership, with 3/4 of online average issue readers also reading in print.

The idea of using story topics as the key measurement for this research was drawn from Janowitz, who said that community newspaper content selection could “emphasize values and interests on which there is a high level of consensus in the community” and assist in “building and maintaining local traditions and local identifications” (1967, p. 61). The variables identified for this project generally followed the list he used in analyzing the Chicago papers. However, it combined some categories and also excluded one – trade unions – that made sense for 1950s Chicago but not a contemporary context. Other story topics not used by Janowitz but relevant to modern-day coverage – such as schools, real estate, and transportation/commuting – then were added to create a 17-item codebook. The codebook specified that topical categories applied to local news only; larger-scale stories such as national events were categorized as “Non-local/other.” (See complete list of variables in Table 1.)

A total of 1,425 items that appeared on the home pages of 61 sites selected at random were coded by placing them into one of these categories in a review of the sites during an eight-week period in October and November 2014. A mean of 23.3 items and a median of 22 items per site were coded.

Agreement reliability between the two coders (the principal researcher and a trained student assistant) was determined by having both of them code 10 percent of the sites (n = 6) including approximately 8 percent of the total items (n = 110) used in the final analysis. The rate of agreement in this post-hoc test was 75.5 percent, with a Cohen’s kappa of .714. Scott’s pi also was .714, but Cohen’s kappa is a preferred statistic when a large number of variables (in this case, 17) are coded.


The amount of coverage Irish online newspapers devoted to different topics varied from 19 percent for sports (n = 275 out of 1,425) to a fraction of a percent for religion coverage (n = 2 for organized religion; n = 2 for individual religion/spirituality). The next-most common topics after sports were arts and cultural coverage (12 percent; n = 171), business and economy coverage (11.2 percent; n = 160), government (10.7 percent; n = 153) and police, court and crime news (8.4 percent; n = 119). (See Table 1 for complete percentage results.)

Because the idea of using news topics as a unit of analysis was drawn from Janowitz and the codebook was a modification of his categories, amounts and types of coverage were compared across his study and the current one. Few similarities emerged. Janowitz’s study, for instance, found 6.5 percent of coverage devoted to religious organizations, compared to a fraction of 1 percent in the Irish sites (4 items out of more than 1,200 analyzed). This difference is especially notable in that Janowitz specifically identified religious groups as one constituent of the coverage of community routines and social rituals (1967, p. 74), but religion was utterly lacking in the contemporary Irish coverage. Likewise, Janowitz discovered that 18.8 percent of news coverage was devoted to social and personal news and 23.6 percent devoted to local volunteer efforts, compared to 4.6 percent and 2 percent in the Irish sample.

In the other direction, Janowitz found only 4.3 percent of coverage devoted to disasters, accidents and police news (combination of two categories) whereas the current study noted 10.2 percent of coverage was about these topics combined. Less than 6 percent of the coverage documented by Janowitz was devoted to sports, compared with more than 19 percent in the Irish coverage.

Some limitations in making these comparisons are worth noting, including the differences in coding categories; Janowitz did not have a separate category for community events as the current study did so an event sponsored by a volunteer group most likely would have appeared as coverage about the group in his study, but in a different category, the “events” one, in this study. Also, the statistics he reported were percentages of space devoted to various types of news while the current study used item-counts – largely because news hole and proportion of space used are impossible to calculate online.

This proportional comparison was augmented with a principal components factor analysis used to assess the underlying structure of the set of variables to discern whether any patterns underlay the topics in ways that related to the purposes and functions described by Janowitz and Stamm. Factor analysis is a data-reduction tool that creates derived variables (called factors) representing the degree to which variables in the larger initial set may be representing related characteristics by clustering them together in more homogeneous groupings. The factor analysis (with Varimax rotation) used a variable set that included 14 of the original content categories.  Three were discarded because of the small number of items found in them; they were commuting/transportation (n = 7) and both of the religion categories (n = 2 for each). Results suggested five factors that explained 64.7 percent of the variance among the variables, grouped as follows:

  • Factor 1 (accounting for 16.6 percent of variance): Government, Business/Economy, Real Estate/Land Development, and Community History. The four categories accounted for 25.7 percent of the total items coded (n = 367). Factor loadings ranged from .830 to .460.
  • Factor 2 (14.3 percent of variance): Sports and Culture/Arts. The two categories accounted for 31.3 percent of the total items coded (n = 446). Factor loadings ranged from .875 to .825.
  • Factor 3 (15.6 percent of variance): Community Events, Education, Volunteer Activities, Social/Personal News, and General Local News. This category accounted for 22.1 percent of the total items coded (n = 316). Factor loadings ranged from .705 to .558.
  • Factor 4 (9.5 percent of variance): Police/Courts/Crime and Accidents/Disasters. This category accounted for 10.23 percent of the total items coded (n = 144). Factor loadings ranged from .710 to .456.
  • Factor 5 (8.7 percent of variance): Other (non-local) news. This category accounted for 9.9 percent of the total items coded (n = 141). Its factor loading was .841.

(Complete results in Table 2.)

Unlike the simple proportional comparison, the underlying coverage determinants as suggested by the factor analysis indicate Irish news sites are fulfilling community orientation functions as described by Janowitz and Stamm.

One of the four key roles in Janowitz’s description of the community press was that it would shape and reflect the neighborhood social and political structure. Factor 1 shows that reporting on local “power structures” – government, business, and community development/real estate – has a common determinant. The collection of “structural” items loading on this factor indicates that the sites are fulfilling the function Janowitz identified regarding reflection of and support for community structure, including its economic players.

Factor 2, meanwhile, finds a common determinant to coverage of sports and arts/cultural coverage, which might be taken together as “diversions” or entertainment. Factor 3 includes personal/social news (job promotions, civic awards, obituaries, and the like) along with community events, education and volunteer activities. These items represent many types of coverage of which “social ritual” is made and thus this factor reflects Janowitz’s finding that community reporting focuses on “community routines, low controversy and social ritual” (Janowitz 1967, p. 130).

Factor 4, which groups accident/disaster coverage and police/crime news, represents reporting on threats to the community, as described by Edelstein and Larsen (1960) in their follow-up to Janowitz’s work (which also was based on his methodology). It groups two coverage variables that also relate to another social value, that of community safety.

Coverage of non-local news loaded on a factor of its own, indicating it has different coverage determinants than the community news topics. This illustrates that community coverage is separate and discrete from non-community news in the Irish publications.

Thus, the general trend with coverage variables as they were grouped by the factor analysis support the hypothesis that Irish news sites are fulfilling the functions ascribed to the U.S. community press in Janowitz’s classic work.

The factor solution also offers evidence of the Irish sites’ coverage patterns associating with community ties in the ways postulated by Stamm. He described the development of community ties as not only a matter of place (geography) but also of structure (institutions) and process (shared values/common activities). While this taxonomy does not completely overlap with Janowitz’s, the two approaches do intersect. Both scholars describe news about local institutions as coverage of “community structure.” Further, Janowitz’s description of coverage “emphasizing values and interests on which there is a high level of consensus in the community” (1967, p. 61) closely parallels what Stamm calls “process” coverage, or news that helps build community identity by illustrating “common endeavor and shared interest” (Stamm, 1985, p. 18).

Using Stamm’s taxonomy, the separation of non-local coverage (Factor 5) from everything else indicates a geographic determinant to news decisions by the Irish journalists. Factor 1 could be labeled “structure” for its collection of coverage variables about community institutions; Factors 2, 3 and 4 could be labeled “process” for their items that illustrate shared values, including community safety (Factor 4).


Many theories of international communication developed from the 1960s through the 1980s to predict and explain the globalization and homogenization of news values did so with a quite jaundiced eye toward developed nations, and the United States in particular. The general thread of this thinking was that core nations and their media organizations exercised hegemony over the periphery by exporting media content and associated cultural values. This even can be seen in the names of the theories. “Imperialism” is seldom seen in a positive light, yet that is exactly the term used by Galtung (1965) (“structural imperialism”), Schiller (1976) (“cultural imperialism”) and Boyd-Barrett (1977) (“ media imperialism”) to describe global flow of news and other media forms. The influence of the international news system, especially the large wire services or news agencies, in spreading common news values around the world has been clearly documented. This homogenization of news and news values around the world may be one explanation for the findings observed in this project.

But it is not possible to say this for certain because it also is plausible that the types of news coverage that exemplify community are similar without regard to national borders. In documenting the adoption of online news in Ireland, Cawley observed that,

The news content of their websites originated with the print newspapers and were aligned to established routines of information gathering from regional and local institutional sources and traditional journalistic judgments of what constituted local news: principally, local council and court reports, local commerce and sports. (Cawley 2012b, p. 228).

In that short list, he identifies three of the top four areas of coverage found in this content analysis that account for 42 percent of the items found. Those same three items account for a third of the coverage documented by Janowitz, too.

The largest single category of news coverage in the current analysis was sports, particularly of local teams in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Sports and team attachment play a large role in Irish cultural identity (Hassan, 2002; Fulton & Bairner, 2007) and therefore in devoting so much coverage to sport the community news sites are reflecting an important part of the social structure and local identity. Artistic and cultural endeavors also have long been a part of the construction of Irish identity (e.g. Foley, 2011; McLoone, 1994). Those topics comprised the second-largest category of coverage.

The lack of coverage about religion also can be explained by the adherence to community news values identified by Janowitz. For the setting he investigated (mid-20th-century Chicago), religious institutions were a key part of the community via neighborhood churches serving ethnic immigrants, especially Italians, Poles and – ironically – Irish. Coverage of churches therefore was a part of documenting the “social ritual” and “consensus values” aspects of living in those communities (Janowitz, 1967, p. 74), and constituted 6.5 percent of the coverage items he discovered in his content analysis. In historical and contemporary Ireland, on the other hand, religion is a point of major contention and conflict (e.g, Fahey, Hayes, & Sinnott, 2005). Avoiding coverage of religion, rather than putting news resources toward it, would serve the news value of emphasizing consensus values in the community and avoiding larger controversies.

So, rather than illustrating news imperialism of any sort, the findings that community news values documented in America more than a half century ago persist in Ireland today may be saying more about the enduring value of community coverage that “[satisfies] a basic human craving … the affirmation of the sense of community, a positive and intimate reflection of the sense of place” (Lauterer 2006, p. 33).

Janowitz’s work, and later Stamm’s, were noteworthy in explaining how community media could influence the way individuals connected with their communities and also could serve as an agent for community building. Ireland always has been known as a place where culture, identity and geography are tightly intertwined, especially in the North (Hayward, 2006).  This project’s finding that Irish websites exhibit some of the same characteristics in news coverage as found in U.S. community papers that served as community builders therefore is a significant one in light of that long-standing struggle for articulating community identity in the Emerald Isle.


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Current study Janowitz[1]
Sports 19.3% Sports 5.9%
Arts/Cultural News 12.0% Entertainment 5.1%
Business and Economy 11.2% Business 8.7%
Government and Politics 10.7% Mun. Svcs/Pub Affairs/Politics 18.8%
Police, Courts and Crime 8.4% Accidents/disasters, police (as combined by Janowitz) 4.3%
Accidents/ Disasters 1.8%  
Community Events 6.7%  
General News 5.4% Other local news 7.0%
Personal/Social 4.6% Personal/Social 18.8%
Education (combined cats) 3.2%  
Real Estate/Land Dev. 2.4%  
Volunteer grps (non-event) 2.2% Volunteer assocs (2 cats) 23.6%
Community History 1.4% Community History 1.2%
Commuting/Transportation 0.5%  
Religion (combined cats) 0.4% Religion 6.5%
Non-local (other) 9.9%  
Total 99.9% Total 99.9%
Factor 1 “Power Institutions” (Structure)
Government and Politics 0.83 0.006 0 0.117 -0.071
Real Estate/Land Dev. 0.754 -0.038 0.251 0.087 -0.003
Business and Economy 0.734 0.102 -0.034 -0.146 0.19
Community History 0.46 0.119 0.193 -0.442 -0.332
Factor 2 “Diversions” (Process)
Sports -0.085 0.875 0.107 0.09 0.038
Arts/Cultural News 0.098 0.825 0 0.016 -0.098
Factor 3 “Social Ritual” (Process)
Community Events 0.143 0.486 0.595 -0.112 -0.298
Education 0.285 0.161 0.643 -0.26 0.041
Volunteer grps (non-event) 0.233 0.187 0.687 -0.086 0.189
Personal/Social 0.123 -0.111 0.558 0.536 -0.256
General local news 0.206 -0.118 0.705 0.065 -0.022
Factor 4 “Community Safety” (Process)
Accidents/ Disasters -0.004 0.111 -0.133 0.71 0.038
Police, Courts and Crime 0.298 0.419 0.093 0.456 0.39
Factor 5 “External news” (Geography)
Non-local (other) 0.038 -0.081 0.027 0.025 0.841

[1] Janowitz’s original work on the topic appeared in a 1951 article in Public Opinion Quarterly, and was elaborated upon in a book published in 1952. A second edition of that book, with a new preface and epilogue but otherwise still focused on the same early-1950s project and data, was published in 1967. That later work is the one cited in this article.

About the Author

Jack Rosenberry is an associate professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. He would like to acknowledge and thank student Katie Weidman for her assistance on this project.


Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 4

Philippine Community Journalism: Roles, Status and Prospects

Jeremiah Opiniano, Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas, Mia Rosienna Mallari and Jhoana Paula Tuazon

This case study examines the current state of community journalism in the Philippines. This paper builds from previous studies, especially those by Filipino community journalism scholar Crispin Maslog, on the community press in the Philippines. The focus of this paper is the community newspaper and online community news websites. This case study includes interviews with leading stakeholders in the community press sector of the country. Pertinent documents surrounding the community press were collected and analysed. 

The Philippines is one of the freest press and media systems in the world. Amid the steep financial requirements associated with running a news organization (both for commercial and non-profit purposes), journalists from the Philippines have showcased areas of journalism that have made the country a global and regional model in this profession. One area of note is investigative journalism — especially done with limited aid from technology. At the first Asian Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) held in Manila (22 to 24 November 2014), the Global Investigative Journalism Network (or GIJN) commended the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for pioneering efforts on investigative reporting in Asia.

This case study examines the current state of community journalism in the Philippines. This paper builds on previous studies, especially those by Filipino community journalism scholar Crispin Maslog (1967, 1971, 1985, 1993, 2012a), on the community press in the Philippines. The focus of this paper is on the community newspaper and online community news websites. This case study includes interviews with leading stakeholders in the community press sector of the country. Pertinent documents surrounding the community press were collected and analysed. The paper also collected some 100 community newspapers, with publication dates covering the year 2014, and analyzed their staff boxes in order to provide a snapshot of the editorial and administrative personnel of these community newspapers.

Another creation originating from the Philippines, in the late 1960s, is development journalism — “people-centered” reporting that is said to give “alert news audiences to development problems and open their eyes to possible solutions” (Chalkley, 1968). Following American influences, what also figured prominently in the Philippines is civic or public journalism, where the media in a democratic society not only inform the people but also engage citizens and stir public debate.

PCIJ’s focus is investigative journalism. For development journalism, sometimes referred to as “journalism with a purpose” (Maslog, 2012a), a defunct news service called DEPTHNews (Development, Economic and Population Themes News) run by the Manila-headquartered Press Foundation in Asia blazed the trail in producing development stories that were shared with mainstream news media in the Philippines and across Asia (Xiaoge, 2009; McKay, 1993). The non-profit Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD) collaborated with an association of newspaper publishers, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), bringing civic or public journalism to communities outside of the Philippines’ capital region. CCJD was, in fact, the only foreign group featured in a list of resources on community journalism contained in the US-published book Foundations of Community Journalism (2011). The geographical reference to CCJD in the book is Southeast Asia.

Some scholars have noted that internationally, the Philippines also figures prominently in community journalism. Research on community newspapers from the Philippines had been recognized as among the first studies worldwide (Hatcher, 2012), with a study as early as a 1967 survey on the Philippine community press (in Maslog, 2012a). The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,107 islands and 79 provinces, many of which are not as economically robust as the seat of power, Metro Manila (or the National Capital Region). But the geographical dispersion of Filipinos became a natural setting for community journalism to thrive while Metro Manila houses nationally circulating newspapers and broadcast stations that have a nationwide reach.

Previously published studies on community journalism in the Philippines include qualitative profiles of community newspapers and their editors (Markham & Maslog, 1969; Maslog, 1971; Mejorada, 1990); the managerial aspects of publishing community newspapers (Maslog, 1985; 1993); ethical issues facing community journalists (Chua, 2012); and lately the welfare of community journalists given the spate of media killings hitting Filipino journalists nationwide (Braid, Tuazon & Maslog, 2012). While research on community journalism is slowly growing, international experiences and examples remain wanting for even the most basic documentation of how community journalism prevails in different countries (Hatcher, 2012).

This manuscript begins with a look at the role of the community press and of community journalists. Next, the authors present an updated status of the Philippine community press, including the current socio-economic and political challenges facing this sector of the mainstream news media. Finally, prospects on the immediate future of community journalism by Filipinos are presented.


This Southeast Asian archipelago has long been lagging behind neighbors in the region such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand (Virola, Astrologo & Rivera, 2010). However, since the global economic crisis in 2008, Philippine economic growth has been on the uptick — with analysts labelling the Philippines an “emerging economy” (Schuman, 2014). Government fiscal managers have reportedly done their job in maintaining solid macro-economic fundamentals (e.g. steady inflation, manageable levels of national debt vis-à-vis gross domestic product, combating corruption at national government agencies) (World Bank Philippines, 2014). Meanwhile, consumption continues to drive the economy; by sector, the Philippines is predominantly a service economy. Billion-dollar remittances from Filipinos working and living abroad have been a major economic resource — the number one source of revenue for the country. These economic developments in the last five to six years have prevailed despite slumping agriculture and a stagnant growth in the industrial sector.

