News is developing into a form of collective thinking, a knowledge network, in the words of Jan Schaffer, J-Lab Executive Director who spoke to graduate journalism students at American University on November 20.
Schaffer launched J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism in 2002, and is one of the leading thinkers in the journalism reform movement. J-Lab is a center of American University’s School of Communication.
Social media, any interactive dialogue, is game changing. This sentiment was voiced by TBD Social Media Producer, Mandy Jenkins a week ago when speaking to Interactive Journalism cohorts 12 and 13 on November 13 and echoed again today by Schaffer.
As more and more content moves online, community news sites are taking advantage of the growth of active contributors.
Hong Eun-taek of ohmynews.com, based in South Korea, believes that news is something that is made not just by public figures, but by people who are allowed to think together.
Today, social return, in the form of a participatory audience, is a greater mark of success than monetary return. Community news sites are not mass market purveyors, but facilitators, curators and sharers of desirable information. A passive audience can break a site, while an active audience can catapult a site.
Engage, Engage, Engage
Engagement is key: “Engagement is more important than the content itself,” said Schaffer. The attitude “if I put it out there, readers will come” isn’t applicable to a community audience in the same way it might be for mainstream mass media.
Community level coverage is often done by those living in or at least extremely familiar with the community itself. They know the issues and can present them in a way that is not only engaging, but meaningful. Relevance plays an active role in spurning interactivity.
As hyperlocal sites develop, communities have the opportunity to shape how and what issues are covered. “It’s not that there is now a gap to be filled, but that no one was ever reporting in those communities,” Schaffer said.
A stewardship model — a supportive structure that doesn’t expect financial return — is emerging, and will likely carry community journalism outlets into the future.
An Endangered Species May Require a New Species to Survive
Metro dailies are an endangered species — they’ve lost their portfolio and are left with only sports and enterprise stories. Enter community news.
For community news makers, innovation is ripe and demand is fierce. “There is a lot cooking in this space,” said Schaffer.
At this stage, “you’re either in the game or you’re not,” said Schaffer.