Back to the Future:
The Resurgence of Community in American Society,
and Community Journalism in the Newspaper Industry
and Higher Education
Written for the AEJMC Convention, Aug. 10-13, 1996
by Jock Lauterer
Associate Professor of Journalism
The College of Communications
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa. 16802
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Back to the Future: The Resurgence of Community in American
Society, and Community Journalism in the Newspaper Industry and Higher Education
The country is in the midst of the age of the emergent,
enlightened community (Withrow, personal communication, 1995). American cities
and communities are experiencing a profound shift in the way they view
themselves and their media outlets D especially newspapers. The resulting
ferment has spurred the growth of community newspapers while causing many major
metro media outlets to drastically rethink and retool their news coverage.
Community journalism in America is resurgent, at both the grassroots and
classroom levels (Lauterer, 1996, p. 5).
This paper will discuss why the growth of community newspapers is a
healthy sign of the times, why teaching community journalism is more important
now than ever, and how to introduce and integrate a community journalism
component into an existing journalism program.
COMMUNITY AND SOCIETY
Community is the buzzword of the '90s. The references to community
abound at every turn.
y Anita Hill, speaking last spring at the Pennsylvania State
University, said, "If I could give you anything, I would give you a sense of
y With her new book, Hillary Clinton has popularized the African
saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."
y During President Clinton's State of the Union address this year
there were no less than 15 references to "community."
y Last fall, an issue of the New Yorker featured a young woman
running a small-town newspaper just north of the city (The New Yorker, 1995,
September, 11, pp. 44-53).
y A recent Smithsonian magazine devoted eight pages to a story
about a weekly newspaper in New Mexico (Smithsonian, 1995, October, pp. 89-98).
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y A bumper sticker seen on a city truck in St. Petersburg, Fla.:
"COMM/UNITY: Different People; Common Ground" (Lauterer, personal observation,
y After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, a survivor told an AP
reporter: "Community is more than just a bunch of buildings D it's a feeling."
(Associated Press, 1995, April 20).
Community is a hot topic because American culture has taken a
philosophical swing toward all things more personal, and therefore smaller.
From user-friendly personal computers to "human scale" architecture, from the
Mazda Miata to microbreweries, America's yearning for inclusiveness is reflected
in the public demand for products that make the consumer feel recognized,
affirmed and a part of something intimate and worthwhile (Withrow, personal
The growth of this "communitarian" spirit is due in part to a
backlash to the "me-first '80s." Nowadays, people crave inclusiveness, to be a
part of a real community. As individuals we want and need to be recognized,
valued and heard in the context of our towns (Withrow, personal communication,
1995). However, a city is not a community; it cannot nurture in the way a
community can. That is why we are seeing the city turning into what has been
called "a community of communities" (Raspberry and Etzioni, 1995).
What is a community? The North Carolina poet Elizabeth Sewell
writes, "As we seek the self-unraveling clue D A sense of place is but the
beginning" (Sewell, 1968, p. 31). Geographically, community is a discernible
physical area encompassing few enough people that they can possess a definite
sense of place, of open communication, of unity and of one-ness (Beittel, 1992,
p. 27). Simply, that usually means smaller towns ranging in population from
several hundred to several thousands. (Lauterer, 1995, p. 11).
There exists a second way of thinking about community.
Philosophically, community can be said to exist when people share more than just
geography, but also distinct core values, or a intellectual or professional
orientation, ethnic background, religious persuasion, or even sexual preference.
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So that within any major metropolitan city, various "communities"
can and do flourish by nurturing and articulating their core values to their
members. Affinity groups can range from the philosophical-intellectual
(Portland, Oregon's community of poets), ethnic neighborhoods (Asheville, North
Carolina's Greek Orthodox community), to ethnic-sexual orientation groups (the
Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston). Each has its own
identity, and very often a "community" newspaper to package news of specific
interest to that constituency, while articulating and reinforcing the
community's core values in an intimate, inclusive way that larger media can only
mime at best (Lauterer 1995, p. 11).
THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY AND COMMUNITY
Though it is difficult to define a community newspaper by
circulation numbers alone, a useful yardstick has been provided. The American
Society of Newspaper Editors draws the line in the sand between large and small
newspapers at the 50,000 circulation mark.
According to the 1996 Editor and Publisher Year Book, 84 percent
of the nation's 1,533 daily newspapers are classified as "small newspapers" by
ASNE. Of those 1,287 papers, 82 percent (1,061 papers) have circulations under
25,000. In addition, there are 7,437 weeklies with an average circulation of
7,600 reaching 56.7 million readers D an all-time high (Newspaper Association of
America, 1994, p. 21).
Ours is a country dominated in numbers by community newspapers,
which have gone long overlooked for their contributions to American society D
papers which throw much of their news and editorial weight behind local coverage
and the local angle.
According to recently published textbook on the subject, the label
"community newspaper" and "community journalism" includes weeklies, semi- and
tri-weeklies, small five and six-day-a-week dailies, and seven-day-a-week
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dailies with circulations up to 50,000 (Lauterer, 1995, p. xv),
though many would argue that a newspaper has an increasingly difficult time
retaining its innate neighborliness when its circulation creeps toward 30,000
(Byerly, personal communication, 1995). The healthiest community papers embrace
their mission of emphasizing local news and attempting to localize any
nationally-oriented story that they run. The trick to maintaining the success
they have had doing this is to not allow the paper to get so big that it loses
touch with the basic tenets that gave it its identity in the first place.
Fundamentally, the expression "community newspaper" is assigned to
publications exhibiting a strong local angle news emphasis, reflecting their
commitment to primary news coverage of "Our Town, " county or area. The motto of
the McComb, Miss., Enterprise-Journal captures the essence of this
news/editorial perspective. Below the newspaper's nameplate each day is found
the forthright declaration of interdependence, "The one newspaper in the world
most interested in this community."
Ken Byerly, community newspaper editor and former University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill journalism professor, originated and popularized the
term in the late '50s when he inherited a course at Carolina titled "Country
Journalism." Thinking that label sounded too provincial, Byerly re-titled the
course and wrote a seminal book on the subject with the new name that reflected
his philosophy: "Community Journalism" (Byerly, personal communication, 1995).
Byerly and others argue that between the paper and the community there exists a
mutually-beneficial, reciprocal relationship not found between the media and the
city in most major metro centers. In the smaller setting a contract exists
between the community and the newspaper. Both are dedicated to survival and
quality-of-life issues, as well as to the Big Picture: where the community is
going and how it intends to get there. In short: the enlightened community
newspaper realizes 'we're all in this together.' " If this is a formula, then
it is one that works
(Byerly, 1961, pp. 25-26; and Lauterer, 1996, pp. 175-182).
Originally, the term "community journalism" referred only to
weeklies, mostly what used to be called "non-dailies" found in rural
settings. But time and American society has broadened the scope of the
definition to include community-minded dailies with circulations pushing that
50,000 figure (and
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sometimes exceeding it), as well as publications from affinity
groups and niche communities within the larger geographical context.
A concise definition: A community newspaper could said to be a
publication exhibiting a clear local-first news orientation, either exclusively
or as a major emphasis; a newspaper with a circulation of no more than 50,000
serving a contiguous body of readers who share a distinct space (geographical,
philosophical orientation, ethnic background, etc.) with associated core
values and a clear sense of place and /or unique identity (Lauterer, 1996, p.
COMMUNITY JOURNALISM ON THE FRONT BURNER
Just as community is a buzzword for society in the '90s, so local
news is the hot button for the journalism industry. Readers crave and demand
local news. As one Pennsylvania editor said bluntly: "Local news? It's the only
game in town." (Sachetti, personal communication, 1994).
Community newspapers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of
this wave of national interest in all things related to communities and local
affairs. This phenomenon means savvy niche publications and enlightened
community newspapers are in the right place at the right time doing the right
thing (Lauterer, 1995, p. 208).