Recent growth in the national economy may have cascaded into the country’s regions, affecting both urbanized and rural regions. The Philippine Statistical Authority, in 2013, said 13 of the 17 regions of the country are predominantly service-based; only one region, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (or ARMM, the country’s poorest region), is predominantly agricultural while three regions are predominantly industrial: Calabarzon (Region 4a, found east and south of Manila), the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR, north of Manila), and Central Visayas (in the central islands of the country) (Philippine Statistical Authority, 2013). All regions of the country are steadily growing in terms of their gross regional domestic production.

Overseas remittances sent to families of Filipinos abroad residing in these Philippine regions have also driven regional and local economic growth (Institute for Migration and Development Issues, 2008). Shopping malls were once found in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Today, even first- to second-income class municipalities in Philippine provinces have hosted these malls and supermarkets. Interestingly, across regions, the number of middle-income class families is steadily increasing.

The discussion on the macro- and meso-level economic performance of the Philippines helps us contextualize the operations of community newspapers. For obvious reasons, buoyancy of local economies means good news for the community news media —with particular reference here to regions outside of Metro Manila. Looking at the membership of just one coalition or network of newspaper publishers, there are even more community newspapers that are members of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) in the second poorest region —Eastern Visayas (the one struck by typhoon Haiyan, the world’s strongest weather system to hit landfall)— than in developed regions such as Calabarzon (Region 4a), Western Visayas (6), Central Visayas (7) and Davao (11). Levels of local economic growth in these poorer regions have not deterred publishers from publishing printed publications of all types — be they published by local entrepreneurs-cum-journalists, local government units, or even the Catholic Church. This reveals that levels of local economic growth are not a stumbling block to the establishment of community newspapers.


In the absence of empirical research (especially quantitative data) on the journalistic culture of Filipinos, there is the view that Filipino journalists are “torn” — divided between being advocates (a product of the birth of the Filipino nation) and being “objective” journalists, given the implanting of journalism into the country by the Americans in the early 1900s (Teodoro, 2001). The early national newspapers of the Philippines during the American period (1898-1946) imbibed the Libertarian tradition of the U.S. press to the point that even “nationalistic” Philippine newspapers faced threats from American colonizers.

Since the Philippines became an independent country, Philippine journalism has flourished, with 1946 to 1972 being referred to as the “golden age of Philippine journalism” (Braid & Tuazon, 1999). It was also during this period, at least for national newspapers, that newspaper publishers had to collaborate with top businesspeople to sustain the operations of newspapers. But it was also during this period that Filipino journalists embraced watchdog roles. In fact, this watchdog role led to the killing, in May 1966, of a publisher of a community newspaper, Ermin Garcia, Sr. of The Sunday Punch (in Pangasinan province, north of Manila). At that time, there was also concern about improving Filipino journalism and upholding press freedom, leading to the formation of groups such as the National Press Club (NPC) in 1952, the old Federation of Provincial Press Clubs (FPPC) in 1963, and the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) in 1964 (Tuazon, n.d.). FPPC and PPI included community newspapers in their membership rosters, showing that the community press has been around for some time.

But the imposition of martial law by then-strongman President Ferdinand Marcos changed the complexion of Philippine journalism. Marcos was suppressing press freedom and closed newspapers said to be critical of his regime. The activism movement, amid real threats such as political detention, began to show itself during the 1970s. At around this time, DEPTHNews initiated its work on “development journalism,” but the stories did not include criticisms against government given Marcos’ attitudes toward media.

In the 1980s, Filipino journalists tried to go underground and set up newspapers that were regarded as the “mosquito press” by allies of Marcos. But when Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., was assassinated at Manila’s international airport on Aug. 21, 1983, the Filipino nation was awakened — as were its journalists. Marcos was thrown out of power and Aquino’s wife, Corazon, became president and restored democratic institutions, including press freedom.

While a research on the history of the community press in the Philippines remains wanting, papers as early as Maslog’s in 1971 carried some information and findings that revealed a profile of community newspapers. The community press was described as the “forgotten sector” that is “weak and anemic” to fill information gaps that national media cannot (Maslog, 1971). While the FPPC and PPI were formed during the 1960s, at that time there was confusion as to the number of community newspapers. A communication school in central Philippines, Siliman University, conducted a survey of rural editors. Of 112 target respondents, a total of 52 community newspapers replied. That survey enabled Maslog and Siliman University to make an initial profile of the Filipino community newspaper and its editors:

  • Typically, the community newspaper was a weekly tabloid in English. Owned by an editor, these newspapers were seen as “politically independent;”
  • The average community newspaper editor was middle-aged, married, a Catholic, had a college degree, had not travelled abroad, occasionally worked in public relations or advertising for other people, was active in community work, and worked only part-time for the community newspaper; and
  • The community newspaper earned “reasonable” profits, even as one out of ten newspapers admitted the newspaper “was losing money” or was “barely breaking even.”

Maslog concluded that the view that community newspapers’ potential for national development was great, but this sector “needs to be developed first” before such role can be fulfilled (Maslog, 1971).

This historical retracing of Philippine journalism finds relevance in showing, at least through historical accounts, the journalistic culture of Filipinos. Hanitzsch (2007) theorizes journalism culture as “a shared occupational ideology among newsworkers” — spanning the cultural diversity of journalistic values, practices and media products. Such discourse had been tested by Hanitzsch and collaborators in a two-round, multi-country study on journalism cultures (round 1 of study: 2007-2011 and round 2: 2012-2014). Among the concepts tested were four milieus of journalistic cultures:

  • Populist disseminator, with a strong leaning toward the audience (of providing the audience with “interesting” information). These journalists do not intend to take on active and participatory roles in reporting;
  • Detached watchdog, with an interest in providing political information to audiences. Here journalists have relatively high regard for their role as a “detached observer of events,” and they are least likely to advocate for social change, influence public opinion and set the political agenda.
  • Critical change agent, which is driven by interventionist intentions. These journalists are critical toward government and business elites, and advocates for social change through agenda-setting measures; and
  • Opportunist facilitator, in which journalists are constructive partners of the government. Here, journalists are most likely to support official policies and convey a positive image of political and business leadership.

As to be explained in succeeding portions of this paper, community journalism in the Philippines is a tale of two faces: the face of a critical change agent and the face of a business venture. Similar to the Metro Manila-based national newspapers, community journalism may be adopting a business model that encourages the role of the journalist as a critical change agent. These two faces of the community press operate in a milieu of press freedom (now guaranteed by the post-Marcos Philippine Constitution of 1987), in a period of changing habits of media usage by Filipino audiences, and in a current environment in which journalists’ safety and welfare are both under attack.


Audience profile

Updating data on media consumption habits by Filipinos remains a challenge. For purposes of this paper, the authors cite data from the market research firm AC Nielsen that did the Nielsen Media Index. As of the 2010 Index, the reading of newspapers is third behind television watching and radio listening across the major island groupings. What is also interesting is that low incomes did not reduce for media consumption — especially for newspaper reading, particularly for the poverty-stricken Mindanao province. This can be a function of pass-on readership, as well as the purchasing of nationally and locally published tabloids whose prices are cheaper than the broadsheet. Especially for Mindanao, the rising numbers of the middle-class families may have spurred the use of media including newspapers and the Internet. This development augurs well for the community newspaper sector.

Growth of Philippine community newspapering

Nearly five decades since the Maslog surveys (1967, 1971), Philippine community newspapers have grown in terms of the number of publications that are circulating. Amid the Internet’s rise as a medium and the national reach of broadsheets and broadcast networks based in the National Capital Region, communities outside of Metro Manila still find the publication of community newspapers relevant. Community newspapers have turned out to be profitable ventures, apparently leading other publishers to open their own community newspapers.

Established community newspapers, such as The Sunday Punch (Pangasinan in Ilocos region) or The Bohol Chronicle (Bohol in Central Visayas region), persist to this day. There are also long-running chains of community newspapers, such as the SunStar Group, which started out in Cebu province and now publishes SunStar community newspapers in 11 provincial cities plus a news service in Metro Manila. There are also younger chains of community newspapers in Mindanao such as the Businessweek Mindanao group of newspapers. The reach of the newspaper copies for some community newspapers is expanding; the Mindanao Gold Star Daily now covers 24 provinces (including 20 cities) in Mindanao. Newer, independent community newspapers are also coming up. Metro Manila’s national newspapers have either bought majority shares of community newspapers (e.g. The Freeman of Cebuwhich Philippine Star bought) or have set up community newspapers as part of the national media’s newspaper groups (e.g. Cebu Daily News of the Philippine Daily Inquirerand Daily Tribune Mindanao/Mindanao Insider of the hard-hitting Daily Tribune).

It is also worthy of note that the recent growth of the community newspaper industry, particularly in rural communities, seems to be driven by same factors that drove Filipino community newspaper success in the past: citizens’ need to know what is happening in local communities, educated readers in a country whose families value education, and participatory interest in the community, according to Rina Afable-Locsin, assistant professor of journalism at the University of the Philippines in Baguio City (personal communication, November 2014). This participatory interest from members of newspapers’ immediate communities, especially in communities with less-dense populations, continues to make community newspapers distinct from national news media. Social media have reinforced this community-level participatory interest. But in some communities, word-of-mouth still remains effective, according to Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD) (personal communication, November 2014).


Change agents or opportunists? Hanitszch’s discourse on journalistic culture (2007) offers a guide for discussing the current dynamics of community journalism in the Philippines. A survey of community newspapers or community journalists does not enable us to see if Filipino community journalists are populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents or opportunist facilitators. But, depending on the disposition of these Filipino community newspapers and community journalists, economic survival is tied to these.

The growth of community newspapering in the Philippines may be tied to there being critical change agents or opportunist facilitators. Some community newspapers are critical change agents in the sense that journalists — many of them with roots in rural communities — know what prevails locally and feel compelled to report these community-level developments (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014). Some other community newspapers are opportunist-facilitators in the sense that these newspapers, given people’s relationships with each other, relate with the powers-that-be so as to collar not just political ties but possible revenues from local coffers. Popular sources of revenue of community newspapers are judicial notices from local trial courts, advertisements from local government units (e.g. announcing enacted ordinances, public bidding opportunities) and political advertising during triennial local elections (or even months earlier from those electoral exercises). So a Filipino community newspaper, on one hand, may have the motivation to publish stories that contain community concerns and find revenue streams along the way; on the other hand, a community newspaper publishes weekly editions to draw in advertising revenues to the point of not being wholly conscious of the “journalistic” standard that this newspaper is supposed adhere to  (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).

Roles. The roles of these community newspapers and community journalists remain the same: as purveyors of community-related information; as instigators of discussions given stories (or kuwentong bayan, as this is referred to in some Philippine communities) affecting local citizens; and as monitors of community issues, sometimes in partnership with identified stakeholders like civil society organizations or cause-oriented citizens. These roles for community journalism in the Philippines reveal the evolution of the concepts, from development journalism in the 1970s (wherein the journalists report on local socio-economic issues that are underreported) to today’s civic journalism (wherein journalists, while maintaining their independence, report on issues and engage with audiences that allow citizens to discuss issues).

Community journalism in the Philippines is closely associated with civic journalism: It is connected to a specific geographic setting and embraces a reciprocal relationship between journalists and community members. From 1996 to 2007, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) called its annual awards for outstanding community newspapers the “Community Press Awards.” Since 2008, PPI has called these awards the “Civic Journalism Awards” (Philippine Press Institute, 2014).

Veteran Manila-based journalist Vergel Santos (2007) calls civic journalism “the same journalism, only more localized.” Civic journalism as a concept also “supplements” the content of community journalism. Santos explains why the concepts community journalism and civic journalism suit each other:

It [civic journalism] suits journalism to community conditions in ways that national or cosmopolitan practice, since it is intended for much larger and more diverse audiences, does not. [Civic journalism] attacks local gut issues with such focus and thoroughness as it engages every sector of the locality. In other words, civic journalism turns the news media into a catalyst for community action, thus promising the community a distinct identity and sense of self-reliance. (Santos, 2007, p. 15)

Civic journalism’s introduction into the community press is an innovation Philippine journalism has produced. In many respects, the use of civic journalism techniques in community journalism is what the development journalism movement in the 1970s envisioned. On the part of the individual community journalist, since he or she is “homegrown,” executing roles is done “in a homegrown manner” — reporting from the lens of the journalists’ personal experiences and their own take on what the community needs (R. Afable, personal communication).

More than community engagement or facilitation, civic journalism stresses the production of credible news content, according to Ariel Sebellino, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) (personal communication, November 2014). In an ideal setting, the community newspaper starts off the process of doing civic journalism by reporting initially on an issue. What follows are activities in which the journalists or community newspaper bring together stakeholders to discuss such issues. Afterwards, the views from these people that were mentioned in the newspaper-facilitated activities (e.g. dialogues) are sources in follow-up stories or special reports. If executed properly, these stories can deter the powers-that-be from making decisions that may be “detrimental” to local residents (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014). In this respect, the community newspaper is ascribed a role in “societal transformation” (A. Sebellino, personal communication, November 2014) — that the newspaper can be “aggressive” in framing stories that challenge people to have a stake in local issues affecting them. Natural disasters are an example where a community newspaper’s stories challenge the community to take action.

Adoption of civic journalism techniques in community newspapers is, however, seen in a limited number of newspapers – primarily news publications that see the value of the concept of civic journalism after, for example, participating in a training activity on civic journalism. A visible majority of the community press in the Philippines are still motivated primarily by profit, which is not entirely bad in itself. But blending the market orientation with community journalists’ capabilities and understanding of how journalism is supposed to operate — from reporting to publishing, and carrying the trait of independence from factions — remains a challenge. Even a casual observer can easily see which newspapers publish credible content. But other newspapers whose personnel may lack the training in journalism still find a visible place in local communities, and they may thrive as business ventures.


There are other developments that can be seen from the community newspaper sector in the Philippines:

  1. Elaborate staff compositions in the community press. Staffing in community newspapers was initially a family affair or was made up of a few dedicated personnel who took on editorial, administrative and marketing roles. While there are still community newspapers with limited staffing, there is now the realization of expanding personnel as investments for the aspired profitability of the community newspapers. This trend (see Table 1) can be seen in a cursory look at this year’s staff boxes of nearly a hundred community newspapers. The development may be a reflection of the evolution of the community newspaper as a business venture, recognizing the ingredients necessary in the value chain of a newspaper.
  2. The competitive nature of the community newspaper sector depends on the dynamics of local communities. In areas such as Metro Cebu (in Cebu province, central Philippines), Baguio City (in Benguet province, north of Manila), Cagayan de Oro City (in Misamis Oriental province in Mindanao) and Davao City (an independent city also found in Mindanao) community journalism thrives given residents’ thirst for community-level information, perhaps encouraging more aspiring publishers to try out this business. But this is not the case in other local communities, even those with visibly buoyant local resources. This may have to do with differing media or news preferences by local audiences. What should also be considered is that compared to Metro Manila, the target markets of community newspapers remain small; as an example, a scant few provincial communities in the Philippines have community publications that already have specialized publications such as lifestyle magazines and community-level business newspapers. Some areas have tried to emulate the vibrant situations seen in other Philippine provincial communities, but local audiences may not be responding to such moves by community newspapers (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).
  3. Within community newspapers, division still prevails. The disposition of the community newspaper publishers toward journalism — from the basic knowledge of how journalism is done to the role of the community newspaper in local communities — is a starting point of the community newspaper sector’s division. Community newspapers that are critical change agents are one group while others that are considered either as detached watchdogs or opportunist facilitators are another group. One network of newspaper publishers admits to being selective in inviting community newspapers to be members since the network focuses on the “quality” of the newspapers’ journalism.
    There are also many other community newspapers that are either members of a newspaper publishers’ network, the Publishers Association of the Philippines Inc. (PAPI), or are not members of any of existing national coalitions of newspaper publishers. In some local communities, regardless of affiliation or disposition in terms of journalism culture, camaraderie among journalists prevails in local-level press clubs for the simple reason that members are kindred souls: journalists. Another factor that has probably united differing groups of community newspapers, at least in principle, is the slaying of community journalists, to be explained in more detail below.
  4. The Internet is threatening economically challenged community newspapers. This observation especially goes out to rural areas with limited Internet connectivity and less-developed telecommunications infrastructure, as well as to community newspapers with limited financial resources to set up a news website and have personnel regularly uploading and circulating content worldwide. In general, the use of the Internet and social media by community newspapers remains behind when compared to the national newspapers in Metro Manila.
    Only a few moneyed community newspapers, such as the SunStar Group, have opened dedicated news website services that disseminate news from the published newspaper editions and breaking news, and that share stories through social media platforms. The majority of community newspaper stories online, based on a perusal of the community newspapers and the newspapers’ available news sites, appear to come from stories in their newspaper print editions. For others with no resources to open a regularly maintained news website, some community newspapers bring to Facebook their stories and the PDF files of their weekly newspaper editions. Sensing that community-centered news via the Internet remains lacking, some independent news producers open up Internet news websites such as MindaNews, Mindanao Examiner and Northern Dispatch (NORDIS) — to which their stories are being syndicated (with associated fees) to the community press. It also seems that younger, educated audiences may have driven community news organizations and newspapers to go online and be visible in social media (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).
  5. A profitable community press? Community newspapers envy the national newspapers that receive the attention of big-ticket advertisers. In the past, a Manila-based intermediary accounts group received advertisers from Metro Manila on behalf of community newspapers, and the intermediary got a share from advertising intake.
    Community-level advertising persists as the main source of advertising revenue for the community press. But the amount of revenues then depends on the level of economic growth in local communities, the presence of local enterprises and the aggressiveness of community newspapers’ advertising and marketing personnel to reach a part of the market. National-level data show that a big number of enterprises are micro-enterprises and these mostly thrive in rural areas.
    Local community advertising intake differs, again being a function of local audiences and local economic dynamics. The leading regions for Philippine community journalism are fortunate in these respects. In other communities, community newspapers rely on their standing in the community or their longevity such that local residents know these papers to be trustworthy and independent  (R. Reyes, personal communication, October 2014).
    Given differing situations surrounding advertising intake by community newspapers, few are expanding and many are subsisting, even on a daily basis — a trend that had been seen decades ago (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014; A. Sebellino, personal communications, November 2014). The Internet as the next source of revenue for the community press remains in its infancy, though community newspapers are banking on the community connection, especially given community members based abroad who reconnect with their rural birthplaces. Publication of judicial notices remain as an easy revenue earner for the community newspaper. Community newspaper publishers are also owners of printing presses (R. Locsin, personal communication, November 2014), lowering the cost of publishing a community newspaper. The printing press helps lessen the high risk of maintaining a community newspaper.
  6. Old issues persist. Economic conditions of community newspapers still lead to the continued presence of other issues affecting journalism: media corruption, journalists’ co-optation with sources (Tuazon, 2013; Chua, 2013), observations of “lower quality” reportage, media bribery, and limited human and financial resources to conduct enterprise reporting.
    Inasmuch as some of these community newspapers want to become independent, community newspapers try to balance their desire to be independent with their attachment to the community. In small communities audiences can easily determine whether a community newspaper has lost its credibility or not. The community newspaper also understands that the community connection is hard to dissociate, this being the business model of community newspapers (R. Reyes, personal communication, November 2014). As such, citizens’ perception of community journalists still carries a huge bearing, with these journalists still being “part and parcel” of the community (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).
  7. The impunity that threatens community journalists. Media killings are easily the single biggest threat to Filipino journalists. This was made evident in the massacre of 32 community print and broadcast journalists (part of a total 58 people killed) by a powerful local political clan (the Ampatuan), in Salman village, Ampatuan municipality in Maguindanao province, Mindanao on November 23, 2009 (Quinsayas, 2012). The slaying of community journalists is not a new phenomenon; Maslog (2013) noted the “early martyrs of Philippine journalism” such as Cebu community journalist Antonio Abad Tormis of the defunct daily paper Republic News, killed in 1961; Ermin Garcia, Sr. of The Sunday Punch in Pangasinan province in 1966; and Jacobo Amatong of The Mindanao Observer in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte province, in 1984.
    This culture of impunity made the Philippines one of three countries in the world that had become the most dangerous for journalists (Reuters, 2014). The Philippine situation is unusual in that it is a democracy, and the media killings have not been associated with war or civil conflict. As of this writing, 217 Filipino journalists have been killed since 1986, with 145 of them killed in the line of duty (See tables 2 and 3). Under the current regime of reformist President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, which began July 1, 2010, 25 journalists have been slain (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 2014). Radio journalists, with radio being their primary and solitary media affiliation, are the most killed, followed by print journalists. In all provincial regions of the country there are recorded murders of journalists, especially in developed regions (Central Luzon [Region 3], Calabarzon [4a] and Davao [11]) as well as in the region where the Maguindanao massacre happened, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (see Figure 1). Some do hope that if local communities are conscious of the role of journalism in a democracy in these immediate provincial communities, the people themselves will help protect the journalists (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).

