Texas community journalism Websites not using blogs extensively

If you had written the word blog just 13 years ago, everyone would have thought you’d made a typo. Maybe you mean blob? Or blot?

How times have changed. Blogs — short for Weblogs — are part of our lives and part of the vocabularies of pretty much everyone who’s halfway Web-literate.

Need proof? Check out these numbers, courtesy of Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere report:

  • Facebook recorded 41 million unique visitors last year. MySpace had 75 million. Blogs had almost 78 million unique visitors.
  • 50 percent of Internet users read blogs.
  • In 2007, there were 22.6 million bloggers in the United States.
  • There are almost 1 million blog posts a day.

In its report, Technorati noted that when it did its first report on blogs in 2004, the typical reaction to the word was, “Huh? Can you repeat yourself?” Four years later, blogs are commonplace.

And newspapers throughout the nation have become a part of the blogging phenomenon. Blogs get more voices into the newspaper, allow staffers to share insights on how the news comes together and how they do their jobs, and allow more coverage of areas far too specialized ever to justify ink on the printed page. Since cyberspace has an unlimited news hole, newspapers can include the blog on fitness tips for the elderly or the news of a six-block area on the east side of town.

Blogs have ended up playing an important role in American life — it was bloggers who brought down Sen. Trent Lott when they reported his off-the-cuff remark about Strom Thurmond. And bloggers who torpedoed Dan Rather for his sloppy reporting of George Bush’s military record. In fact, you can argue that political bloggers have become an integral part of American politics — the Obama campaign obviously used blogging more effectively than anyone else ever has.
For whatever reason, Texas community newspapers have been slow to use blogs extensively.

Roy Robinson, publisher of the Graham Leader, told me in an email that his newspaper has moved slowly because of legal concerns.

“According to our attorney, if our staff were to edit any posted blog, the newspaper would immediately bear 100 percent liability for all blog messages,” Roy emailed me. “His interpretation, as explained to me, is that the newspaper has no exposure for liability on unedited blogs, but if messages are screened and/or edited, the newspaper becomes wholly liable. If his direction is correct — I have since been told it might not be — it’s a bigger risk than we can afford to take.”

And then there’s Elaine Kolodziej, publisher of the Wilson County News, who tells me that the News blogs “get tons of hits.”

“Readers love the interaction,” she wrote.

Elaine said that they have been using blogs for several months now, and they plan to expand their blog offerings, including some from staff members. She notes that they provide for reader feedback on their stories, allowing “community posts that act like blogs.”

“Sometimes they take on a life of their own,” Elaine said.

If you include blogs, of course, it’s important that you keep them up to date. Beth Nelson, editor of the Hays Free Press in Buda, says her paper’s blog readership has suffered “primarily because we have a hard time keeping them fresh and provocative.”

“Our competitors with Web-only papers do more of that kind of thing,” Beth wrote. “As a professional journalist, I find it hard to use blog-style writing.”

The Wise County Messenger uses a different approach: Their staff blogs give readers an insight into the newsgathering process. Check out their blog page, called Making a Mess [referring to the Messenger]. The deck reads “where communication meets community journalism.” The Messenger blogs allow staff members to share a behind-the-scenes look at the stories run elsewhere in the paper and on the Website.

These are just some of the approaches you’ll find in Texas community journalism. Let us know what your paper is doing with blogs and how your community is responding.

An Internet shortcourse on newspaper blogging



Metro dailies now want to do community journalism

If your teenager takes a bite of dinner and announces that the dish is “sick,” don’t be upset. Sick is a good thing in teenlanguage. It means cool.

As writers, we know that the general semanticists are certainly right when they say that words don’t have meanings — only people have meanings. And meanings change.

King George I of England once looked at the architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral and told Sir Christopher Wren that his work was “amusing, awful, and artificial.” Wren was delighted. In that day, amusing meant amazing, awful meant awe-inspiring and artificial meant artistic.

