Using the Web’s newest addiction – Twitter – is easier than you think

Twitter‘s all the rage lately. The Chicago Tribune “Twitterized” its masthead this month, replacing execs’ names with their Twitter IDs, and Nielsen recently declared it among the Web’s fastest-growing “member community destinations.”

So what’s the big deal? And can it really help a community newspaper?

For a primer on Twitter, check out this USA Today story from last year (ignore the talk about the site’s failing infrastructure, that’s no longer an issue).

Obviously in 140 characters, one can’t do much storytelling, which means the site doesn’t really have many benefits when it comes to storytelling like many new media tools do.

Twitter can still be a great tool, however, when it comes to promoting your site’s content and connecting with your readers.

The best way to learn about Twitter, though, is to just try it. It takes less than a minute to sign up for an account. Check out some of the best newspaper feeds such as the Austin American-Statesman‘s @statesman.

We also have a guide from a few popular members of the Twitterverse at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (@startelegram) that you can download here. That’s courtesy of Eva Ayala (@fwstayala), Andrea Jares (@andreajares) and Kathy Vetter (@klvet).

There are also more links on the Twitter page in our New Media Tools database and I’ll be posting more soon about how to use free services to automate a Twitter feed.

And don’t forget to follow us at @tccj.

If you have any experience with Twitter (good or bad) or advice to share with other community journalists, post it below.

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.

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 www.nowpublic.com 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