Continued challenges facing the community press

Obviously, the killing of journalists is Philippine journalism’s single greatest challenge. But many of the challenges facing community journalism are decades old. Many community journalists remain less equipped, especially since journalism is not their primary academic training. Media corruption persists even with the culture of media impunity as the backdrop.

There may also be issues, though not admitted to in public or through research papers, in the way that community journalists manage the entrepreneurial side of their work. While publishers with strong business acumen do not find problems managing these newspapers, journalists who are not trained entrepreneurs juggle both editorial and entrepreneurial responsibilities, perhaps making community journalists more open to employ unethical media practices.


Community journalism in the Philippines remains glued to the geographic reference of the concept (Maslog, 2012). As shown in this paper, a Southeast Asian archipelago’s geographic dispersion is a natural setting for community newspapers to thrive and for communities to continually prefer reading local news. Metro Manila media remain an influential segment of overall Philippine journalism, but journalism may provide a way to link national and community newspapers: News, especially when well contextualized, connects Filipinos in general (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014). This connection occurs not just when tragedy strikes in local communities, and operationalizing this connection between Manila (too national) and the provincial communities (too local) may require a rethinking of community journalists’ editorial approaches to stories. Then again, the economic viability of this editorial approach to community journalism is yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, and amid the prevailing weaknesses and challenges confronting community newspapers, Philippine community journalism is currently enjoying a window of opportunities from not just the Internet, but also from visibly felt local economic growth and the gradual rising of the middle-class in provincial communities. These economic opportunities offer an opportune time for civic journalism, if practiced by community newspapers, to reconnect journalists with their communities. These provincial communities may continually resort to old ways in using media and in consuming news, as community newspapers then embrace new ways of producing and disseminating news. But one may wonder if there already prevails a disconnection between the community newspaper and the community and its members. A ramification of this development, even with today’s penchant for civic journalism, is that audiences may not understand the community newspapers’ stories, or do not care about these stories (R. Batario, personal communication, November 2014).

Connectedness with people in local communities remains the editorial and business model of community journalism in the Philippines. Filipino community newspapering is also slowly becoming more professionalized not just in terms of the stories being written, but also in the editorial and business expansion measures these papers take on. The role of Filipino community journalism has evolved, especially for newspapers that are serious in showcasing journalism’s important role in democracy. There are threats that come from within these newspapers and from the prevailing geographic environment, yet these underpaid journalists and their under-resourced community newspapers have been taking on the challenge to continually find viable economic formulas fed by the conduct of credible, independent journalism.

Not surprisingly, the Philippine case presents many possible areas for future research on community journalism. These can cover culture’s and local identity’s role in community journalism; managerial aspects of newspaper publishing; the psychology of community journalists’ behavior in dealing with news sources who are from the community; and ethics in community journalism. If the community press in the country espouses the tenets of “civic journalism,” do their stories reveal such?

But what can international community journalism learn from the Philippines? On the editorial side, analysis of international community journalism can probe deeper into the attempts of these stories to connect journalists with communities (especially if there are efforts to include a multitude of community voices, not just the usual suspects such as local officials and local experts). In terms of journalistic culture, how does being a critical change agent or an opportunist-facilitator impact business operations? Local politics vis-à-vis journalism is another dynamic for further analysis. While development journalism as a concept in the 1970s had evolved into current-day civic journalism, community journalism by Filipinos may continue to have a role in local development.

Maslog (1971) said that the community press provides alternative information to Filipinos that the national news media cannot provide, especially since national news media cannot report happenings in local communities. Could the current socio-economic situation of the Philippines help community journalism realize the potential that Maslog (1971) envisioned? The old habits, or beliefs, of Philippine community journalism prevail. But new approaches to community journalism may help Filipino journalists to become, or remain, relevant locally.


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  • Chalkley, A. (1968). A manual of development journalism. Manila, Philippines: Thomson Foundation and the Press Foundation of Asia.
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Role/s and position/s in the community newspaper No. of community newspapers
One-to-two staff Three-to-five staff Six staff members and above
Publisher and editorial board members 27 19 4
Section editors 5 1 1
Reporters, correspondents and photographers 5 7 16
Marketing, advertising and administration* 28 6 2
Technology 8 1
Legal 13

*This classification includes financial managers, circulation personnel and business managers.


About the Authors

Jeremaiah Opiniano is an assistant professor and coordinator of the journalism program of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Southeast Asia’s oldest journalism school.

Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas is a third-year journalism student at the University of Santo Tomas.

Mia Rosienna Mallari is a third-year journalism student at the University of Santo Tomas.

Jhoana Paula Tuazon is a third-year journalism student at the University of Santo Tomas.


Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 4

The Status of Editorial Writing in Australian, Canadian, and U.S. Weekly Newspapers

Barbara Selvin

Like other traditional aspects of weekly newspapers, editorial writing faces pressure as staffing cuts shrink newsrooms. This cross-cultural reporting project found agreement among editorialists, publishers, newspaper associations and academics in Australia, Canada and the U.S. that the practice of editorial writing is in decline, particularly among chain-owned weeklies. Editors may attempt to substitute personal columns, but columns often fail to provide the “institutional voice” that starts or shapes community conversations.

Barry Wilson was cajoling the crowd at the membership meeting of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors’ 2104 annual conference in Durango, Colo., talking up the group’s meeting two years hence in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.  Wilson allowed that he was planning for the 2016 ISWNE event to coincide with the annual conference of the Victoria Country Press Association, the trade group for weekly newspapers[1] in the Australian state of Victoria, for a deeply felt reason.  He was hoping, he said, that ISWNE’s emphasis on editorial writing would rub off on the Victoria contingent.  Too few editors of Australia’s country newspapers, Wilson said, regularly write hard-hitting editorials that live up to the opening words of ISWNE’s mission statement: “The object of this organization shall be to encourage and promote wise and independent editorial comment, news content and leadership in community newspapers …” [emphasis added] (ISWNE, 2014).  There is nothing in Australia’s state-level Country Press Associations’ activities like the editorial critiques central to ISWNE conferences.  The critiques, which take months of planning and occupy a full afternoon during the conference, “are what I keep coming for,” Wilson, the group’s current vice president, said (personal communication, June 27, 2014).

Editorial writing hasn’t vanished from Australia’s weekly newspapers, but it’s not occupying a central role in the industry, either.  Among Country Press Australia and its six affiliated associations, only two groups, in New South Wales and South Australia, give annual awards for editorials (Country Press Australia, 2004). In contrast, weekly newspaper groups in North America, to which Wilson has traveled five times for ISWNE and its editorial critiques, consistently celebrate editorial writing.  The National Newspaper Association, a U.S. community newspaper trade group with 2,200 members compared to ISWNE’s 265, gives three annual awards for editorials, plus honorable mentions, in four circulation categories, plus the same number of awards for editorial pages in two circulation categories (National Newspaper Association, 2014).  ISWNE gives 13, its “Golden Dozen” and its top award, the “Golden Quill” (Grassroots Editor, 2014); in fact, the organization was born at a 1955 conference of weekly newspaper editorial writers (Long, 1977).  The Canadian Community Newspaper Association gives nine prizes each year for local editorial writing—first-, second-, and third-place prizes for newspapers in three circulation classes (Canadian Community Newspaper Association, 2014).

At weekly newspapers in Australia, Canada, and the U.S., three nations linked by a history of expansive European settlement and the establishment of weekly newspapers in frontier towns, changing technology and staffing cuts have challenged the tradition of editorial writing.  To use an ecological metaphor, editorials at weekly papers aren’t extinct, nor do they belong on journalism’s endangered-species list, but they could reasonably be called threatened. Interviews with weekly newspaper editors and publishers, academics and officials of press groups in these three countries found agreement that the practice of reporting and writing weekly editorials that take stands on local issues has lost ground, particularly when chains acquire once-independent newspapers.


Journalism scholars have devoted little time to studying editorials in community newspapers. Looking at newspapers overall, scholars have explored editorials on events such as the Iraq war (Nikolaev & Porpera, 2007; Mooney, 2004); examined the impact of political endorsements (St. Dizier, 1985; Counts, 1985); and studied the role of editorials at various moments in history (Strom, 2004; Tanner, Burns & O’Donnell, 2012; Thornton, 2014). Waldrop (1967) wrote that the newspaper editorial serves a vital role in fostering deliberation in a democracy while holding public officials accountable:

For the newspaper, the editorial page is: (1) a source of personality, of “conscience, courage, and convictions”; (2) a means of demonstrating that “A newspaper is a citizen of its community,” a statement which appears in the editorial masthead of the Eugene Register-Guard; (3) “a leaven and a guide to the whole newspaper operation.” (Waldrop, 1967, p. 9)

Most of the published scholarship on editorials examines influential daily newspapers. No research could be found documenting how many newspapers, daily or weekly, run traditional editorials, or the correlation between circulation size and editorial pages or between type of ownership and editorial pages, on a national or international basis.

In an unpublished study presented at the 2008 National Newspaper Association convention, Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, and Elizabeth K. Hansen, then a visiting scholar at the institute; examined 102 Kentucky weeklies in September 2007. That month, 28 of these weekly newspapers had no editorial page at all, 53 ran an editorial page each week, and the remaining 21 fell somewhere in between.  The larger a paper’s circulation, the more likely it was to run editorials.


In the absence of data, nevertheless, there is a sense among editorial writers and some scholars that the glory days of weeklies’ editorial pages are over, replaced by personal columns or noncontroversial statements from a newspaper chain’s regional office that fail to address local issues head-on. Gone, they say, are the days of driven country editorialists such as William A. White of Kansas and Australia’s legendary E.C. Sommerlad.

White (1868-1944) owned The Emporia Gazette from 1895 until his death and was nationally known for hard-hitting editorials such as “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (1896) and “To an Anxious Friend” (1921), a paean to free speech (University of Kansas, n.d.) Sommerlad (1886-1952) wrote that it was “a thrilling experience deliberately to set about achieving a certain end through the use of the press, and to feel your reading public react to the lead given them. To me it is like sitting at the controls of some mighty machine …’” (Sommerlad, as cited in Kirkpatrick, 2013, p. 12). New South Wales named its annual journalism awards after Sommerlad (Country Press Australia, 2004).

“When he was editing the Glen Innes Examiner, Sommerlad would sometimes put a banner across the front page, below the masthead, declaring, ‘The “Examiner” Does Not Shirk a Clear Cut Editorial Opinion,’” Rod Kirkpatrick, a journalist, academic, and historian, wrote (Kirkpatrick, 2013, p. 12).

In an email, Kirkpatrick himself minced no words on editorials’ decline: “Australian country non-dailies (weeklies, bi-weeklies and tri-weeklies) publish editorials on an irregular basis and even when they do publish them, the editorials say little,” he wrote (personal communication, December 2014). “They are motherhood statements. They basically say the obvious: isn’t it a good thing that we are having a festival this weekend to tell the world how interesting our little town is; isn’t it bad that the [name your facility] is closing.”

Asked in a subsequent video chat to name anyone in Australia’s provincial press who consistently produces powerful editorials, Kirkpatrick was silent for a long moment.

“There’s just enormous pressure,” particularly at chain-owned newspapers that have experienced major staffing cuts, “just to get the jolly paper out, just to get it filled,” he said at last (personal communication, December 2014). “If you’re the journalist in charge, you’re doing all the news,” leaving little time for the research, writing, and revision a good editorial needs.

Kathryn Bowd, a senior researcher in media at the University of Adelaide, said in a video chat that Australia’s top-down, centralized government—states and territories, not local communities, run the public school and hospital systems and provide police services—makes it easy for editorialists to condemn, even to campaign against, decisions made in Canberra and the capital cities (personal communication, December 2014). “The regional impact [of such decisions] can be quite severe,” Bowd said. “Campaigns around federal or state issues often get a strong response.” Issues of local concern frequently get short shrift to avoid antagonizing powerful local interests (Bowd, 2007).

But Kristy Hess, senior lecturer in journalism at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus, struck a note of optimism. In a video chat, Hess said she has seen a resurgent interest in editorial writing among practicing community journalists who study at Deakin each year as part of Australia’s largest university-industry partnership for regional newspaper reporters (personal communication, December 2014). She has administered this program since 2008. “The ideal fell by the wayside” as weekly papers struggled with the challenges of the digital age and endured an exodus of senior writers with deep community knowledge, she said. Now, though, “There absolutely is the desire of these newspapers to run editorials.”

Like Hess, Vern Faulkner, a prize-winning editorialist in New Brunswick, Canada, mourned the experience lost to buyouts and layoffs and what that has meant for strong editorial pages as well as news coverage. “Today’s newsrooms have largely been gutted of veteran talent,” he said in a telephone interview (personal communication, December 2014). “The newsrooms are filled with young people. I’ve seen papers where they have letters in the editorial spot. The old-school readers are going, ‘What the heck?’”

Another threat to the locally written editorial may come from readers who prefer bylined, often first-person columns to editorials that use what John Thompson, editor of the Yukon News in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, called, “the stilted, affected ‘we.’”

“The most widely shared stories on big newspaper sites are never the editorials,” Thompson said in a phone interview, adding, “and if you were to ask readers on a wide-ranging poll what their favorite part of the newspaper is, I don’t think editorials would be very high on the list” (personal communication, December 2014).

In 2014, Thompson won the Canadian Community Newspaper Association’s top prize for a local editorial at a weekly newspaper with a circulation between 4,000 and 12,499. His winning entry, “New Meaning to Low Standards,” chastised members of the Liard First Nation for choosing as their leader a man who had served a prison sentence for an hours-long violent assault (Canadian Community Newspaper Association, 2014). The piece fulfilled a definition that New York University Professor Hillier Krieghbaum proposed for editorials in 1956: “a critical interpretation of significant, usually contemporary, events so that the publication’s typical reader will be informed, influenced or entertained” (p. 21).

Thompson offered his own definition: “At a community newspaper, an editorial is something you do on the corner of your desk when you’re not being interrupted.” Though modest about the general popularity of editorials, he added, “I like to think people find mine interesting now and then” (personal communication, December 2014).

In community newspapers like the Yukon News, the popularity of editorials among the readership may in fact be greater than at big-city papers. “In these smaller communities, editorials are still very relevant and very meaningful,” Alan Bass, a professor in the Thompson Rivers University journalism program in Kamloops, B.C., said in a telephone interview (personal communication, December 2014). “People writing editorials in these small communities are writing about people they’re likely to meet in the supermarket. … You can live in Toronto and never run into the people who are written about” in the Toronto Sun or The Globe and Mail.

Further, at smaller newspapers, editorials are usually written by one person, not by a faceless, anonymous editorial board, Bass pointed out. And at many smaller papers, including the Yukon News, editorials are initialed or signed.  When people know whose opinion the editorial is expressing, he suggested, they are more likely to want to see what that person has to say.

“It’s almost more like an individual column,” Bass said (personal communication, December 2014).


Bass was making an important distinction between traditional editorials and columns, a distinction that observers from one side of the globe to the other see as essential. Kirkpatrick, the historian of Australian rural weeklies, was so critical of columns replacing editorials that his harrumph practically burned through the computer screen (personal communication, December 2014).

“Some editorials in our local daily (in Mackay in north Queensland) are written in the first person and sound like an item for a chatty column about ‘my schooldays’ or ‘when I had my first bike riding lesson’—something like that,” he wrote (personal communication, December 2014).