Weekly newspapers, by virtue of their publication cycle and format,
have typically provided the most local-rich coverage of their communities. These
"mothers of all community newspapers," have enjoyed a consistent rise in
readership since the '60s, according to National Newspaper Association figures.
Though the number of actual weeklies has decreased by 737 since 1960, the
average circulation is at an all-time high of 7,629 and so is the total
readership, topping out at a record high of 56.7 million (NAA, 1994, p. 21).
These glowing statistics fly in the face of the common doom and
gloom newspaper readership figures coming out of major daily corporate offices.
Weekly community newspapers have gained readership, in contrast with
declining readership figures for the major metro dailies because
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community newspapers give their readers something the big dailies
don't or won't provide (Dible, personal communication, 1996).
In addition to saturation local coverage, readers value physical
accessibility, a critical common factor found among successful community papers.
In communities across the country, people still want to be able to walk through
the front door at the hometown newspaper office and be able to talk to the
reporter, editor or publisher. With that kind of neighborly, open-door policy,
coupled with intensively local coverage, community papers will be able to thrive
in spite of newsprint cost hikes, big papers in their backyards, multiple
TV/cable stations, and competing online services (Lauterer, 1995, p. 10). It is
no accident that the ASNE Small Newspaper Committee's latest brochure is titled
"Thinking Big About Small Newspapers."
ENTER CIVIC/PUBLIC JOURNALISM
The recent growth of civic or public journalism is another factor
that has thrust community journalism into the national spotlight. The community
journalism industry is indebted to the major metro professionals and to
Professor Jay Rosen of New York University for having articulated this new
philosophy of major daily journalism, and for having raised civic and therefore
community journalism to the level of national dialogue. In reinventing
themselves as newspapers primarily dedicated to their communities' public
interest, the major
metro dailies are paying tribute to the good works of thousands of
dedicated, involved and conscientious community newspaper people nationwide.
There are those who feel that the finest community newspapers have been doing
civic/public journalism all these years at the grassroots level, quietly and
without fanfare (Stiff, 1996).
The editor-publisher of the Tryon Daily Bulletin, a quarter-fold
paper whose nickname is "the World's Smallest Daily Newspaper," and whose motto
is "Multum in Parvo" (Much in Little), had just returned from a community forum
co-sponsored by the paper, the Chamber of Commerce and the local community
college. The topic of the town meeting-style forum was "The Role of
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the Newspaper in Our Community: Spectator, Reporter, or
Cheerleader." When told what he had just done was called "civic journalism," the
editor-publisher indicated he was unfamiliar with the term (Byrd, personal
It would be easy to assume that civic or public journalism is the
larger papers' spin for what the best and most forward-thinking community papers
have done all along: keeping their doors open D both philosophically and
physically, de-emphasizing conflict and the political minutiae in news coverage,
stressing problem-solving and reader involvement, while maintaining a weather
eye to the larger picture of community change and growth. The better community
papers have historically and naturally embraced their reciprocal relationship
between their community (their public) and their mandate to provide coverage of
civic and public affairs that is bold yet benevolent, success-oriented and
positive without pandering (Lauterer, 1996, p. 12).
However, "It would be a mistake to assume that all community
newspapers are doing civic journalism," says Kansas State University's John
Neibergall, executive director of the Huck Boyd National Center for Community
Media. But he agrees with the assertion that community journalism and civic
journalism are more alike than they are dissimilar. Both are dedicated to what
Neibergall calls "Community Building Through (Community) Journalism."
(Neibergall, personal communication, 1996).
HIGHER EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY: "HOW 'M I DOIN'?"
When, in the mid-'80s, Charles Kuralt, speaking at a university
commencement, challenged the media to become "relentlessly local," he might as
well have been throwing down the glove to higher education as well.