Words and definitions certainly aren’t static, but a lot of us didn’t anticipate a change in the meaning of community journalism.

According to Bill Reader of the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, the term “community journalism” is at least 50 years old. It was first used by Kenneth Byerly at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who taught a course — and wrote a textbook — by that name.

And though scholars have written many pages on just what community journalism is, most of us have always seen it as journalism that’s tied to a community — most frequently a smaller town or suburb, but also other types of communities, like the Jewish community or the farming community or a religious or political community.

At the other end of the spectrum were metro dailies. They served large groups and covered news of interest to the city as a whole, including news of the state and the nation and the world.

But remember that word meanings change. Community journalism is no longer associated merely with rural areas, small towns and specialized groups. Now even large media companies realize that community journalism is where it’s at.

What newspapers are turning to community journalism?

The New York Times, for one. Check out this hyper-local Times-sponsored blog. It’s even called The Local.

The editor, Andy Newman, kicked off the first edition with an introductory piece that could have appeared in any small town in Texas:

Welcome to our big little experiment.

Greetings, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. This is your Local speaking. Soon, we hope, you will talk back to it.

Starting today, The Local is an online news site for these communities. But if we build it right together, The Local will be something much more: a glorious if cacophonous chorus of your voices singing the song of life itself in these astoundingly varied and vibrant neighborhoods.

With your input, The Local will tell stories that matter: crime and politics and culture and civic life and everything else. Some stories will be snapshots, mere moments. Others will unfold over days or weeks or marking periods – the birth pangs of a food coop or a high school newspaper, the aftermath of a crime, and, as the unstoppable wave of local gentrification crashes into the unstoppable wave of global economic meltdown, an ever-growing tale of loss and struggle.

Through all this, I will be your co-curator, moderator, referee and Local recruiter. I will also be doing old-fashioned journalism. Because my affiliation means that I can usually get city agencies to at least take my calls, and because I have all day to devote to this stuff, I might be able to get help and answers where you have hit walls.

And that’s not just The New York Times; the Chicago Tribune is also launching a community journalism site, along with a growing list of other metros.

So if community journalism can be practiced in the city or in the country, at a large paper or small, and on the Web or in the dead-tree editions, what then are the real defining characteristics of community journalism?

All I can do is to start the answer and trust the Texas journalism community to add to it, but let’s begin with these bedrock characteristics of what we can call community journalism:

Community journalism is personal. If you’re never likely to run into the people you write about or interview, it isn’t community journalism. If you’re writing about — and for — the folk you attend church with or buy your groceries from or who coach your kid’s Little League team, you’re in community journalism. Besides, in community journalism people can walk right into the newsroom and tell you what they’re thinking.

If you want to cover the complete pageant of your community’s life, what has been called “micronews,” you’re involved in community journalism. Sure, you cover the city council, but you also chronicle high school sports and local church news and the winners of the Bridge tournament and the women’s club meetings and the lunch menus at the elementary school.

Community journalism means you care about what happens in the community. I love the motto of the Mason Valley (Nevada) News: “The only newspaper in the world that gives a damn about Yerrington.” The contents of your paper and Website aren’t just stories, they represent news that can build people up or tear them down. Sometimes you have to uncover wrongdoing, but you don’t do it with a “gotcha” attitude and an eye toward journalism prizes. You’re sensitive to the needs of the community.

Community journalism has a focus — it’s what Charles Kuralt once called “relentlessly local.” Community journalism is the news people care about, because it’s about people they know or events that affect them. Or maybe Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly editor Bernard Stein said it best: “Our job is the everyday lives of ordinary people.”

In all the journalism periodicals, people are debating what community journalism is — is it public journalism or citizen journalism or civic journalism? And can The New York Times engage in community journalism just like the Goldthwaite Eagle?

All of the old definitions of community journalism are changing. So remember what Humpty Dumpty told Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean….”