In St. Stephen, New Brunswick, about 20 miles inland from the mouth of Canada’s Bay of Fundy, Faulkner fulminated with equal passion. “I have judged community newspapers in Canada for the nationals and in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in my career,” Faulkner, editor of the St. Croix Courier, said in a telephone interview (personal communication, December 2014). “That gives me a chance to see what other people are writing about. A lot of writers don’t understand the difference between a column and an editorial. A column is personal. So when I’m looking at editorials, I see a lot of ‘I,’ ‘me’ … That’s not to say that an editorial shouldn’t have emotion. But an editorial should have a calm, rational analysis,” or what Bernard L. Stein, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for his work at The Riverdale Press, a Bronx, N.Y., weekly, called “writing in an institutional voice” (personal communication, March 3, 2015).

Faulkner said he prefers to base his own editorials on a structured, numerical analysis, bringing emotion to play when appropriate but remaining dispassionate. “People should be made to feel smarter when they pick up a newspaper,” Faulkner said, “and a persuasive essay is one of the ways to do that” (personal communication, December 2014).


Faulkner works for one of the three independently owned community newspapers in New Brunswick, which has a population of more than 755,000. The other 23 community papers are owned by Brunswick News, a privately held company, according to Newspapers Canada, a joint initiative of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (Newspapers Canada, 2014).

Kim Kierans, a journalism professor and vice president of the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, links chain ownership to the failure of many provincial newspapers to hold companies and government officials accountable. Kierans wrote her 2004 master’s thesis, “Endangered weeklies,” on three weekly newspapers in the Maritime Provinces, looking in part at “the effects of corporate ownership and how that limits democratic debate” (Kierans, 2004). Brunswick News owns the New Brunswick paper that Kierans studied.

The billionaire Irving family, which owns Brunswick News, is reportedly the second- or third-richest family in Canada. The Irvings also hold major interests in oil, sawmills, paper, transportation, and other industries and employ an estimated one out of 12 residents of New Brunswick (Valdmanis, 2014).

“There is a real sense that anything connected to their business is not being looked at in a critical way” by Irving-owned papers, Kierans said (personal communication, December 2014). “When talking about local issues, they can have some good editorials, but there’s a lot of boosterism, without that sense of wanting to hold people accountable.”

On environmental issues, for example, she senses “a certain kind of self-censorship,” she said.

Across the country, Black Press Group, owned by businessman David Black (no relation to Conrad Black, the convicted former media magnate), holds a looser grip on the scores of weekly papers it owns in Canada’s western provinces. Thompson of the Yukon News, which Black Press purchased from a family owner in 2013, said that readers constantly question him about interference from company executives (personal communication, December 2014).

“That’s the one question I get from people today: ‘So, what meddling do they do? I’m surprised your editorials are still good,’” Thompson said (personal communication, December 2014). “I can’t speak for Black Press, but I think they’re happy as long as Yukon News is still making money.”

Thompson said a perception that Black Press interferes with editorials stems from an incident in 1999 when David Black issued an eight-point directive to his editors ordering that they not run editorials in favor of a government land-claim settlement with the Nisga’a Nation (personal communication, December 2014). Other elements of the directive made clear that Black Press papers could publish letters and columns supporting the treaty and that news reporting should not be affected. Still, the British Columbia government filed a complaint with the British Columbia Press Council, a self-regulating industry group. The council found that the papers had carried a diversity of opinion and that “the ultimate obligation and right to direct editorial policy rests with the owner” (British Columbia Press Council, 1999).

In Kentucky, researcher Al Cross pointed to Landmark Community Newspapers, a company owned by the Batten family that publishes daily and weekly papers throughout the U.S., as a model corporate owner, one that encourages editorial writing but leaves its journalists alone (personal communication, Dec. 11, 2014).

Benjy Hamm, editorial director of the Shelbyville, Ky.-based company, said that Landmark’s philosophy is one of editorial independence, even leaving it up to local staff whether to brand a particular paper as Landmark-owned (personal communication, December 2014).

“We do not dictate from the central office what they cover or what they write on the editorial side,” Hamm said in a telephone interview (personal communication, December 2014). “We do not get involved except for the basic elements of fairness and how you are addressing the needs of the local community.”

Some of Landmark’s 18 Kentucky weeklies are tiny, with circulation as low as 500. Most have circulations between 3,000 and 9,000. Some of the smaller papers, Hamm said, may run an editorial only every other week, alternating with a personal column by the editor.


The role of the locally focused editorial is “to either join the conversation or start the conversation,” Stein, the Pulitzer-winning weekly editorialist, said in a phone interview  (personal communication, March 3, 2015). Weeklies’ editorials do best, he continued, when they cover a local topic, or a national or international topic that has a local angle.

“For example, the editorial that got us firebombed,” he said, referring to a 1989 attack that destroyed the paper’s offices, “had a local hook” (personal communication, March 3, 2015). That editorial chastised national bookstore chains as cowards for pulling Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” from their shelves and praised an independent shop in Riverdale for keeping it after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini urged followers to kill Rushdie and threatened others involved in the book’s publication.

“It was a local editorial in the sense that I was comparing the courage of the local store versus what I saw as the power of the chains,” Stein said (personal communication, March 3, 2015).

Tim Waltner, a former ISWNE president and publisher of the Freeman Courier, a weekly newspaper in the farming and manufacturing town of Freeman, S.D., population 1,300, has been called “the conscience of ISWNE” (G. Sosniecki, personal communication, October 5, 2014), and he has organized and championed ISWNE’s annual editorial critiques every year but one since 2007.

“I am passionate about the importance of community newspapers in helping drive discussions and conversations in the community,” Waltner said in the first of two phone interviews (personal communication, October 9, 2014, December 6, 2014).  “If we don’t do it, no one else will, or it will be left to Facebook and coffee talk.”

Waltner begins organizing the ISWNE editorial critique sessions months ahead of the annual June conferences. His goal is to bring participants together well prepared to offer constructive criticism. Tone, topics, photos, cartoons, design, layout, even font—no subject germane to the reader’s experience of the editorial page is off limits.

He has tried, he said, to make the experience less brutal than it used to be.

At the first ISWNE conference he attended, in 1993, Waltner recalled, “I [had] inherited an editorial page from the previous publisher that included a display ad, and I was roundly, roundly castigated and challenged about that” (personal communication, October 9, 2014, December 6, 2014). The ad was from a prominent local bank, and it took Waltner two years to move the ad to a spot equally satisfactory to the bank president.

And since then, he said, “There has not been a single conference that we have not made some tweak in the editorial pages.”

Waltner, a self-described product of the ’60s who began writing to letters to editors while a teenager, brooks no arguments about lack of time or fear of alienating people as reasons not to research and write editorials. “I’ve said to people: ‘You would not think of not running a photo on the front page. We make time for that. We make room for that. We should make that same commitment to having a community voice, to prod people into thinking in new ways, to provide some context, some analysis to help people think through these community issues’” (personal communication, October 9, 2014, December 6, 2014).

That context and analysis are, in the end, what editorialists say a community loses when editorials disappear from its newspaper. “What it’s losing is a goad to be thoughtful,” Stein, the Bronx newspaperman, said (personal communication, March 3, 2015). What Stein, Waltner and others who hold fast to the virtues of weekly editorials share is a belief that in this age of ever-briefer attention spans and ever-faster media production and consumption, society can ill afford to lose opportunities for considered thought.

Correction: A version of this article published in print in a special joint issue of Community Journalism and Grassroots Editor, and in the online version of Grassroots Editor, misstated the number of annual awards that the National Newspaper Association gives for editorial writing. It gives three annual awards for editorials, plus honorable mentions, in four circulation categories, plus the same number of awards for editorial pages in two circulation categories. The earlier version said erroneously that the NNA gives no annual awards for editorials. 


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[1] For the purposes of this article, the term “weekly newspaper” means a printed newspaper that is published once, twice or three times a week, biweekly or monthly.

About the Author

Barbara Selvin is an assistant professor at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 4

Cultural Relativism and Community Journalism: Snapshots of the State of Community Journalism in Five Developing Nations

Bill Reader, Beatriz Lovo Reichman, Anand Pradhan, Sleiman El Bssawmai, Yuriy Zaliznyak and Carole Phiri-Chibbonta

Although community journalism is a global phenomenon, it would be folly to assume that the practices and roles of community-focused news media can be generalized across diverse cultures. That may be especially true with regard to the developing democracies, where socio-political divisions remain very much a part of living memory. This monograph brings together essays by media scholars from five different developing nations to illustrate the diversity of community journalism around the world, as well as to provide some baseline information for future study of community journalism in and across those nations.


Bill Reader, Ohio University

The role of community news media in post-revolution and developing nations is an under-studied area of both media research and political science. This article presents “overview” essays of the current state of community journalism in five developing democracies to reflect the inherently pluralistic, culturally relative nature of community journalism around the world.

As noted by Hatcher (2012), scholars who study community media should be wary of generalized assumptions about community media, as “Differences in class, education, ideology, and ethnicity among community members inevitably mean that not all of them enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and access to community benefits. The ramifications of how those differences play out in the relationship between the community and the journalist can be profound” (Hatcher, 2012, p. 132). That can be just as true when comparing community journalism across different nations as it is when comparing such media within those nations. Consider the findings of a multi-national study that found significant differences in the coverage of political speeches in the news media of developed versus developing nations (Waheed, Schuck, Neijens & de Vreese, 2013). Similar differences in the perception of “news values” were found in a study of South African media that compared the attitudes of journalists who had received formal, university-based training and journalists who learned the craft more informally via on-the-job training (Hatcher, 2013). Another comparative study found stark differences in implementation of a “social-responsibility” approach to journalism at a large, traditional news outlet in the mature democracy of the United Kingdom compared to a relatively young news outlet in the tumultuous emerging democracy of Bangladesh (Hossain & Jaehnig, 2011). Those authors concluded that

The socio-political situations are different in developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Even the South Asian countries have quite different socio-political systems and media landscapes. So the implementation of the media’s social responsibility is relative and will depend on the perspectives of the social institutions and media organizations in a particular nation. (Hossain & Jaehnig, 2011, p. 239)

The issue is further complicated when considering the media landscape in nations that are not far removed from periods of revolution or civil unrest, as Hatcher (2013) found in his study of community journalism in South Africa. Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the nation is still operating in the shadow of racial segregation and white-minority rule: “South Africa’s desire to become a more inclusive society poses intriguing challenges for community journalists. … Efforts by media to bridge communities and overcome longstanding stereotypes face daunting obstacles” (p. 61). Other relatively young democracies not only must overcome the old socio-political divisions that remain very much a part of living memory, but other concerns such as widespread poverty, low literacy rates, unreliable or underdeveloped communication infrastructures, political restrictions on press freedoms, and fragile economic conditions.

Before getting to the overview essays, it is instructive to consider that the scholarly analysis of community media in new democracies is by no means a new enterprise. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the nascent United States in the early 19th century, he made note of the plethora of small, community-focused newspapers in the developing nation, noting “In America there is scarcely a hamlet that has not its newspaper” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Although impressed by the “almost incredibly large” number of small, local newspapers in the United States at the time, the French scholar was considerably less impressed with the quality of the journalism he found in those community news outlets: “The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Tocqueville suggested that the dearth of quality was related to the multitude of outlets, “as the competition prevents any considerable profit, persons of much capacity are rarely led to engage in these undertakings. Such is the number of the public prints that even if they were a source of wealth, writers of ability could not be found to direct them all. The journalists of the United States are generally in a very humble position, with a scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Despite those limitations, Tocqueville argued that such a plebeian news media was crucial for empowering the common people and for confounding and resisting those with aristocratic designs. It was the decentralized and pluralistic nature of the new democracy’s media system, coupled with a decidedly “coarse” and “vulgar” aesthetic that was more reflective of the diversity of the “common” people, that made the press in the developing United States such a powerful influence in government, economics, and culture.

Over the ensuing two centuries, the news media in the U.S. diverged. The “vulgar” community news outlets — which Tocqueville saw as necessary for true democracy and the foil of aristocracy — to this day account for the bulk of news media in the nation (Lauterer, 2006; Reader & Hatcher, 2012). But just about the time that Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was first published, the seeds of various media empires were starting to take root in the U.S., and over time the role of the community press, on a national level, was taken less seriously compared to those increasingly wealthy, centralizing media empires. That has been particularly true over the past four decades, as the mainstream “national” press in the U.S. became much more corporate and “professionalized” — essentially, aristocratic (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006). That trend correlates with an overall decline in the U.S. public’s trust in the content of mainstream media, which stood at about 78 percent in the 1970s but has fallen to below 45 percent in recent years, including an “all-time low” of 40 percent in 2012 (Morales, 2012). That same year, another national survey found that about 72 percent of U.S. adults “are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need” (Pew Research Journalism Project, 2012, para. 1). More robust comparison of those two lines of research should, at minimum, help scholars understand that any study of “the news media” in a specific country should not assume that the study of “big media” is by any stretch generalizable to an entire media landscape.

With that in mind, accomplished journalism scholars from five different countries were asked to write about the current state of community journalism in their nations. Overall, there seems to be relatively little previous research within those countries to help the scholars develop strong literature reviews; as such, these essays are intended to be starting points for continued and more robust research efforts, and much of the information is from the scholars’ own professional observations of media in their own countries. The goal of this monograph is to provide an overview, not generalizable findings.


Beatriz Lovo Reichman. Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana

Honduras is a country of about 8 million people, and 80 percent of the nation’s terrain is mountainous. The nation has, roughly, a 25 percent illiteracy rate, according to UNICEF (2012). Those factors make radio the perfect medium to reach audiences in rural areas of Honduras, and the radio industry is fragmented such that nearly every town and village has at least one local radio station.

There are 1,070 radio stations under 422 operators in Honduras; 74 stations stream online (Conatel, 2015). The online stations primarily target the Honduran diaspora – people of Honduran ancestry who live in the U.S., Spain, other Central American nations, and other parts of the world. Within the nation, terrestrial radio dominates the media landscape.

Honduran radio not only appeals to the masses. It also encourages individual listeners to contribute. Even national broadcasting stations do some community-journalism programming. For example, some national programs are focused on providing medical and legal advice to members of the public. For more than 20 years, the radio station Radio America has aired “El Medico y Su Salud,” a call-in show featuring well-known health professional Dr. Mario Rivera Vásquez. From 8 to 9 a.m. on weekdays, listeners call from all over the country and ask for remedies to common illnesses and are advised by Vásquez.  The show has two segments; it opens with the physician’s essay about a particular disease or syndrome and its various treatments, and then goes on to take calls from listeners who inquire about different ailments or health problems. That show is followed by “Orientación Legal” (“Legal Orientation”), which uses the same two-segment format — the host, lawyer Henry Chavez, opens with an explanation of a particular legal term, then takes calls from the audience. (Radio América, n.d.)

Honduran radio also is a conduit for distance education. At least 21 radio stations regularly transmit educational programs that enable youths and adults to study and graduate from elementary school and high school (Conatel, n.d.). Since 1989, “El Maestro en Casa” (“A Teacher at Home”) has served people aged 14 or older who, because of distance, age, time constraints or economic difficulties, can’t access traditional schools. When the courses are completed, students are tested at central or regional offices by qualified teachers. Through the program, students can finish junior high school and can even graduate from high school in humanities or business administration (El Maestro en Casa, n.d.).

Radio in Honduras is also a substitute for church — as many as 133 religious radio stations broadcast news and spiritual programming to Christian communities of various denominations throughout the nation (Conatel, n.d.).

Other national broadcasting stations are dedicated to what they call “social service” programming, which is a radio version of the classified advertising sections of newspapers. With no cost to the caller, those programs allow people to call in to the station to announce their intentions to buy, sell or exchange anything from cars to cattle, but also to allow people to request or offer employment, to congratulate friends and family on anniversaries and birthdays, or give public notice of someone’s death.

For example, via the social-service program of Radio Satélite in Tegucigalpa, a caller makes his or her announcement on the air and the announcer repeats it at intervals three or four more times. Here is an English translation of a death announcement from November 2013: “Pedro Zelaya, who is at Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, wants to make it known to the families Zelaya-Rivera in Yamaranguila, Fco. Morazán, that Josefa Zelaya died yesterday in this hospital. The body will be arriving tomorrow to her hometown for proper burial” (Radio Satélite, 2013). That same program included typical sales announcements, such as this one (also translated into English, telephone number redacted): “For sale … 2004 Honda Civic, 150,000 km, four door, blue. Those interested may call Mario at 9xxx-2xxx” (Radio Satélite, 2013).

Radio is also the preferred medium for community-development efforts in Honduras, particularly efforts to promote citizen-produced news. The United Nations Development Programme, along with civil-society organizations and local NGOs, have set out to train young people and indigenous citizens in small cities and rural communities to produce their own community journalism. The goal is to empower disadvantaged and remote communities to express their community needs and concerns to local and federal governments. Those journalists, trained through workshops, work almost exclusively through radio (UNDP, 2012).

Some community journalism is carried out by other mass media in Honduras, but it is just not as widespread or noticeable as on radio. There are four national newspapers and 13 small-town and alternative newspapers, several publications and magazines covering different topics and interests, and 44 Internet service providers. Nearly all traditional media have their own websites and Facebook pages, but when looking at them, one can see that those online offerings are not widely followed and often not updated on a regular basis (Conatel, n.d).

Television is the second most popular medium in Honduras, after radio. Whereas radio content is typically produced in-house by each station, providing a rich and diverse community-media landscape, relatively little TV content is produced in Honduras — it is cheaper to import programming from Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, among others. Local TV production is limited to sports, a few game shows, talk shows and newscasts. However, each of the 402 TV stations in Honduras produces at least one in-house newscast. Some stations are ill equipped or have poorly trained personnel for the task, so they rely on the audience to contribute content. Mostly, those low-quality newscasts simply use the call-in format — they allow people to call in and voice their complaints and grievances on the air until the hour-long program is over. Others limit themselves to sharing the news of the day from the print media (they actually read the newspaper on the air). There are some more sophisticated, professional newsrooms that produce credible, trustworthy TV news programs. But whether professional or amateurish, traditional news media in Honduras are truly free to say and show anything, and audiences have direct access to contribute to those media.