Though it has taken another decade for Kuralt's dictum to take
hold, the community "wave" has not gone unnoticed at America's universities. In
1993 Ernest Boyer called upon effective academic institutions to reassess
themselves as " purposeful, open, just, disciplined, caring and celebrative"
communities (Boyer, 1993) . (Boyer's characteristics of an "academic community"
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similar to factors contributing to healthy life and growth in
A recent Poynter seminar on the future of journalism concluded,
"Today's journalism training needs revamping to match tomorrow's journalism"
(Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 1994). The bottom line: whether
institutions are named Colleges of Communications or old-fashioned "J-Schools,"
university-level journalism education must reinvent itself to keep pace with
"tomorrow's journalism." We ought to be asking ourselves the same rhetorical
question former New York City Mayor Ed Koch used to pose: "How 'm I doin'?"
For community journalism, the answer seems to be: Late but maybe
just in time. National workshops, symposia and conventions on the subject are
swamped with paper proposals (Neibergall, personal communication, 1996). This
spring the Poynter Institute for Media Studies introduced a first-ever seminar
on community journalism. Last year, after a 20-year hiatus, Iowa State
University Press published the first new textbook solely dedicated to community
journalism (as defined in this paper). Many colleges and universities are
adding or planning to institute courses in community and or civic/public
journalism (Poynter Institute, personal communication, 1995). New Mexico State
University Professor of Journalism J. Sean McCleneghan takes it even a step
further. "Community journalism is going to save journalism higher education," he
national academic symposium on community journalism in St. Paul,
Minn., September 1995, sponsored by the National Newspaper Association and
Kansas State University (McCleneghan, personal communication, 1995).
WHY TEACHING COMMUNITY JOURNALISM IS CRITICAL
Many newsrooms harbor a hard-bitten old copy editor who judges
leads by growling: "So what? And, "Who cares?" Journalism educators might ask
the same of teaching a class in community journalism. Why teach the subject as
distinct discipline? And why should anyone care about it?
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Consider the following:
y Common sense and statistics agree that the great majority of
graduates from university colleges and schools of journalism and mass
communications find their first print jobs at such newspapers.
y The success of these grads at these smaller papers invariably
depends on how prepared they are to work at what many might otherwise consider a
less than ideal setting (in terms of paper size, resources, sophistication,
market size, salary, etc.). Much of the young journalist's success depends on
y And, that among such papers, all community papers are not created
equal. Students need to be made aware of the different types of papers within
the broader family of community newspapers so that they will be better equipped
to make wise and appropriate job choices.
According to a new instructor's manual for community journalism,
"The great majority of our grads won't find their first jobs at the Washington
Post, the New York Times or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, They will find their
first jobs at the Sunbury Daily Item, the York Daily Record and the Pottsville
Republican D the latter of which are all excellent community papers that hire
our graduates. We owe it to these young journalists to send them into those jobs
skilled for, philosophically attuned to and informed about the unique
opportunities and challenges inherent
in practicing journalism in that venue" (Lauterer, 1996, p. 8).
However, many beginners suffer under the common misconception that
the community paper is a nothing more than a smaller version of the big-city
daily, as in "Honey, I Shrank the Newspaper!" Nothing could be further from the
truth. The enlightened community paper plays a unique and vital role in the life
of its community. Compared to the big metro dailies, most community newspapers
have a fundamentally different approach to the factors of news judgment, and
indeed D to every facet of the news business.
If community newspapers provide most of our students with their
first internships and jobs, and if journalism higher education means to serve
the needs of the newspaper industry, then journalism educators should be
actively engaged in preparing reporters, editors, ad people, designers,
photographers and newspaper managers for engaging work on the community level
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Across the country, community newspaper editors and publishers
express dismay at the surfeit of young talent adequately prepared mentally,
philosophically and practically for the community newspaper milieu. Editor
Lockwood Phillips of the Carteret County (N.C.) Times-News laments: "The
trouble with college kids these days is that they think they have all the
answers and they don't have the answers." (Phillips, personal communication,
It seems what newspaper people call "a no-brainer:" Journalism
higher education is looking the gift horse in the mouth if it is not preparing
students for their entry level jobs. If newspapers are to survive, local news
will be a fundamental part of that solution. If journalism higher education is
in touch with its state's print industry, it will find that local news is of
paramount importance to its constituency.
