September's installment of The Convergence Newsletter, which follows issues of convergence culture in journalism in particular, features a focus on community journalism. The newsletter, released as part of the Newsplex converged newsroom at the University of South Carolina, has become a great sounding board for those journalists considering issues of convergence and how it affects the news, as I've written about before.
This month's issue features four journalists' takes on how convergence can empower citizen journalism and bolster smaller papers. For those interested in questions of community interaction and how it affects journalism, former Convergence Newsletter editor Jordan Storm, who is now a doctoral student at Syracuse University, has a very good take on why allowing a community voice in journalism does not diminish the role of the professional journalist but rather extends it.
Storm, who completed a study of the free daily newspaper Bluffton Today in Bluffton, South Carolina, examined the paper, which he describes as "a community newspaper that welcomes citizen engagement and content onto its Web site through registered users' blog pages, photo galleries, and forum discussion boards for the purposes of feeding the print paper."
Storm's piece calls into question earlier claims that such papers lead to "a convergence of content creators" and instead asserts that these experiments at increasing the interaction among the community, with the newspaper as facilitator, leads to "a convergence of conversations." Storm feels that, "rather than reversing the traditional model of gatekeeping, editors and journalists are doing more gatekeeping than ever, as they have an additional source with which to contend."
As Storm writes, though, this is no burden to newspapers to become an extra gatekeeper, as it provides more information about the reader base and what they find to be newsworthy and also provides a check on the quality and accuracy of the journalism, making the initial news story a catalyst for interesting discussion throughout the community that can then be facilitated by the newspaper's own site. I agree with Storm's assertion that this is an example of "just better journalism."
Journalists have to be held accountable, since every newspaper you'll ever pick up has a mistake or a false assertion or something taken out of context within it. (By the way, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, I'm still Sam Bond as of this moment, although I've sent another e-mail along).
Storm's point addresses the fears of many professional journalists and journalism instructors, that embracing participatory journalism somehow cheapens their importance, that the loss of mystique of the news-gathering process will somehow invalidate them. Quite the contrary. Citizen journalists aren't going to replace professionals but rather help make stories more accurate, help hold journalists more accountable. Convergence isn't aimed to get rid of journalists but rather to give journalists another way to be more accurate. The only journalists that are going to be hurt are the ones who don't do a good job.
The rest of the newsletter is also worth checking out, for Dan Pacheco's reporting on The Bakersfield Californian's use or stories written by readers through their Web site and Doug Fisher's advice for newspapers interested in embracing citizen journalism.
Also, in a piece that has its origins here on the C3 site, when I wrote a few months about about the plight of weekly newspapers, I focus on how weeklies can embrace new models of advertising and interacting with the community in order to flourish, despite the Wal-Martization of small towns that have left many weeklies economically diminished.