As of the end of 2013, the Internet remained a relatively small part of the Honduran news industry. The main reason is based on the fact that only a small percentage of the population has access to Internet — one estimate from 2012 put the Internet-access rate at 18.1 percent of the population (UNICEF, 2012).  As such, social media in Honduras do not have the reach that they’ve obtained in other developing nations. Moreover, social media are primarily used to socialize and build friendship groups, but they have not been used to convey commercial, political, or citizen-interest messages to the degree found in many other countries.

As a result, radio and TV remain the dominant form of “interactive media” in Honduras, primarily through various call-in programs. According to UNICEF, 93 percent of Hondurans own a mobile phone (2012). Everybody and anybody can call a radio or TV station during a newscast and share their complaints or concerns about local or state government. People often complain, on the air, about the lack of trustworthy potable water systems in their communities, and about teacher absences in schools, electrical power outages, politicians’ corrupt practices, and so on. The more serious, professionally produced newscasts conduct follow-up reports on citizens’ complaints that seem worthy of attention, or will call, on the air, the manager of a water company or the director of a school with high teacher absences, so that officials can explain to the audience when and how the problems will be addressed. Other, more amateurish newscasts will only air complains but do no follow-up reporting nor give officials a chance to respond.

Because of a lack of legal and cultural restrictions on what traditional media in Honduras can print or broadcast, it is my belief that social media in Honduras is not widely popular yet not just because of limited Internet access, but because traditional media allow for personal interaction and are easily accessible to their audiences.

Social media are growing, however. At this writing, social media are widely used as advertising vehicles for big brand stores, and many politicians use social media to promote themselves and their activities. But much of that usage has been one-way communication — some politicians do not allow readers’ comments on their personal pages. Radio, however, is filled with citizens’ comments.

Although the Honduras government exercises no prior restraint on the news media, a rising rate of violent deaths since 2006, journalists there increasingly self-censor their views and opinions to avoid being targeted by organized crime or street gangs (Isaula, 2012). Radio will probably remain as the Honduran medium of choice and will continue to be used as a means to educate, to cry out, to denounce, to inform, to worship, and certainly to entertain. Time will tell if other news media, especially online social networks, will experience the same kind of acceptance and use by the masses.


Anand Pradhan, Indian Institute of Mass Communication

The news media industry in India is expanding at a healthy rate and is expected to continue expanding into the near future. A 2013 industry report suggested that the Indian media and entertainment industry was expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate of 18 percent to reach to 2.245 trillion rupees (approximately US$36.4 billion) by 2017 (CII-PwC, 2013). Although newspapers in many western, developed countries are facing serious crises in terms of circulation and revenue declines, the Indian newspaper industry has a healthy annual growth rate of 9.3 percent, expected to reach to 331 billion rupees (US$5.4 billion) in 2017 (CII-PwC, 2013). Due to its phenomenal growth and expansion, the Indian media and entertainment industry is attracting big foreign and local investors and companies (Khandekar, 2013).

But it is an irony that the growth and expansion of the media industry in the world’s largest democracy seems to be limited to large media conglomerates. Smaller, community-focused news outlets in India are facing an existential crisis. Particularly in the last decade, small- and medium-sized media companies have been finding it difficult to sustain themselves in ever intensifying competition (Thakurta, 2012). That decline of community-focused media is threatening the diverse and pluralistic community-media ecosystem in India, which includes more than 86,745 newspapers in more than two dozen languages and dialects, and with different periodicity — dailies, monthlies, and newspapers that make only occasional appearances.

The Registrar of Newspapers of India (a government department within the  Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) treats all such print publication as newspapers, not just dailies and weeklies (RNI, 2012). Most newspapers registered with the RNI are small- and medium-circulation publications that generally cater to smaller towns and local communities. Their owners and editorial staffs often are from those same communities, and many depend on local advertising revenue and subscribers. Contrary to the bigger and multi-edition newspapers, the majority of small newspapers (and small magazines) cover community-specific issues, events and opinion. Yet bigger, multi-edition newspapers are also entering smaller towns, district headquarters and villages in attempts to increase their reach, boost circulation and tap local advertising. To achieve that goal, bigger newspapers are trying to attract more readers by increasing local coverage in smaller communities (Neyazi, 2011).

But bigger and multi-edition newspapers often lack the community perspective because of their inherent structure, as they have clear objectives to serve large numbers of readers and cater to big and medium-sized advertisers. Their approach tends to homogenize the tastes and demands of the middle and upper-middle classes, which suits their advertisers. Secondly, big and multi-edition newspapers also try to minimize their costs, and to achieve that they try to function with bare minimum local staffing, which ultimately affects the quality of local coverage and connections with community (Vincent & Mahesh, 2007).

Thirdly, the newsroom of big and multi-edition newspapers also lacks the social-cultural diversity of local communities, and are generally blamed for negligible or no representation on their staffs of marginalized and under-privileged communities such as “dalits” (“untouchables” in the traditional caste system), tribal areas, minorities and women (Jeffrey, 1998). “Schedule Caste” (“dalits”) and “Schedule Tribes” communities constitute about 25 percent of India’s population (Jeffrey, 2012).  The same applies to socially and educationally “backward castes,” which are again heavily under-represented in the newsrooms of most of the big and multi-edition newspapers even though they constitute more than 60 percent of the population. Even minority communities, especially Muslims, are also unable to find enough positions in newsrooms despite the fact they constitute about 14 percent of India’s population (Jeffrey, 2012). The number of women journalists is quite small in comparison to their ratio in the population.

That stark “democratic deficit” in the newsrooms of most big and multi-edition newspapers is also true with TV newsrooms, especially Indian language TV news channels. Most of those are owned by big media companies, diversified corporations, political leaders and powerful business owners. The result of the “democratic deficit” in newsroom and growing corporate control of news media is visible in their very limited, skewed and biased coverage of marginal communities (Mudgal, 2011). Moreover, as several scholars and social activists have argued, big and corporate-owned Indian news media generally ignore or distort the real issues of rural, marginalized communities (Ram, 2012).

That ever-growing feeling in marginalized communities has been instrumental in the launch of many alternative, community-focused newspapers/magazines and other mass communication channels in recent years.  Three such experiments in community journalism are trail-breaking and deserve special attention from community journalism scholars and professionals.

The first is Khabar Laharia (“New Waves”), an eight-page weekly newspaper published by a collective of 40 poor and underprivileged rural women of a socially and economically underdeveloped region of Bundelkhand, part of which is in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The broadsheet newspaper, initially published in a local dialect, Bundeli, was started in May 2002 with support from Nirantar, a New Delhi-based, non-governmental organization focused on female education and literacy. One of the more unusual aspects of the newspaper is that its all-female team of journalists comprises women from underprivileged and marginalized demographics.

The women journalists of Khabar Laharia have fought against many socio-economic biases, including resistance from powerful upper-caste men in villages, government officials, even members of their own families. The literacy level in the region is very low, particularly among women. As journalist Betwa Sharma (2009) noted about the newspaper,

The publication initially floundered in a society where journalism is a monopoly of “upper-caste” men. Caste-based discrimination is entrenched in Chitrakoot. The banned practice of “un-touchability” is rampant. Married off at an early age, women are victims of illiteracy. Incidents of dowry deaths, where brides are killed for not bringing sufficient gifts and money into their husband’s home, also crop up in these parts. This practice, which usually takes the form of burning, is prohibited by law. (Sharma, 2009, para. 6)

The women who produce Khabar Lahariya have no college or university degrees, and most of them only have been schooled to “eighth-pass” level (the equivalent of eighth-grade educations in the U.S.). Initially, those rural women were trained in a series of workshops organized by Nirantar, in which they learned how to gather information, how to interview, how to write news copy, and how to type and edit articles. In 2002, the newspaper was launched as a single broadsheet, published monthly in one language; by 2013, its circulation of 6,000 had an estimated readership of 80,000 in many communities throughout Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with various editions in about a half dozen languages and dialects (Nirantar, 2013).  In 2013, Khabar Lahariya launched a website that carries news, opinion, and features in many languages/dialects. Khabar Lahariya covers problems faced by local rural communities, as well as issues related to agriculture, public health, education, drinking water, sanitation, economic development, socio-economic discrimination, crime, and both laxity and corruption among police and local officials. According to the managing editor of Khabar Lahariya, Meera Yadav, many mainstream newspapers have also started lifting news stories from Khabar Lahariya, and even local administrators are taking note of and acting to address problems revealed by the coverage (personal communication, December 26, 2013). In 2009, UNESCO awarded its King Sejong Literacy Prize to Khabar Lahariya, recognizing the achievements of the unique newspaper and its role as a newspaper by the community, of the community and for the community, and its help for vulnerable and under-privileged communities in Indian society (The Hindu, 2009).

Another good example of grassroots community journalism in India is CGNet Swara, a voice-based portal operated from one of India’s most poor and under-developed states, Chattisgarh. The tribal population in that state is about 32 percent of the total, much higher than the national average. Mainstream news media (newspapers and television) have relatively low penetration and reach there compared to other states because of widespread illiteracy, poverty, geographical inaccessibility and the violence related to the Maoist insurgency throughout eastern India. It is not surprising that most large news companies are not enthusiastic to expand and reach the remote part of that state, and they seem even more disinterested in covering issues related to those tribal communities.

CGNet Swara initially started as the “CGNet” email forum, but its limitation was very obvious as just 0.5 percent people of the state had access to the Internet (Mudliar et. al., 2012). To overcome that limitation, it shifted to an interactive-voice (IVR) portal allowing anyone to participate and share information using widely available telephones. CGNet Swara allows anyone from the community with access to a telephone (landline or mobile) to call in and record their announcements or comments about local issues, public events, or grievances. The news service allows callers to record their messages in their own languages and dialects, which makes it a fully inclusionary platform open to anyone who can access a phone. Then there is a small group of professional journalists who moderate/edit selected recorded messages and upload them to the website as well as the telephone-delivery system. The moderators also transcribe and upload summaries of a few selected message on the website (CGNet Swara, 2013). The founder of CGNet Swara, Shubhranshu Chaudhary, claims that some of the stories and messages packaged by CGNet Swara have been picked up by mainstream newspapers and TV news programs (personal communication, December 4, 2013).

Two U.S.-based NGOs support the enterprise — the International Center for Journalists and the Knight International Journalism Fellowships program. CGNet Swara explains its motivations this way: “Many of the estimated 80 million members of India’s tribal communities lack access to any mainstream media outlets. This often poses serious barriers to their socio-economic development, as their grievances about government neglect and economic exploitation remain unvoiced” (CGNet Swara, 2013, para. 2). The result fills a communication void in India’s tribal communities – it is not surprising that CGNet Swara’s reach has expanded beyond Chattisgarh and gets calls from residents of other states, including Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (Farooquee, 2013).

A third example of community journalism in India is Gaon Connection, which dubs itself “India’s rural newspaper” (Gaon Connection, 2013). The weekly newspaper is published in the national language, Hindi, and focuses on rural issues and events. The newspaper was launched in December 2012 from a village in the under-developed, populous state Uttar Pradesh. It is at this writing a 12-page broadsheet newspaper with four pages of color. It publishes news reports, features, interview, columns and commentary on issues related to agriculture, farming practices, notable peasants and rural artisans, rural education and health issues, and other topics neglected by the urban, middle-class mainstream media. The newspaper is produced by a small team of trained, young journalists (many of them from rural backgrounds) and many part-time stringers from different districts of Uttar Pradesh produce the newspaper. It is distributed in print and as an e-edition via the Gaon Connection website.

The Gaon Connection lists four goals in its publicly available mission statement (Gaon Connection, 2013, para. 2): “bring democracy to villages,” “give a voice to rural India,” “provide urbane India a lens into its villages” and “generate white-collar employment.” Its mission statement also states that “Although 70% of India still lives in villages, there is no platform or medium focused entirely on them. … In an era where India’s media industry is booming but increasingly reflects only urban concerns, we strive to give rural citizens a voice of their own” (Gaon Connection, 2013, para. 1).

It is interesting to note that Gaon Connection, while assuring its readers that it would cover rural problems generally ignored by mainstream news media, also stresses that it would publish success stories from rural areas. As such, Gaon Connection is arguably the first newspaper of India’s emerging “rural aspirational class,” which is fighting against strong odds to overcome problems in India’s poor rural communities. For example, the newspaper regularly runs a feature that helps its readers learn the English language, which is viewed in India as a language of upward social-economic mobility. It also includes tips and instruction to farmers about how to use new farming techniques, information that is essentially absent from the mainstream press.

Considered together, those three examples help to illustrate how community journalism in India is multi-layered. Each medium started as a “local” news outlet, but also as a source of information and empowerment for the underprivileged. The rapid expansion of the outlets beyond their initial range promises to connect similar communities from across large regions of India, perhaps across the entire nation and beyond. Each also places an emphasis on recruiting journalists (either amateur or professional) from those same communities, a recruitment and training practice community-journalism scholar Jock Lauterer dubbed as “growing your own” (Lauterer, 2007). The long-term advantage of that is to help young, talented journalists gain experience and an appreciation for community journalism, and raise the profile of that important, growing sector of India’s gigantic and pluralistic journalism industry.


Sleiman Bssawmai, The Lebanese University

In the city of Borj Hammoud in Beirut, an old Armenian man named Artin plays checkers all day in his coffee shop and talks to people about Armenian culture in Lebanon. When asked why the Armenians had developed their own media outlets, starting in the early 20th century, he kept silent for few minutes, then answered, “Well, we as Armenians are a minority and we are attached to our culture, as [Armenian media] signifies our identity. Thus, we created our own media that talks in our language and deals with our issues, as a way to preserve our culture and heritage and strengthen it among the Armenians in our second country, Lebanon, rather than simply melting in the Lebanese culture and media” (personal communication, November 23, 2014).

A visitor to Beirut may also chance upon signs of the emerging LGBT community in the country. Although still heavily discriminated against in Lebanese society, LGBT citizens have in recent years created their own media to challenge the traditional society that is ignoring and persecuting them, not only to prove that LGBT people exist in Lebanon but to push for acceptance.

Lebanon is a small, densely populated country. It is smaller geographically than the U.S. state of Connecticut and slightly more populous with an estimated 5.8 million residents (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). As both a geographic and cultural crossroads for millennia, Lebanon has one of the most diverse populations in the Middle East, and it has long been a haven for refugees from war-torn countries in the region — for example, the United Nations estimates that a million or more Syrians sought refuge in Lebanon during the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011 (UNHCR, 2014). Many of those diverse cultural communities have created their own media within Lebanon. This essay focuses on how two of those communities — the community of ethnic Armenians and the LGBT identity community — serve communities that often are ignored or neglected by mainstream Lebanese media.

The media of Lebanese Armenians: Armenians have been in Lebanon since ancient times through a long series of conquests and migrations. The Armenian presence in Lebanon during the Ottoman period was minimal; however, there was a large influx of Armenians after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In 1939, the Armenians arrived in Anjar and the Bekaa Valley (Diab, 2012). A strong Armenian community remains in Anjar to this day. During the Lebanese Civil War of the late 20th century, most Armenians refused to take sides and remained neutral (Worth, 2009). Today, Lebanon is home to approximately 150,000 citizens of Armenian descent, or about 4 percent of the total population (Embassy of Armenia to Lebanon, n.d.). There are three prominent Armenian political parties in Lebanon: the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag), the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hunchag) and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramgavar Party). They have significant influence in all facets of Armenian life and have become a significant force in Lebanese politics. Two of the most noteworthy political “victories” of Armenians in Lebanese politics include official recognition in 1997 of the Armenia Genocide and effective Armenian opposition to proposals from Turkey to send peacekeeping forces into the region after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict (Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, 2009).

Armenian media in Lebanon have played a significant part in defining those and other Armenian political positions, and the two majority political camps in Lebanon — the pro-western March 14 movement and the Hezbollah-led opposition — both have been careful to make concessions to Lebanese Armenians (Naim, 2009). Fiercely attached to their political, historical, and cultural legacy, post-Genocide Armenians have long supported their own media, starting with their first daily newspapers in the 1920s. Today, Lebanese Armenians have several newspapers and magazines dedicated to their community, as well as a few electronic-media outlets, both broadcasting and online.

The Armenian press sector consists of several publications. There are two mainstream magazines; a sports magazine; an Armenian culture magazine; and three Armenian newspapers. The first Armenian newspaper in Lebanon, Aztag, was initiated in 1927 (Naim, 2009). The daily “political and literary newspaper” has been and remains the mouthpiece of the largest Armenian political party, the Tashnag party, and is closely tied to the culture of Genocide survivors (Naim, 2009). The Zartonk Daily is the Ramgafar party newspaper. Established in 1937,  “it remained active as a daily newspaper until the end of 2006, when it scaled back distribution and then stopped publishing in a daily format in the end of 2007. It was re-launched in May 2008, and in 2009 it increased publication to three issues per week” (Naim, 2009, para. 33-34). The main ideology of the newspaper is to promote Armenian rights, to bring attention to the Armenian Genocide of the 20th century, to promote Armenian church unity, to instill a sense of patriotism, and to defend freedom of speech. The third major Armenian newspaper, Ararad, also was launched in 1937 (Ararad, 2014). Representing the Hanshak party, the newspaper suffered from harassment from the Lebanese political authorities in the 1950s and 1960s because of the paper’s editorial opposition to the Lebanese government. The newspaper covers the Lebanese political movement, the essential activities of the Hanshak party, news about the Armenian diaspora, and local Armenian current events. It also focuses on analysis concerning local, regional and international political events. Ararad also focuses on news from the Republic of Armenia and its neighboring countries.

Lebanese Armenians have two main radio stations. Voice of Van is located in the heart or Beirut. It provides 24/7 broadcasts of political, social, economic and educational shows, as well as a blend of Armenian music in numerous genres. The other station, Radio Sevan, strives to provide information, entertainment and cultural programming to a global community of listeners, united in their appreciation of Armenian music and culture.

In the early 2000s, as the Lebanese-Armenian political and business influences began to have more sway in the country’s political scene, Lebanese television networks began catering to the Armenian audience. Today, a 30-minute news journal is divided into three categories: Lebanese news, Armenian news, and international news items. In the Lebanese segment, the program focuses on the main local political news. The Armenian segment includes news of official political events in the Republic of Armenia. It is worth mentioning that two Lebanese channels, OTV and Future TV, also have daily Armenian news programs that air at 4:30 p.m. The broadcasts contain coverage of local, regional and international news broadcast in the Armenian language.