COMMUNITY JOURNALISM 2000
Ready or not, we are in the age of the emergent, enlightened
community D communities which are increasingly demanding
enlightened, quality, local news-oriented newspapers to not only keep pace but
to lead them into the millennium and beyond.
In both higher education and community journalism, leaders are
increasingly realizing the interconnectedness of disciplines and skills.
Convergence, interactivity, integrative arts, multimedia D projects which are
interdisciplinary, ensemble and collaborative drive the enlightened '90s'
classrooms and newsrooms alike. The community journalism experience, which
practically forces the journalist to think in a more holistic way, celebrates
that confluence of synergies.
Mario Garcia of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies advocates
an inclusive newsroom approach to story development called W.E.D. The
abbreviation stands for Writing, Editing and Design D a team concept that
embraces a holistic, collaborative and dynamic process for story development. It
means that writers talk to editors who talk to photographers who talk to
designers before, during and as the story is developing. The W.E.D. concept,
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Garcia, provides a humane and creatively-rewarding framework for
story development (Garcia, 1993, pp. 10-37). The community journalism setting is
the appropriate environment for such a concept to flourish, and a class in
community journalism is an ideal site to teach W.E.D.
COMMUNITY JOURNALISM 101: AIMS AND GOALS
While not discounting the importance nor significance of
theoretical classes in communications, experience tells us college journalism
students crave real-world, hands-on classes that yield tangible, practical
experiences they can put to immediate use. Community journalism can be such a
class. Additionally in its favor, initiating a community journalism class does
not require a great deal of
money or sophisticated computers to teach community journalism. But
it does take an administration and faculty with vision and courage D leaders and
teachers who are in touch with the industry.
The instructor teaching community journalism soon discovers that
much of what he is doing is "attitude adjustment." In a business that seems to
be dominated by celebrity anchors, glitz over substance, tabloid TV, me-first
journalism and infotainment, the students' natural inclination is to subscribe
to the traditional bigger-is-better paradigm. It takes a special kind of teacher
to get students excited about what they at first perceive as "hick journalism."
The instructor's most daunting task may be to convince students
that "small is beautiful," and that "less is more." Community journalism is not
settling for less, it is celebrating what is. Through positive modeling, the
instructor's goal should be to help college students accept, respect and embrace
community journalism as a distinct and eminently worthy discipline within the
media pantheon. From our classrooms should emerge nothing less than The
Complete Journalist for 2000 and beyond.
A course in community journalism gives the students a framework in
which to contextualize what they have learned in newswriting, features,
reporting, editing, advertising, graphics, design, photojournalism, history,
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ethics, newspaper management, media and society theory, and so
forth. In community journalism it all comes together. Here, the student
naturally begins to think holistically about the newspaper in all its facets as
a living organism that exists only because of the fundamentally reciprocal and
synergistic relationship with its community.
Teaching community journalism is of fundamental importance because
so many journalism graduates need the information immediately upon graduation.
D and if they intern at a community paper, then they likely need it no later
than their junior year. Stories are legion of outstanding journalism grads, who,
landed their first job unexpectedly at a community paper, phone
former professors with fundamental questions that they would never be asking if
they had taken a class in the subject (Lauterer, 1996, p. 5).
This knowledge should fill the instructor with a sense of purpose.
The aim of this course seems clear enough: to provide students with the
requisite skills and attitudes to enable them to succeed in their first jobs, to
empower them with the skills to successfully write, edit, shoot and design for
community newspapers so that they may lead meaningful lives and find worthwhile
work within the context of community journalism. Many will discover a satisfying
life's work in this venue where the quality of life can be decidedly saner and
more humane D especially in the case of family life (Lauterer, 1996, p. 6).
Yet even if the young reporter stays at the community paper for
only several years before choosing to move on, she will be more professionally
and philosophically mature, richer for the experience and more equipped
experientially for leadership positions in larger markets. Community journalism
may not be for everyone, but in journalism almost everyone starts there.