Dumpty was right. So don’t be surprised as more and more metro dailies come out with announcements that they’re “doing community journalism.”

You probably never realized that you were the wave of the future….

Can you add to my “definition” of community journalism? If you think of something I’ve left out, please post a response.


New Media for the News Media workshop resources

Here you can review the materials we presented during the second New Media for the News Media workshop at TCU.

Watch this site in the future for new opportunities to attend our workshops.

Presentation Materials


The future is now for Texas community journalism

In Washington Irving’s famous tale, Rip Van Winkle sleeps for 20 years and is amazed at the changes that have occurred over two decades when he wakes up and returns to his community.

In our world, 20 years seems like an eternity. Our community journalism landscape has changed more over the past several years than Rip’s did over two decades. True, we’ve seen changes in our communities, changes in readership patterns, changes in the technology with which we produce our newspapers, and certainly changes in economic conditions. But there was always one constant: While we knew that circulation and ad revenues would change, the expense and uncertainty of starting a new newspaper would pretty much guarantee that it would be difficult for potential competitors to start up a rival newspaper.

And that’s still true, if you’re thinking about another ink-on-newsprint product. But if you’re thinking of another medium that can provide what a newspaper does-perhaps more-and do it more cheaply and with more up-to-the-minute news and advertising … then we’re living in that day, right now.

The old A.J. Liebling principle that the freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, no longer applies. Today, anyone who can put up a Website is a journalist. And your competition.

We’re not talking about the future, either. This is now. All kinds of sites offer templates and suggestions for starting an online newspaper. Go to Google and put “start an online newspaper” into the search box. You’ll be amazed. Go to a site like and see how easy it is to become a publisher/journalist/columnist/photojournalist. Or check out the Knight Digital Media Center; the Knight Foundation is offering grants for groups to set up their own hyper-local news and information sites. Here’s how the site describes the program: “The Knight Citizen News Network is a self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites and that assembles news innovations and research on citizen media projects.”

This Website put up by the Texas Center for Community Journalism is a great example. Less than a decade ago, if we had begun the Center and wanted to communicate with the state’s newspapers, we would have thought about publishing a tabloid. That means printing and mailing and a host of additional costs — the costs you live with daily. But now, all the need is a Website. Our “staff” writes for free. We can publish as much as we want – as many pages, as many pictures, video, audio … you name it. All for free. And we can change it daily. Free.

What we can do for the Center, anyone can do in your community. If your new cyber-competitor shoots a basketball game, he or she does not have to select one or two good shots. They can use all the good ones and make a slide show. Back it up with music. Include video. Use a podcast of the coach’s postgame press conference. How long will it be before advertisers discover just how many people are checking out that basketball coverage?

A thoughtful writer on a Chicago media blog recently reminded his readers that “the future of newspapers is not the same as the future of journalism.” Journalism, he said, will survive. After all, journalism is news; it’s storytelling; it’s information; it’s images we want to see; it’s what we want to know and need to know.

But then there’s the issue of how news is packaged and delivered. That can and most certainly will change. The only question is this: Will Texas newspapers be pro-active in developing their presence in digital media, or will we sit by while others draw the audience that we have worked so hard to attract?

Quick hits

  • According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 40 percent of Americans get most of their national and international news from the Internet. That’s up from 24 percent in 2007. In comparison, 35 percent rely on newspapers and 70 percent on TV as their main source for news. But the most important finding may be Pew’s research on Americans under 30. Among the under-30 crowd, 59 percent indicated that they get most of their news from the Internet. TV tied with the Internet at 59 percent.
  • Nielsen Online is reporting that nine out of the top 10 newspapers experienced growth in online traffic between December 2007 to December 2008. The average growth across the board equated to 16 percent. While online traffic is up, print circulation and advertising is falling off. Also, the industry experienced roughly 15,554 newspapers job cuts in 2008.
  • Check out the top 10 newspaper Websites