Lebanese Armenians also use social media to share news and information. An example is Lradou, a Facebook page that has been active since 2012 that shares news articles about current affairs and issues that are happening in Lebanon and Armenia. Armenians also produce journalistic blogs, such as Seta’s Armenian Blog, which explores contemporary issues concerning Armenia and Armenians everywhere. It shares articles by Lebanese Armenian writers such as Sevag Hagopian.

Overall, Lebanese Armenians initiated their media outlets as tools to preserve their culture and heritage and keep the Armenian society in contact with their primary identity. Over time, those community media further became conduits for Lebanese Armenians to attain and maintain political, economic, and cultural influence in broader Lebanese society.

LGBT Media in Lebanon: The community media of LGBT Lebanese are not nearly as established, as the open LGBT movement in the country is relatively young and struggling. The subject of homosexuality is still considered a taboo in Lebanese society. Lebanese people have been progressing in terms of being able to discuss the subject out loud and even in academic work; however, mainstream Lebanese society is still not ready to let go of traditional customs and beliefs that do not tolerate homosexuality. Laws against homosexuality make it even harder for relevant NGOs to promote homosexual rights in Lebanon. However, the topic of homosexuality is not a taboo subject in public discourse, although the majority view is to speak against homosexuality and to not accept homosexuals as normal human beings — 79 percent of Lebanese believe homosexuality should be rejected, and same-sex sexual acts are illegal there, punishable by fines or up to a year imprisonment (Assi, 2012). Many parents of homosexuals go so far as take their children to therapy just because of their sexual orientation. Absent mainstream acceptance, the LGBT-rights movement in Lebanon has created its own media channels to circumvent the more hostile mainstream media.

Lebanon is the first Arab country to have its own gay periodical, Barra (“Out” in Arabic). Helem is the eponymous website and online newsletter of the most popular LGBT organization in Lebanon. In 2009, the book Bareed Mista3jil was published by the Lebanese Lesbian Feminist Collective organization in Beirut. The most famous LGBT news outlet in Lebanon is a Facebook page called LGBT Media Monitor, reporting about Lebanese LGBT movement. There also is an online newspaper for the Lebanese LGBT community called #LebLGBT Weekly — it is full of new articles, features, and briefs about LGBT activities, parties, experiences, etc. One can register freely for it and the subscriber receives it weekly by mail (The #LebLGBT Weekly, 2014).

There are a number of Lebanese blogs focused on the LGBT community. Raynbow Blog is the most popular LGBT blog in Lebanon. It is being used to call for action as well as sharing stories, mostly tragic ones. One feature of the blog is the “Homophobes Hall of Shame,” which identifies Lebanese celebrities as either “homo-friendly” or “homophobic” (Raynbow Blog, 2014).  Gino’s Blog is another popular website within the LGBT community; although blogger Gino Raidy has never declared his sexual orientation, his blog frequently covers media stories about homosexuals. He often writes positively about LGBT media and causes. For example, he followed a story about some homosexuals who were put in prison when they were caught having sex and he defended their rights as he criticized Joe Maalouf, a well-known Lebanese TV presenter for an offensive episode in which he falsely accused 36 men of being gay, causing them serious problems (Raidy, 2012). Recently, Raidy was among the first to raise awareness of a Lebanese movie about homosexuals that was going to be screened in the U.S. but not in Lebanon (Raidy, 2013).

Internet-based social media have been a driving force for the LGBT community in Lebanon. A number of Facebook pages are focused on LGBT news and information about LGBT events and struggles. Helem’s Facebook page is, of course, flooded with stories and official notices from the organization. The page is also used to organize and promote LGBT events and demonstrations as well as to announce organizational meetings at the Helem office. As with many Facebook pages, Helem’s is full of photos and videos from members. Another example is LGBT Media Monitor, which is newer than Helem; the two work collaboratively, however, and are not in competition. LGBT Media Monitor is more focused on LGBT media and community service. For example, in late 2013, they were calling for volunteers from all over Lebanon to support LGBT people and causes. It has multiple active administrators, or “admins,” and each admin is known by a color rather by his or her name. Pages of People is another Facebook page that focuses on individual Lebanese homosexuals who have been struggling to live in Lebanon. Some of them have traveled elsewhere, while others are still struggling in Lebanon. And personal Facebook pages of individual strugglers can be found that share their different stories locally and abroad.

Other social-media platforms are used by the LGBT community for journalistic purposes. LebanonLGBT’s Instagram site listed more followers than its Facebook site by early 2014, and most of the LGBT media mentioned above also are active on Twitter.

LGBT people in Lebanon also use social phone apps such as Grindr and Growler to connect with homosexuals who are nearby. Users can read one another’s profiles, see their pictures, read short biographies, and have the option to chat online., a popular dating website, also is used by gay men in Lebanon to meet other gays. Though not really modes for journalistic communication, such online tools are clearly part of the overall media framework used by LGBT Lebanese to build and support their community.

The LGBT community in Lebanon is highly active on social media, especially considering that they are ostracized from mainstream media outlets. Through their own media, LGBT Lebanese can express themselves freely and challenge the broader society to pay attention to them, if not accept them. Time will tell whether the LGBT media in Lebanon will become agents of progress and acceptance for the LGBT community as Armenian media have been for Lebanese Armenians, and whether such community-specific media will eventually lead to accommodation of LGBT voices and agendas in the mainstream media.


Yuriy Zalizniak, Ivan Franko National University

To successfully run a community media project, one has to meet at least four objectives: to be devoted to the idea of serving the community interests; to have the time to create and support the project; to be qualified enough to conduct the work, along with a willingness to learn and adapt during the process; and, last but not least, to attract both cultural and financial support. All four objectives are substantial hurdles currently in politically divided Ukraine.

More than 20 years after becoming an independent democracy, Ukraine still does not have as many community news media as there are in other modern democracies. Much of the community journalism in Ukraine is produced by student media, trade-union media, and public media funded by NGOs. Those media have some distinctive similarities. They are mostly informal (meaning they are not legally registered as professional news media). They are established and operated by local activists, and often do not have stable staffing or financial support. They are situational, producing whenever they are able to, often with no regular publication periods and rarely remaining viable over long periods of time. And they do not require the sophisticated equipment and complicated procedures used by national and regional newspapers and broadcasters (Klymenko & Pavlenko, 2003).

To be clear, there are some territorial community media in Ukraine that are quite professional — officially registered newspapers, mainly, that are issued on a regular basis with general-interest breadth. The country still has rural newspapers, and they represent a classic type of “local” media for a post-Soviet country, as such newspapers used to be issued in almost every region of Ukraine, if not throughout other former Soviet republics. Those rural-region newspapers are not the same as community media when it comes to issues of political independence, economic activity and financial viability. Regularly issued community newspapers are possible only when initiative-driven groups of citizens manage to find some reliable sources of financial support.

Ukraine’s media landscape in recent years has been dominated by local oligarchs with close ties to the presidential families (Dutsyk, 2010). The opposition has not had adequately powerful media resources by which to compete, and in the run-up to the presidential elections of 2015, a strengthening of pro-government, oligarchic media is noticeable, although the early 2014 secession of Crimea certainly will change how some oligarchic media cover election politics. Absent representation and access to mainstream media in Ukraine, local activists tend to create their own news media to bring attention to specific community problems.

Those media enable numerous action groups to mobilize neighbors or like-minded citizens to collectively stand for common interests or to guard against or oppose actions against their causes. As such, they are more factional than typical “small-town” media in other countries. The majority of Ukraine’s “activist community media” are in print: newspapers, flyers, newsletters, etc. Examples include student newspapers, such as the two at Ivan Franko National University of  Lviv, Mogu and Kredens. Lviv also has a Greek-Catholic community newspaper, the All Saints of Ukrainian People Church Bulletin. Similar forms of niche community media can be found in cities throughout Ukraine.  But in recent years, other formats have been widely adopted, particularly social media and multimedia (using audio and video) that are shared through the Internet.

Sometimes, local NGOs can be the publishers of such newspapers, or can provide content for TV and radio bulletins on local channels and stations. An example is the project called Establishment of Media Centers in Rural Areas. Its aim in 2007 and 2008 was to foster democratic dialogue in rural areas and to give rural citizens a means to voice their concerns and opinions by setting up community media centers. But that was a short-term project funded by the European Union (Shutov, 2008).

Public-opinion studies show that news media are, along with the church and armed forces, the most trusted institutions in Ukraine (Democratic Initiatives Fund and Razumkov Centre, 2013), yet it is very hard to gather money to start a community media project — unless it is backed by oligarchs. But even oligarchs in Ukraine prefer buying TV and radio stations, magazines, newspapers and websites that they can control to increase their wealth and power rather than donating some of their wealth to independent community media. That is why almost all national media in Ukraine are commercial and owned by businessmen who have close ties to the ruling parties or strong opposition parties. Oligarchy has a tremendous influence on the content of mainstream Ukrainian media; as such, local community stories are often not covered when “national” problems are discussed, usually according to the “blessing” of the media owners.

The financial barriers to truly independent media in Ukraine are substantial. Ukraine has a smaller middle-class relative to the rest of Europe. Wealthy Ukrainians tend to be oligarchs, politicians and authorities at all levels of government, and they are conspicuous in their consumption of luxury brands such as Ferrari, Maserati, Chanel and many more. The rest of the population lives near or below the poverty line.  The Global Wealth Report 2013 of Credit Suisse Bank notes that the average annual income of a Ukrainian citizen is less than 41,000 hryvnia (about US$5,000), which is 10 times less than the world average. Ukraine’s nearest cultural neighbors, Poland and Russia, are richer: Russia is among the countries with an average income between US$5,000 and US$25,000, and Poles have average incomes between US$25,000 and US$100,000 (Global Wealth Report, 2013).

The question is whether it is possible that common Ukrainians, after spending their salaries mainly on groceries, are willing or able to give some money to support their own local community media. Surprisingly, the answer has been “yes” in some areas. For example, a group of professional journalists in November 2013 managed to gather more than 60,000 hryvnia (US$8,000) from more than 300 donors through a crowdfunding website to start a project called, simply, Public Radio. The station was created originally as a podcast-only project, with the hope to eventually become a full-time Web stream and, perhaps, even broadcast over airwaves. As they explained, it is expected to be the only truly independent “talk” radio outlet in Ukraine, as it will not be under control of the government, businessmen or politicians (Public Radio, 2013). The project’s mission statement includes this explanation: “Each of us at one time refused to turn a blind eye to censorship, unfair ‘editorial’ or non-transparent media ownership. Each of our listeners has already noticed that he receives low-quality, stale and even deliberately distorted picture of the day from many media. Now we are trying to break this shameful circle” (Slavinska, 2013, para. 3). And it turned out to be enough to attract enough donations to launch the project. Although the project is not a “local” community journalism project — it is seeking a national audience — it is an experiment with grassroots journalism that is uncommon in Ukraine.

In that context, the difference between the concepts of community journalism and public (or “citizen”) journalism is not immediately noticeable because in Ukraine both are often regarded as the same phenomenon. That can possibly be explained by considering Ukraine’s Soviet past, a legacy of totalitarianism across two continents that used to deny any regional or community autonomy, including journalism produced by and for distinct communities. Today, Ukrainians are inhabitants of a reborn state crowded with communities that have regained cultural distinctiveness through 22 years of independence. Community journalism and public journalism are evolving at the same time. A national imperative for a free, independent, and community-focused press is only now entering the national consciousness. The dominance of oligarchical media slows that process, given the significance of large, national media to influence how citizens conceptualize their national culture. That gets to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” and his explanation of imaginary roots of nations: “Members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, 1991, p. 6). For seven decades, Ukrainians were compelled, partly via state-owned media, to imagine themselves as part of the U.S.S.R.; today, the first generation of Ukrainians born and raised in an independent, democratic nation are just entering adulthood. Ukrainians are still in the process of re-imagining “community” both through expanding personal acquaintances but also through derivative awareness via the efforts of community/public journalism efforts that reflect smaller Ukrainian communities that are tied together by geography, beliefs, or shared interests.

The Internet is giving a tremendous boost particularly to the rapid development of community, citizen, civic and other types of “connected” journalism. Ukrainians have a tradition of small-scale, un-official publishing — evidence of that can be seen in the dissident “samizdat” press collection of Ukrainian journalist Vakhtang Kipiani (Kipiani, 2007). But Internet-based communication has greatly enhanced the ability of disempowered Ukrainians to produce journalism both in print and online.

The worldwide digital network simplifies access to content for audiences, as well as access to low-cost production and publishing tools, especially compared to those needed for legacy print, radio and TV news outlets in Ukraine. Consider the case of, a project by Ukrainian journalists who produce public-journalism video reports that are distributed online (Chornokondratenko, 2013). Such an independent journalism project would not be possible without ubiquitous Internet access.

In 2013, half the adult population in Ukraine used the Internet (KIIS research, 2013a). The main differences in the spread of the Internet in Ukraine are based on age and type of settlement. Ukrainian researchers have noted a linear, inverse relationship between age and Internet use, with the elderly using it very little and younger Ukrainians using it extensively (KIIS research, 2013b). And although sociologists also have noted Internet-access disparities in settlements of various sizes has noticeably smoothed, the digital divide is still notable in the Ukrainian countryside where residents often refer to technical problems of connectivity in sparsely populated areas (KIIS research, 2013b)Meanwhile, the founder of the portal, Maxim Savanevskyy, says that the dynamics of Internet development in Ukraine is rather high because every year the level of internet penetration in Ukraine increases by 20 to 25 percent:

Growth occurs primarily through small settlements. However, in Kyiv, for example, the penetration rate is almost unchanged for the last 1.5-2 years. Speaking of age dynamics of Internet users, the most active group is 50 years old or more, starting to take up the Internet after their children, or because the requirements at work. (Savanevskyy, 2013, para. 3).

In general, the development of the Internet in Ukraine can let us make predictions about the further expansion of Ukrainian community media, which will be decidedly online. That is indicated by the dynamics of Internet penetration in other parts of the world where Internet use corresponds with a steady growth of interest of the former audience to create its own content (Rosen, 2006). The number of blogs is growing in Ukraine; Ukrainian Wikipedia is among the top 20 Wikipedia channels in the world by number of articles; and social networks are becoming more and more popular among Ukrainians. According to Watcher, which has been analyzing the growth of Ukrainian audience on Facebook since April 2009, the number of Ukrainian Facebook users grew 48-fold in just four years, from 63,000 users in April 2009 to 3 million by October 2013 (Watcher research, 2013). Growth in 2013 was faster than in the previous year, increasing by a third from 1.6 million to 2.3 million users (Watcher research, 2013). The three most popular social networks in Ukraine – Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and Facebook — are steadily in top-10 most popular domains in Ukraine (Minchenko, 2013).

Corresponding to the rapid growth of social media use is the rapid appearance of online-only journalism projects in Ukraine. One such new project is in Vinnytsia – a hyperlocal social network as a platform for decision-making. Supported by a United Nations e-governance project, the project aims to develop a culture of dialogue in the community, attract active users of social networks to discuss the state of local development there, and identify new community leaders to promote new local initiatives (UNDP, 2015).

Many of the emerging citizen-journalism efforts in Ukraine combine geographic considerations with specific causes or goals. For instance, the movement “Let us walk” has a shared goal to fight for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in Lviv where narrow streets are crowded with illegally parked cars. “Let us walk” has open groups on Facebook with more than 2,000 members (Let us walk, 2013). Members of the group use their mobile phones to report illegally parked cars and to cooperate with local police to cite the car owners. At the same time, the group has managed to gather enough money from community members, other inhabitants of the city, and local businesses to buy and install physical barriers to prevent drivers from parking cars on sidewalks. The group’s success has forced mainstream media to meet with activists of the group and to cover that persistent local problem (, 2013;, 2013).  A similar approach has been taken by the “Save Old Kyiv” group, which tries to preserve old buildings and places of Kyiv from demolition or drastic alteration. A Google search in Ukraine using the terms “village site” or “village blog” returns countless results. Local activists use their do-it-yourself media to solve their community problems, to entertain neighbors, even to attract tourists.

Not all of those new community-focused media have proximate goals. For example, “Community against Lawlessness” is a social-network-based initiative dealing with cases of different injustice in the case of law and rights of Ukrainians violated by officials, police or judges (Community against Lawlessness, 2013). Those stories often are not covered by national and local mainstream media so activists report the stories in their own way using whatever resources are available to them.

That was certainly evident in late 2013 into 2014, during the Ukrainian pro-European revolution, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered several times in different parts of the capital city, Kyiv, to oppose the government’s decision to turn down European integration. Dozens of students, journalists (even foreign correspondents) and other people were roughly beaten by police during the protests. In general, mobilization of those protests took place via Twitter and Facebook. The community site EuroMaydan turned into a news aggregator. The hashtag “#Euromaydan” spread quickly and reached the top position in Ukrainian Twitter. Several separate-but-united online communities were organized in a short period of time to inform people about police activity in Kyiv and elsewhere; to help people from different regions of Ukraine get to the capital by public or private  transport; to provide traveling protestors with gasoline, food, warm clothes, medical assistance in the streets of the city, and places to stay in Kyiv for days; to find people who went missing after police arrests; and many more missions. At the same time, Ukrainian journalists were demonstrating extreme consolidation as they became willing to unite and support one another. More journalists have become more open to collaboration with ordinary people – specially (Chornokondratenko, 2013).

It is this growing diversity in online communication that suggests that stronger, more professional forms of community journalism may evolve in Ukraine. While oligarchic and commercial media continue to focus only on mainstream news related to national politics, macroeconomics, major crimes, major sports, weather issues and international news, local activists are demonstrating the more focused informational needs and desires of distinct communities. Amateurs with strong community ties are becoming the masters of understanding local context, of recognizing the local impacts of global changes, and of providing in-depth coverage of the issues and aspirations of each community. The plurality of such communities drives the demand for a stronger community-journalism presence in Ukraine, and the new media instruments of the Internet can help anybody with skill and talent to become their own, community-level media magnate.