COMMUNITY JOURNALISM AND JOURNALISM HIGHER EDUCATION
Perhaps you are a journalism professor or administrator working at
a respected school of journalism or college of communications within a college
or university, and you have begun to sense there is something basic missing in
your curriculum. Is your program adequately preparing your students
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philosophically, intellectually and physically for the jobs they
will be offered in their 20s? To put it in a nut graph: Do your students
graduate ready and able to write, edit, shoot, layout for a community newspaper?
Those were the kinds of questions Carol Oukrop began asking
herself and her colleagues at Kansas State University in 1989. Oukrop, director
of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State,
recalls, "Several of us in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at
K-State had long felt the need to be doing more than we were with community
journalism." She says, "Community and communication come from the same
linguistic root. You cannot have community without communications. That is the
deep-seated belief that led to the formation in 1991 of the Huck Boyd National
Center for Community Media, which is a part of the A.Q. Miller School of
Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University, The Center is
appropriately named for McDill "Huck" Boyd, a noted Kansas publisher and state
leader who was a firm believer in the values, lifestyles and resources of rural
America. He believed, as we do, that media are the glue that holds a community
together. They sustain a community's identity. They allow community members to
communicate with one another, and they furnish information that citizens need to
plan for their futures" (Oukrop, 1995, p. 284-285).
After a year of planning, Kansas State hired community journalist,
John, D. Neibergall, who had owned and published four community newspapers in
Iowa before beginning his graduate work at Iowa State University. Executive
director of the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media since 1990,
Neibergall says KSU "is pointing the way back to the future, back to
journalism's roots, and into the future in which communities and their media
reconnect. Kansas State has recognized the inseparable link between communities
and communications. It has launched an enterprise that seeks to strengthen local
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media, thus equipping them to help build better communities"
(Neibergall, 1995, p. 282).
Subsequently, Kansas State formulated the following mission
statement for the Center:
y Interact with communities to determine their communication needs.
y Develop services and hands-on help for community media to meet
y Examine existing knowledge of the role that media play in the life
y Carry out research to add knowledge about that role.
y Contribute to the discovery, testing and implementation of
appropriate processes, methods, technologies and structures.
y Expand and upgrade the community media dimension in higher
y Disseminate the Center's findings.
y Develop the resources needed to carry out its mission.
The planners further developed seven strategic tasks to translate
the Center's mission into an active agenda:
1. Serving media and community.
3. Doing research.
4. Providing training.
5. Putting technology to use.
6. Linking people with information.
7. Nurturing the Center's leadership.
Oukrop says, "We are pleased with what we have been able to
accomplish so far. In carrying out activities, both in our state and nationally,
we believe we have created some models other schools might want to adapt to
their own areas." (Oukrop, 1995, p. 286)
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Not every school has the vision nor leadership of a Kansas State.
Still, much can be done by a skilled, dedicated single agent. Smaller, less
ambitious, but still vital community journalism programs can be introduced and
integrated into an existing journalism curriculum. Beginning in 1993 and acting
alone, a single then-assistant professor at Penn State was able to institute an
introductory course in community journalism which has now grown in popularity
and scope to the extent that the students, faculty and administration recognize
the discipline for its collaborative and real-world merits. It is not too early
to say that the Penn State University College of Communications has energized
its journalism program with a healthy dash of hands-on community journalism.
For a small-scale model, here are the ingredients for successful
implementation and integration of a community journalism component into an
existing, well-established journalism curriculum:
1. Justification. The proponent must have an well-articulated set
of reasons and valid justifications for introducing a new course. For example,
the Penn State argument:
y According to Federal guidelines on what comprises "rural" and
"urban" areas, Pennsylvania is the most rural state in the nation. That is,
more people live in towns of 2,000 and under than any other state.
y Well over three-quarters of the state's newspapers are "small
newspapers," i.e., hometown community papers.
y Eighty seven percent of Penn State students come from
y The overwhelming majority of print majors at Penn State and
elsewhere get their first jobs at community newspapers.