Zambia: Community radio struggles under government interference

Carole Phiri-Chibbonta, University of Zambia

Radio is the most significant source of community journalism for the diverse populations of Zambia. Community radio in Zambia began after the introduction of multi-party, democratic governance in the early 1990s. The subsequent liberalization of the airwaves in 1994 resulted in the emergence of community radio stations in many parts of the country. Over the years, the number of not-for-profit community radio stations has increased steadily; today, Zambia has at least 48 community radio stations broadcasting in a number of languages with content as diverse as the population itself. Although most of those stations serve both communities of interest and geographical communities, most of them serve communities defined by geographical locality (Muzyamba, 2005). However, political pressures and interference have prevented community radio from achieving its highest potential in the young democracy.

The rise of community radio in Zambia, as noted by Kasoma (2001), seems to have been acknowledged against the backdrop of shortcomings of national radio provided by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), as well as shortcomings in commercial and Christian radio in the country. Compared to commercial or Christian radio, community radio would seem less restrictive in terms of content, as it lacks the aim of Christian radio which is to evangelize and it represents a more egalitarian media system for the people as its ethos is not primarily driven by profit and advertising (Kasoma, 2001). The signal of the national broadcaster, ZNBC, does not reach all people in the country, and ZNBC has failed to provide content to satisfy all the people in Zambia in terms of language groups and the specific problems and issues faced by communities in various parts of the country (Kasoma, 2001). Community radio aims to fill those gaps.

In addition, the entire media landscape in the country has probably contributed to the popularity of community media. Government owns and controls two of the country’s daily newspapers (Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia), while several privately owned newspapers, of which The Post has the widest circulation, provide opposition views and criticism of government but face frequent reprisals for their oppositional reporting. These three newspapers have for a long time dominated the newspaper industry in Zambia, which has occasionally seen weekly newspapers circulating but those have all folded in short order mainly due to sustainability problems. Previously, the government through the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) also produced six vernacular newspapers to cater for the information needs of the rural communities, but those, too, disappeared almost a decade ago. However, government has recently revived the production of those vernacular newspapers (Nyirenda, 2013) — time will tell if they succeed.

The media in Zambia is highly polarized, with the state media supporting the government of the day and the private media supporting the opposition. As such, most mainstream news media in Zambia are more reflective of the interests of their owners and supporters than of the people at large. Community radio has not only provided listeners with content about their own communities, but it also has offered people in those communities the opportunity to access diverse information as well as to express themselves to the public. Public involvement is conducted particularly through the use of mobile phones, and live radio phone-in programs provide alternative forms of information, especially in urban and peri-urban areas. Community radio stations seem to have become popular for broadcasting live phone-in programs in which the contributions of callers are not censored.

However, that appreciation of community radio has not come without its own limitations. Paramount among those are financial, regulatory, and political impediments as identified in the 2006 Needs Assessment Survey on Community Media (Muzyamba & Nyondo, 2006).

Since the time community radio appeared on the scene in Zambia, several stations have ceased to broadcast due to their inability to financially sustain their operations. The impact of rather exorbitant costs of obtaining a license as well as annual renewal fees has been harsh on some stations. In addition, there is still no clear policy and regulatory framework for community media in Zambia. Most notably, the 1996 Information and Media Policy is silent on the issue of community radio. Although it contains guidelines on how to apply for a radio broadcasting license, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a community radio station, no analysis of the context within which it can be carried on, let alone any attempt to distinguish between “community,” “commercial” and “public” broadcasting (MIBS, 1996).

Legally, issues of community media are represented by the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 2002, which mandated the creation of the IBA agency to license and regulate broadcast stations. However, to date, the IBA has not been fully operationalized, as the board was yet to be constituted 10 years later — at this writing, only an IBA director general has been appointed, and that was just in May 2013. Until (or unless) the IBA is fully implemented, all power to supervise, regulate and give licenses for radio stations, including community radio, is vested in the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, a political position that is prone to controversy (Adumu, 2013a).

The lack of a clear policy and regulatory framework for community radio could be enabling political interference in the form of arbitrary regulation and pronouncements by government officials. The interference comes by way of a number of approaches, both legal and extra-legal. For example, those in power may threaten to close down community media if they engage in “political broadcasts,” which they claim is contrary to license terms even though the regulations do not state any such restrictions (Muzyamba and Nyondo, 2006). Any content deemed to be critical of government by those authorities draws the same wrath and retaliation.

In fact, it has become common practice, in the recent years, for Zambian government officials to not only threaten to silence community media houses through closure but to try to influence the content and programming. For example, in November 2007, officials threatened to revoke the license of Radio Lyambai in western Zambia following allegations that the station intended to invite an opposition leader to discuss a controversial political issue. Officials banned the station from broadcasting live phone in radio shows. A few years later, the government shut down the radio station under allegations that it broadcast “seditious material” related to the Barotseland independence movement (Zambian Watchdog, 2011).

In a more recent case, the Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Mwamba in 2013 threatened to revoke the broadcasting license of UNZA Radio, a teaching radio station operated by the University of Zambia in Lusaka (Adumu, 2013b). The official alleged that the station had broadcast a discussion about politics with an opposition party leader. Mwamba accused UNZA Radio of departing from its mandate of being a community radio station by offering a platform for partisan interests. That was neither the first nor the only the incident of political interference at UNZA Radio. Earlier, in September 2012, Mwamba’s predecessor, Amos Malupenga, had also threatened to suspend UNZA Radio’s license on allegations that the station was providing a platform for advancing partisan interests (Adumu, 2012). In 2014, the country’s Youth and Sport Minister, Chishimba Kambwili, went into the radio station to threaten student journalists for their coverage of a student protest on campus (Lusaka Times, 2014).

Similar incidents at other community radio stations resulted in government officials threatening to either close or dissolve boards of directors for such media. In February 2013, the district commissioner from the North-Western Province threatened to revoke the license for Kasempa FM community radio after he was quizzed about the shortage of mortuary attendants at a hospital under his jurisdiction (Zambian Watchdog, 2013). In the same month, Isoka Community radio station in Northern Zambia and Radio Pasme in Eastern Zambia also faced similar intimidation (MISA Zambia, 2013).

With the lack of implementation of the Independent Broadcasters Authority and the ad hoc and capricious manner in which political pronouncements relating to community media are unilaterally made by officials, it is clear that the government has apportioned itself regulatory power over community radio regardless of community interests. That level of restrictive regulation and arbitrary government control makes it impossible for community radio in Zambia to offer a diversity of opinions from those communities. A free and independent media cannot achieve its best goal — to empower communities and give voice to the voiceless — if the government keeps interfering.


All five of the countries discussed here have constitutional guarantees of “freedom of the press,” though of course the degree to which a particular government will honor such rights will vary from place to place and from time to time. Clearly, the human need for sharing news within communities is demonstrated by the myriad projects and efforts discussed above. Most turn to modern media formats — newspapers, radio, blogs — but the impetus is not really about “putting out a newspaper” or “getting the word out over the airwaves.” The impetus is to share, to bear witness, and to empower — how that goal is achieved is as diverse as the many cultures of the human civilization.

In his acclaimed book A History of News, Mitchell Stephens wrote about “the need for news” as a social impetus that is as old as human civilization itself: “It does not matter whether we are used to following news across an island or around the world; when the news flow is obstructed — depriving us of our customary view — a darkness falls. We grow anxious. Our hut, apartment, village or city becomes a ‘sorry’ place. However large our horizons were, they grow smaller” (Stephens, 2007, p. 12). Sometimes the obstruction comes from the gauche, heavy-handed tactics of tyrannical politicians; sometimes it comes from the financially motivated dominant media who are focused only on the disposable incomes of the middle- and upper classes. Sometimes, it comes from years of not knowing anything else. But, in the end, the obstructions cannot seem to stop the natural tendencies of communities to develop their own systems of gathering and disseminating news. The means of doing so, however, are as diverse as the cultures of the world itself.


Introduction and conclusion

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Honduras essay

India essay

Lebanon essay

Ukraine essay

Zambia essay

About the Authors

Bill Reader is an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Beatriz Lovo Reichman is associate professor at Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana in Honduras.

Anand Pradhan is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, India.

Sleiman El Bssawmai is an associate professor at The Lebanese University in Beirut, Lebanon.

Yuriy Zaliznyak is an associate professor at Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, Ukraine.

Carole Phiri-Chibbonta is a lecturer and media consultant at the University of Zambia in Lusaka, Zambia.


Community Journalism Journal Issue 1 Volume 4

Community Journalism in Australia: A Media Power Perspective

Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller

This article provides clarity about the different types of journalism that come under Australia’s vibrant community media umbrella and conceptualizes their relationships to one another against the backdrop of dominant media. We draw on critical-cultural theory, using the concept of media power to argue that journalism invents and reinforces the idea of  “community” among audiences, generating advantages and sometimes inequalities as well.  It is also used to differentiate certain community journalism practices from mainstream norms and conventions, although we highlight that “community” is a powerful idea that dominant media use to their advantage as well.

“Community journalism” means different things to different people in Australia. It is used to describe a wide range of media that provide information for niche audiences, from radio and television stations run by volunteers, to rotating Twitter accounts set up by activists and newspapers, and online news sites that are owned by global news companies or home office operators. The idea of “community” often conjures notions of collectivity, altruism, shared interests, sense of belonging and collegiality. There is a need, however, to examine the underbelly of this feel-good concept that is often overlooked in broader discussions about community media in Australia. This article contends that “community” is a constructed notion that creates advantages and inequalities and generates boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Furthermore, in this digital world forms of community media are inherently tied to dominant media in one way or another – whether they like it or not.

This article takes up the invitation from American journalism scholar Bill Reader (2012) to draw from the “critical cultural well” in research about community journalism. Reader argues that the cultural studies approach can generate innovative research in this field, even though it challenges many traditions of 20th century professionalism and social science (Reader, 2012). As he points out, the goal of cultural studies is not about “testing hypothesis and finding answers, but rather about discovering new and more interesting questions” (ibid, p.109).  Reader outlines some of the broad theoretical frameworks that can be used to understand community journalism from a cultural perspective, including Marxist theory, hegemony theory (Gramsci, 1971) James Carey’s ritual of communication (1989) and Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” (1983). This article highlights the benefits of working with an alternative perspective – that of media power (Couldry, 2003, 2012; Couldry & Curran, 2003; Howley, 2010, 2013) – which draws upon some of the well-known paradigms above. This theory helps us to investigate community journalism in two ways: how it is shaped and framed against dominant media; and secondly, the power that comes from a media organization’s ability to construct and reinforce the idea of community related to a geographic region, demographic band, or space of shared interest.

The article begins by providing some clarity about the different types of journalism that come under Australia’s vibrant community media umbrella. It will then provide an overview of the concept of media power, before turning to a discussion of the way issues of power can help to compare and contrast the different forms of community journalism and their relationship to society. We take our cue from scholars who have highlighted the benefits of studying not-for-profit forms of community journalism through a lens of media power, including Howley (2010, 2013) and Couldry (2003, 2012) and advance these discussions to acknowledge that  “community” is also a powerful idea adopted by dominant media – the very media that much community journalism serves to challenge.


In international scholarship, the idea of community journalism is linked to the local newspaper, especially those serving small towns and cities (see Reader & Hatcher, 2012). But with the rise of new technologies, from radio to television and the internet, the term “community media” has transcended geographic spaces and is now also used interchangeably with alternative, independent, underground and radical media, particularly public broadcasting, blogging and internet sites (Forde, 2011; Ndlela, 2011; Howley, 2010, 2013; Couldry and Dreyer, 2007). There remains some confusion over whether community media is not-for-profit or commercial in nature (see Forde, 2011). Howley (2010), for example, defines community media as an alternative to profit-oriented media that caters for the wide range of tastes and interests of ethnic, racial and cultural minorities, who are often ignored, silenced or otherwise misrepresented by mainstream media:

…This rather generic definition … accommodates a diverse set of initiatives, community radio, participatory video, independent publishing, and online communication to name but a few. (Howley 2010, p. 2)

Forde suggests alternative and community media resonates with the unrepresented, working outside established societal power structures, dedicated to the role of journalism in democracy and occupying a place in the media-scape as “an endangered species” (Forde 2011, p. 53). We have argued elsewhere that community is a weak theoretical framework for understanding commercial newspapers in a digital world  (Hess, 2013a; Hess and Waller, 2014). But we also emphasize that community is a powerful idea, rather than a tangible reality, that should be engaged with and understood (Hess & Waller, 2012; Hess, 2014), a point we shall return to soon. Reader and Hatcher (2012) argue that news media today are hybrid models that are hard to categorize using old definitions. They identify a need to study the new ground that exists between the idea of community and journalism that we will extend by drawing upon the Australian experience.


Australia’s commercial media rests in the hands of relatively few companies and individuals, resulting in one of the highest concentrations of media ownership in the developed world (Finklestein, 2012, p.59).  It has been argued that this has led to a narrow range of news and opinion from which people can understand their world and make informed decisions about politics and social issues (Finkelstein, 2012). Community journalism of all stripes is therefore viewed as crucial for enhancing and ensuring Australia’s media diversity (Hess et al., 2014). Community broadcasting in particular, as an alternative medium to public service and commercial media, is argued to foster citizen participation and help to preserve cultural diversity (Forde et al., 2009). It also promotes an overall “Australian-ness” through the creation of Australian content for a heterogonous audience and support for local artists  (Jolly, 2014). It is important to outline each of the styles of Australian community journalism before moving on to discuss how a media power perspective can cast some different understandings and questions about how they relate to one another, and mainstream media, in the digital age.

Community newspapers

In international circles, there is much literature that equates the local newspaper with community journalism (see especially Lauterer, 2006; Reader & Hatcher, 2012; van Vuuren, 2007; Bowd, 2007). In this way “community” is often considered synonymous with geographic territory or used in tandem with terms such as country newspapers (Bowd, 2007), rural/regional (Ewart, 2000) or the local press (Buchanan, 2009; Fenton 2010; Franklin 2006). As Lauterer argues (2006), the very idea of community journalism was a choice phrase adopted by American researchers in the 1960s to replace the phrase “hometown newspaper” (see also Byerly, 1961).

In Australia, community newspapers are also understood to serve specific geographic areas. However, there is a need to carefully distinguish between “local” and “community” press in discussions about Australia’s media. It is a practical distinction that also offers an important insight into relationships of power that we will unpack later in this article. Australia’s two big newspaper groups – Murdoch’s News Corporation and Fairfax Media – own many of the nation’s community newspapers. Fairfax’s community media arm is concentrated on the suburban fringes of Australia’s southern cities (Melbourne and Sydney). News Corp Australia’s Community Newspaper Group covers more of the nation, but adopts a similar strategy (News Corp Australia, 2015). These types of community publications are largely understood as free newspapers distributed to households through the letterbox, often weekly, sometimes tri-weekly. They are often free publications that are distinguished from other titles in the company stable that audiences have traditionally paid to read in print, including long-serving local newspapers. In the state of Victoria, for example, Fairfax Media owns and operates the local daily newspaper, The Warrnambool Standard, that serves the vast south-west region. The company’s free community paper Warrnambool Extra, is distributed to households in the immediate geographic region of the city of Warrnambool. The Extra has a higher advertising-to-editorial ratio and provides more social than civic content (events and social photos rather than coverage of local government or the courts). Outside the world of the big mainstream players there are other interpretations of the community newspaper. Van Vuuren (2007) notes that there are commercial community newspapers in Australia that operate independently of Fairfax and News Limited. She defines the community newspaper in Australia as:

Those that are distributed monthly, fortnightly or weekly to residents of particular suburbs or localities, either delivered directly to households or available from local traders or on the pavement at shopping centers, and often free of charge. (van Vuuren, 2007, p.8)

Van Vuuren cites a 2005 News Corporation study of 6,500 people that found two-thirds of Australians considered their community newspapers to be the medium of most relevance to them (ibid, p.96). The Community Newspapers of Australia (2015) association, meanwhile, uses phrases such as “suburban” and “local newspaper” as synonymous with community media and under this definition they are distributed for free in print and online spaces. At the state level, the Community Newspaper Association of Victoria  (2015) defines a community newspaper as “a newspaper or newsletter that is owned by the community”. This could mean a newsletter produced by a community house, or a newspaper put together by a group of volunteers for a town or community group. This implies that such media are created as not-for-profit products that serve horizontal networks, separated from the powerful and the elite.

Community broadcasting

Australia was one of the first countries in the world to introduce not-for-profit community broadcasting (see Forde et al., 2009) and community radio is arguably most closely associated with the community journalism tag. It is often referred to as being a not-for-profit radio station, run primarily by volunteers, drawn from the community that the radio station is targeting as its audience.  Community stations broadcast in remote and rural places, as well as suburban and urban areas. Community broadcasting has been described as playing an important role in Australian culture by:

… empowering participants, providing voices for different cultures and minorities, delivering local news, information and views, providing alternative music formats, a forum for Australian musicians and writers and programs that create a sense of belonging for people and maintaining projects which nourish Australian content in the face of an increasing reliance on overseas content by other broadcasters. (Jolly, 2014, “concluding arguments”)

The Australian community broadcast sector has 360 community radio licensees, 66 per cent of which are located in rural/regional Australia (Community Broadcasting Foundation, 2015). Australian Community Broadcasting distinguishes itself from other media by actively promoting access and participation in the processes of media operations, administration and production. It is volunteer-driven, with more than 20,000 volunteer broadcasters and support staff helping to deliver media “for the people by the people” (Community Broadcasting Foundation, 2015, para 3) The McNair Ingenuity research study ,of community radio found that 64 per cent of non-metropolitan listeners in 2010 and 66 per cent in 2008 nominated local news and information as a reason for listening to community radio (McNair Ingenuity Research, 2008, as cited in Bowd, 2010). However, the 2012 Finkelstein inquiry into Australia’s news media expressed some concern that community radio services related mostly to localized communities, were largely run by volunteers, with little capacity for regular coverage of local news.

One of community broadcasting’s recognized strengths lies in its delivery of radio and television programming for specific cultural and ethnic groups throughout the land (see for eg. Misajon & Khoo, 2008).  It is a significant resource for people from non-English speaking backgrounds, as they have few media alternatives, and these broadcasts support language and cultural maintenance. Meadows et al. (2009) found that community radio plays a significant role in the settlement process for migrants and refugees.  A Turkish focus group that was part of their study explained how community radio helped to integrate people into Australian life:

It’s very important. Our children are growing up Australians anyway, maybe they’re having difficulty adapting culturally, but through the radio, they will be able to get some help or adapt anyway. And also we see our differences as richness. (Meadows et al., 2009)

Community broadcasting also helps people who have been in Australia for some time to keep in touch with their cultural heritage. Many community radio stations deliver programs of interest to a number of groups. For example, Jolly (2014) notes that in Australia’s national capital Canberra, community radio station 2XXX broadcasts programs made by and for the city’s Korean, Finnish, Chinese, Greek and Spanish communities.

There are debates as to whether community stations should stress localness and service the local “geographic” population, or emphasize participation and provide a platform for under-represented voices, views and cultural products (Gordon, 2009, p.62). It can be argued that while these tensions and debates exist, community broadcasting in Australia is engaged with the issues and strives to provide a wide range of services and cater to diverse audience needs (Jolly 2014).

Alternative media

Radical, or alternative journalism is found increasingly in online and social media spaces, but there is a long tradition of print publications, as well as community broadcasting, dedicated to political and social justice causes in Australia (Forde, 1999). Historically, alternative media journalists have been distinguished by belonging to a campaign or movement for which they write or broadcast (Forde, 2011). They have an overriding commitment to their public sphere and always, their public sphere is quite simply that which is not being served, or served properly, by the mainstream news media. Forde (2011) suggests such media is more closely aligned than any other form of journalism with the unrepresented, the “poor and downtrodden” (Downing, 2003 quoted in Forde, 2011).

Indigenous Australians are among the most disadvantaged on measures including health, education, home ownership and incarceration (Australian Productivity Commission, 2011), but they have succeeded in creating what is arguably one of the largest, strongest and most distinctive alternative media subcultures in Australia. It is mature, prolific, uncertain and evolving. Waller et al., (2015) describe it as “the consummate expression and achievement of the politics of voice, or speaking up, in the Australian media landscape”. Indigenous media is dynamic, at times working to redefine its use and meaning (Michaels 1986; Rennie & Featherstone, 2008). Diversity and differences of purpose, as well as uncertainty, are part of its essence, offering space for difference of opinion and delivery. The histories and aims of a wide range of Indigenous media outlets confirms the pivotal role they play in Indigenous activism and as mechanisms for debate and development of public opinion which has long been recognized (Hartley & McKee, 1996, 2000; Hartley, 2003; Forde et al., 2009).  Indigenous media operates across all platforms, with newspapers that advocate for Indigenous rights including Land Rights NewsThe Indigenous Times and Koori News. There is an extensive national network of Indigenous community radio, as well as three community television networks (see Waller et al., 2015 for a full discussion). Indigenous journalists campaign for social justice in online publications such as The Koori History Website and social media, with Twitter proving an especially popular and successful platform for radical Indigenous journalism.


We have sketched what we consider to be the spectrum of Australia’s community media sector, highlighting that while they all share the descriptor of “community” they can differ quite dramatically in their motivations and approaches to news. To unpack this further we return to cultural theories of media power that challenge the political economy view of ownership and control by major media players (McChesney, 2003). The cultural approach is also critical of the normative, Fourth Estate view of journalism’s power coming from its role as democracy’s watchdog (Zelizer, 2012). It emphasizes the media’s own power to construct reality, or frame the way we see the world (see Couldry, 2012). In the words of Maras (2013), media power means more than:

Just the power of the press and includes the capacity of media to “do” certain things, its power within (and over) society and power struggles between different parts of the industry and profession. Media power describes how the press and journalism occupies its field and has to do with the way public discourse is imagined and promoted and controlled, via terms such as “objectivity”. (Maras, 2013, p.12)

The concept of media power has not figured strongly in studies of community newspapers (see Hess & Waller, 2014), but it has proved a robust theoretical paradigm for understanding the social significance of not-for-profit journalism that provides media access and advocates for social equity (see especially Couldry & Dreher, 2007; Howley 2010). For example, Howley (2010) says:

For those with little or no access to mainstream media, community media provide resources and opportunities for marginalized groups to tell their own stories in their own voices. They are instrumental in protecting and defending cultural identity while simultaneously challenging inaccurate, prejudicial media representations. (Howley 2010, p.5)

In the discussion that follows here we will highlight how the ability of media organizations to construct and reinforce the idea of community among audiences can generate power and inequality on all levels. We will also demonstrate how media power helps to differentiate and contextualize Australia’s community media sector in terms of its relationship to dominant media and society.

Repositioning “community” through a media power lens

Couldry (2003) draws on Bourdieu to suggest media power can best be understood as the media’s symbolic power of constructing reality (Bourdieu, 1991, p. 166). In Introduction to Reflexive Sociology(Bourdieu & Wacquant 1992), Bourdieu used the term “meta-capital” to describe the concentration of different types of capital in the state, giving it power to decide what counts as capital in specific fields. Couldry argued that the media’s power could be theorized the same way:

Just as the state’s influence on cultural capital and prestige … is not confined to specific fields but radiates outward into social space generally, so the media’s meta-capital may affect social space through the general circulation of media representations. (Couldry, 2003, p. 688)

Much like Anderson’s (1983) idea of the imagined community, viewing community journalism through a lens of media power helps to untangle the assumption that community is in some way a tangible reality. As Webb et al. (2002, p. 88) observe, one of the enduring beliefs in most societies is that “community” in both local and national contexts has a real existence:  “An identity as tangible as the continents and as natural as the Amazon forest or the Rhine river”. They argue that community is not natural or inevitable. It is constructed by a series of discourses about society. Shaun Moores (2000) follows Anderson to argue that community might be best understood as a “fictional reality” – communities appear to have an objective existence but are actually products of the imagination (Moores, 2000, p.39). Elsewhere we, among others, have argued that media organizations, especially small newspapers, are considered to be in a powerful position to construct community ideas and values (see eg Hess & Waller, 2014; Hess, 2014; Reader & Hatcher, 2011; Howley, 2010; Mersey, 2010; Ewart 2000). For example, Mersey (2010) contends that within boundaries of community, feelings of emotional safety, a sense of acceptance and willingness to make a personal investment can develop (Mersey, 2010, p.63). We must provide scope therefore to examine how dominant media might maintain economic and symbolic power by constructing and reinforcing the community ideal.

Hess (2014) draws on cultural studies to rethink the theory of social capital in regards to commercial local newspapers, both those that are independently owned or belong to a major media company. These are the types of publications that are also considered to be synonymous with notions of ‘community’. She argues the concept of “mediated social capital” places commercial local newspapers in a position of advantage within the geo-social spaces they serve because they are seen as central to social order. They generate feelings of unity and drive a sense of collectivity among audiences, especially in times of crisis like natural disasters (Hess, 2014). This places such media outlets in a position of advantage – it may generate economic capital in terms of advertising, be used for reputation building, social networking or lobbying – what Hess conceptualizes as mediated bonding, bridging and linking social capital (see Hess, 2014).

The same idea may also apply to alternative community media. Bourdieu (1986) argues that in any social network there is a degree of symbolic power bestowed on leaders to speak on the group’s behalf. Take the alternative, Indigenous journalism example of @IndigenousX, which was founded by activist Luke Pearson. @IndigenousX is a rotating Twitter account that features a different Indigenous commentator on a new topic each week. Evidence of the symbolic capital generated by @IndigenousX can be found in the fact that The Guardian’s Australian online site now promotes and provides a platform for the featured @IndigenousX columnist every week. It is an example of user-driven innovation and of how Indigenous voices are emerging strongly in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. Sweet et al. (2013) argue its effectiveness now ranges from it providing the means to “both scale and tear down barriers to participation” (2013, p. 108); to fostering cultural emotional and social wellbeing; as a journalistic innovation and a community development intervention.

The dark side of community

The media’s power to construct community can also be used to create difference and inequality. Recent Australian research shows how this can at times create “polarizing” views (Ewart, 2014, p.804). Hess (2013, 2014) highlights how the news media’s ability to generate a sense of community can restrict outsiders and has a dark side. She provides examples where minority groups are under-represented in Australia’s country newspapers and discusses how this can contribute to social exclusion. We must be careful to acknowledge that generating feelings of unity and sense of collectivity among audiences, especially in times of crisis such as terrorist attacks, can result in exclusion as well as inclusion. In a complex, globalized world, a retreat into “communities” can be a refusal to engage or connect with difference and complexity. Deuze (2007) argues contemporary society is anything but solid or socially cohesive. He says under conditions of worldwide migration (of capital and labor, global conflict and environmental apprehension) most people experience a growing precariousness in everyday life. “As a response, citizens increasingly retreat into hyperlocal enclaves (suburban ghettos or guarded-gate communities) or global personal spaces such as Facebook” (Deuze, 2007, p. 671). People involved in all forms of community journalism are constantly negotiating what it means to be part of the community – not only bringing community into existence, but also questioning and contesting how it happens and the shapes it takes (see Hess & Waller, 2014). We must also acknowledge that in the process there is a risk that certain voices will not be included, or heard (Dreher, 2010).

Rethinking relations with the mainstream

A clear characteristic of all forms of community journalism in Australia is that they provide a crucial service by promoting and/or giving value to news and information that is not covered by mainstream media. ElGhul-Bebawi (2010) argues there is a blurring between mainstream and alterative media, but that ultimately the distinguishing feature will be the way community media contest mainstream media power (see also Couldry & Curran, 2003; Couldry & Dreher, 2007). One way of understanding this relationship more generally is through an examination of how forms of community media fill gaps in mainstream news media presence and coverage of localities, events and people. However, taking a media power perspective means we must also explore how community media relates to dominant media channels in this changing digital world.

Communities that the big players don’t speak to or for

Australia is a diverse, multicultural nation where the English language dominates the media and mainstream coverage of news from other countries does not always satisfy the needs of people with close links and interests in those places. This gap is filled by Australia’s vibrant ethnic media scene, celebrated for its contribution to cultural diversity and cultural maintenance (Cover, 2012; 2013).  There is not space here to explore the sector in depth, but there is a well-established ethnic press that has extended online, as well as a strong accent on ethnic programming on community radio and television that delivers local, national and international news, information and entertainment. In the state of New South Wales alone, there are dozens of publications in some 30 different languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Radio 2000 in the capital, Sydney, is a full-time multi-lingual community-based radio station and there are at least 10 community radio stations that broadcast part-time in community languages (NSW Government, 2015). On the other side of the nation, Western Australia has 18 ethnic print media outlets and at least 11 community-based ethnic radio stations (Government of Western Australia, 2015).

Other groups, including senior citizens, gays and lesbians and people living with disabilities are often critical of mainstream media in Australia for the negative ways in which they are represented, or are made invisible by not being represented (see for example Disability and Media Matters, 2015).  In response to this and as a way to build community, they produce their own programs on community radio and television, and also in niche print and online publications that provide news and information that connects those involved with their communities (van Vuuren, 2007). An example is an online publication called The Senior (2015) that provides news, information and targeted advertising for older Australians.

Demanding the big players’ attention

A key aim of alternative media groups and journalists in Australia is to have an impact on politics and policies across a range of issues – from the environment, to social justice, trade agreements and international relations – by influencing public debate and agitating for change. The literature on mainstream journalists’ sourcing practices shows that they listen most closely to their elite sources and their reports reflect the agendas of these powerful actors (Soley, 1992; Koch-Baumgarten & Voltmer, 2010). The “gaps” alternative media try to fill include the mainstream’s lack of attention to certain issues and/or where news angles reflect powerful news sources’ views at the expense of ordinary or marginalized members of communities, who are sometimes portrayed negatively. Participants in what are termed “news interventions” (Howley, 2013) therefore target mainstream news in order to influence news agendas and representations, which are seen to impact on audiences and interactions between communities. A current Australian example is the Lock the Gate Alliance (2015), which opposes coal seam gas mining. Working with alternative journalists, including Margo Kingston and the New No Fibs citizen journalism project (Kingston, 2013) the alliance and has been highly effective in its use of a range of digital media to communicate with its supporters, the public and for engaging mainstream media interest in the campaign.

Extremely local news and gaps in the media market

It is important to recognize that community journalism in Australia is not entirely independent from the state. For example, community radio relies on government funding to survive (Hallett, 2009). In 2013-14, the Australian Government committed $17.7 million to the Community Broadcasting Foundation to support its activities. Many community newspapers also receive indirect public subsidies through government advertising (Hess et al., 2015). Such government subsidies can be understood as a form of recognition for the social importance of these news services. Free newspapers and community radio that serve small geographic areas are crucial because they provide news and information that is not often available from mainstream news media, including reports about local events and everyday happenings such as road works (Finkelstein, 2012). They exist not to directly challenge media power but to fill the gaps left by the mainstream.

Consider the role of The Meredith and District News in Australia – which is arguably an exemplar of the “community” modus operandi based on altruism, shared interests, collectivity and collegiality. The Meredith and District News (2015) depends entirely on advertising, donations and grants to meet the costs of maintaining the newsletter and its primary motive is to generate a sense of community among readers, not profits. The publication grew from a school newsletter and is now affiliated with the local community center. It unassumingly challenges media power by plugging the gaps ignored by mainstream publications, but also confronts traditional norms and conventions of professional journalism in the way it is produced and presented to audiences. For example, its front page is dominated by a list of contact numbers for civic, community and emergency services rather than news stories, and its content features calls for contributions to a kindergarten cookbook and the announcement of the new school principal.

As Reader and Hatcher (2012) point out, those who study community journalism at this level begin with an appreciation that journalism is not solely the purview of major national and international media outlets:

Community journalism is at the bottom of an iceberg; it forms the greatest bulk of journalism produced in the world, but it goes largely unnoticed by the masses compared to the ubiquitous big media names readily recognized by society at large (The New York Times, the BBC, National Geographic etc.). (Reader & Hatcher, 2012, xiv)

The authors touch on an important point that highlights how dominant media use and abuse the idea of community, depending on the context in which it is considered. Despite the altruistic Gemeinshaft ideals (see Tönnies, 1957) that community represents, from an economic perspective “community” often signifies editorial content that can be used by commercial players to define a niche market in which to sell advertising to highly targeted audiences. A News Corporation study of 6,500 people revealed that 20 per cent of all newspaper revenue in Australia was generated from the “community newspaper” sector (as cited in van Vuuren, 2007). As highlighted earlier, community publications in Australia have often been established by major media companies at low cost (with high advertising to editorial ratios and more social and contributor content). As a result, they have often been distanced from the Fourth Estate ideals and notions of objectivity upheld by larger, long-serving newspapers which boast established reputations. In an interview for a study on how local newspapers connect people with one another, an editor of a daily local newspaper who also oversees a “free” community weekly paper said:

Our free paper is often described as a community newspaper because it doesn’t upset anyone…it covers the fluffy feel-good stuff. (Personal communication with author, March 22, 2012)

This comment resonates with Forde’s idea that community media are the ‘poor and downtrodden’ (2011) – at least within professional journalism circles and illuminates the powerful cultural norms and values at play that determine what is ‘good’ journalism (see Hess & Waller, 2015). Van Vuuren (2007) highlights that little research is undertaken on community publications in Australia as most academics think they “aren’t worth the paper they are written on” (van Vuuren, 2007, p. 96), This is despite research that shows many households value these publications highly and consider them to provide the news and information most relevant to them (ibid).


We have established that a defining aspect of community media is the way they challenge media power. But in this digital world, it is important to acknowledge that while community media is often celebrated as being independent (Forde, 2011) and serving horizontal ties, such media are connected in one way or another to dominant forms of power – both media and political ­– whether they like it or not.  Future research on community media must provide scope to examine this more carefully in the digital environment. As Curran (2003) contends, “new technology has not fundamentally changed the underlying economic factors that enable large media organizations to maintain their market dominance” (Curran, 2003, p. 227). Community journalism, from alternative blogs to community radio, increasingly relies on hugely profitable global media companies to communicate. While forms of community journalism are seen to push back against dominant media, there is a growing dependence on powerful commercial information channels such as Google and Facebook to reach and engage with audiences, especially in digital space. These are not neutral players in the media world (see eg: Picard, 2014). Viewing this through a media power lens provides a way of seeing that as dominant media changes and evolves, so too does the relationship with community media forms. Media power might become less visible and more fluid as old structures collapse, giving rise to the Digital Dynasty’s new media empires and moguls. Picard (2014) advises that studies about the use of social media should therefore be viewed through a critical lens. He goes further, to argue that all forms of information technology should be studied in terms of power relationships, rather than the naïve perception that the Internet is about widespread democratization (Picard, 2014). Community newspapers and websites that belong to big media corporations are most obviously connected to powerful information nodes and flows through their own networks, as well as via platforms such as Twitter. This means stories deemed important can be picked up more quickly and given traction in other media owned by the same parent company, and further afield.

As Reader (2012) suggests, drawing from the critical-cultural well offers a way of generating innovative research in the field of community journalism. It has helped us to highlight different motivations and approaches to news across Australia’s community media spectrum. It has also provided the framework for understanding media power operates through all forms of community journalism in two ways. First, through their ability to construct “community” in distinctive ways for both public and private good; and secondly, through their relationships with the big, mainstream commercial media channels of the digital age. Community journalism has being widely theorized against the backdrop of dominant mainstream media where it is viewed as filling a perceived news gap, or representing the interests of those who are not given a voice in big media. However, it is important to acknowledge the complexity that rests in its increasing reliance on big commercial media such as Google, Twitter and Facebook to connect with and across audiences in shifting media terrains.  This article has also argued that we must provide scope to consider the benefits and inequalities that the power to construct community presents for dominant news media players in this increasingly globalized world.


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About the Authors

Kristy Hess is a senior lecturer in journalism in the School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Australia.

Lisa Waller is a senior lecturer in journalism in the School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Australia.