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2. Aims and Goals. The proponent should craft a concise yet
comprehensive mission statement. For instance, The mission of the Penn State
community journalism course is three-fold: To equip young journalists with the
basic skills of the profession to ensure their success in the field; to expose
students to as many professional people and experiences as possible so that they
can decide for themselves their own career path; and to provide for the state's
many community newspapers a continuous pool of skilled, able and
intellectually-prepared young journalists.
3. Basic Requirements. What it takes to start from scratch; the
y A professor with the necessary teaching skills and actual
community newspaper experience, i.e. a former editor-publisher who is a proven
academic professional with a successful class track record in higher education.
y A book (at the time, there was no current text book).
y The support from the journalism program chair as well as
y An administration politically open to growth and change.
y Students excited about the course and concept.
4. Long Range Goal; the Vision.
y Statewide: to make the program relevant to the state's
professional journalists by opening a dialogue between the College of
Communications and the industry, by providing quality interns and young
journalists, by involving the state's professional community journalists in the
College's program through guest lectures and feedback from students studying the
newspapers of the state.
y Schoolwide: to establish a community journalism cohort within in
the faculty of the College of Communications, to draw on the skills of other
professors in the College within and beyond the journalism program (Editing,
Graphics, Photography, Broadcast Journalism, Media History) and to involve their
classes in collaborative learning across traditional lines.
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5. Timetable: It may take one year from the time the course is
proposed until it is approved, another six months to scheduling, and another
three months to start. Meanwhile, the prospective community journalism
instructor may have to recruit students for his first class, answering the
typical: "Like, what is community journalism anyway?"
6. Format: For the experimental first class, keeping the class size
to no more than 20 is advised. If a class with 18 students succeeds, then the
instructor, having found her sea-legs, can push for a larger class the
7. Selling the Idea: The committed instructor can raise public
consciousness for the course and the concept through hallway encounters with
colleagues and administration. In addition, word of the College's "Community
Journalism Initiative" can be spread through local newspaper columns, op-ed
pieces, lobbying the state press association in general and individual community
newspaper figures in specific. Supportive alumni and/or area community
journalism professionals can make a significant contribution by guest lecturing,
lobbying the administration, and returning home to tell other professionals of
the College's new program.
8. Single Course Best Scenario: Most community journalism
initiatives will have to start small, with a single course. If that is the case,
what can the instructor hope to cover in Community Journalism 101? Through a
balance of lecture, discussion, reading, guest lectures, in and out of class
writing, and small group
projects, the instructor can aim at cover the basics. Premise:
There is a lot of ground to cover, and this class may be the students' only
course in the following material: Community journalism philosophical foundations
and guiding principals as well as community journalism's specific perspective on
news, features, editorials, sports, lifestyle, ethics, emerging technology,
photojournalism, graphics, newsroom management, business and start-ups.
9. Theory Into Practice: a Class Newspaper: In practical terms,
journalism theory doesn't get into practice any more effectively than in print.
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provides the most expedient and hands-on way for a journalism class
to get turned Inside-Out D from Inside the sometimes all-too theoretical
classroom to the vital Outside world (Dodson and Wood, personal communication,
1989). The sheer act of making ideas, dreams, stories, photos and graphics into
ink-on-paper will galvanize the class, while turning it "inside-out." In
addition, the instructor will be "showing, not telling," while providing
immediate relevance for the material.
A class newspaper may seem financially far-fetched, but if the
support of the school or college's administration can be secured and if a
generous and far-sighted community newspaper publisher can be enlisted, then
this idea can take wings on a modest budget.
To make the publication relevant and useful, the newspaper might
embrace a driving theme D a major issue facing the community. Example: Growth in
Our Town. This accomplishes several implicit goals: the theme suggests a vital,
unifying framework for stories and photos, and it infuses the publication and
the class with editorial clarity, focus and direction. (See accompanying
syllabus.) The scenario might unfold thus: The community journalism takes over
the dormant lab newspaper. Under the instructor's direction, the class
resurrects the publication as their newspaper D a community-oriented newspaper
(24 pages, tabloid format, full-color front) to be published at the end of the
semester as a climax to the class' efforts. In taking ownership of the
project, the class renames the paper to suit its new identity,
re-writes its mission statement, determines its audience and defines its
community scope. The new newspaper will be the wholly-run project of the
community journalism class, yet it can and should encompass and embrace the
efforts of several other writing classes, also including photo, graphics and
Benefits of this project appear endless. For starters, it gets
several print classes into a hands-on, real-world production mode. It spurs
interactive collaborative learning. It gives the instructor an active vehicle
for teaching the Poynter Institute style of newsroom team management. In
addition, the College can add this project to its web page as a community
journalism showcase. From a practical standpoint, it gives many students
by-lines and clips they would
Back to the Future 20
otherwise never get. Also, it provides the College with a pool of
potential entrees in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program.
The community is ascendant in America today. The community D not
the city D has emerged as the most viable social unit of the '90s. Increasingly,
community is becoming the focal point for all facets of American life, the
vehicle by which meaningful change can occur in society, and, to borrow a
phrase, the habitat for humanity. A community can be defined as a smaller
population center where individuals are cherished for their self-ness, a
contiguous place where residents share core values, possess a highly-defined
sense of place, local identity and social structure.
This paradigm shift away from the bigger-is-better assumption
favors media outlets which serve communities. A newspaper with a circulation of
no more than 50,000 and located in such a place is called a community newspaper
by virtue of its fundamentally reciprocal and at times synergistic relationship
with its host community. These community newspapers are uniquely positioned
to take advantage of this national community wave if their news
presentation is "relentlessly local," and their editorial voice supports an
pro-active and open forum for positive community growth. Newspapers that serve
this sort of grass-roots hometown function, placing their emphasis unashamedly
on local coverage, can compete successfully against other media outlets, most
notably television and nearby large metro dailies. Circulation figures for
American weeklies are at an all-time high.
City newspapers, too, want to get on this community bandwagon.
Major metro editors talk about their city as "my community" in spite of the fact
that it may be the state capital with a population of 250,000. Catching the
community spirit, journalists in the larger markets are engaged in a debate
about the relative merits of "civic" journalism. Civic journalism, similar to
community journalism in so far as both "big" and "little" newspapers are
fundamentally devoted to civic problem-solving and serving as an active agent
for public growth, is more likely
Back to the Future 21
to be practiced by newspapers with larger circulations (over
50,000) and located in larger metropolitan areas.
Together D the resurgence of community in America, the historical
strength of the American community newspaper, and in 1988, the introduction of
civic journalism D all combine to focus attention on an old and yet new form of
Journalism higher education has begun to respond. New books are
being published; new classes are being offered. Call it what you will, (for they
are more alike than they are dissimilar) D community, civic or public
journalism , the new journalism of the '90s, is changing the face of American
journalism. It is becoming a more humane and human face. Enlightened and
courageous schools of journalism and colleges of communications and mass media
are catching the wave, much to the benefit of their students, most of whom find
their first jobs at community newspapers.
Beittel, K. (1992). Zen and the Art of Pottery. New York:
Weatherhill, p. 27.
Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Revisited: Priorities of the
Professorate. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation, pp. 75-81.
Byerly, K. (1961). Community Journalism. Philadelphia: Chilton,
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Conniff, R. ( 1995, October). It comes out only once a week, but
the Sun never sets: Can a weekly paper in rural New Mexico raise enough hell to
keep its readers hungry for more, issue after issue? Don't ask. Smithsonian,
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of America, p. 21.
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Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 10-37.
Lauterer, J. (1995). Community Journalism: The Personal Approach.
Ames: Iowa State University Press.
Lauterer, J. (1996). We're All In This Together: An Instructor's
Manual for Teaching Community Journalism. Ames: Iowa State University
McCleneghan, S. (1995, September 20). Searching for Context in
Community Journalism. Paper presented at the Huck Boyd National Center for
Community Media and National Newspaper Association Symposium on Community
Journalism, St. Paul.
Neibergall, J. (1995). Addendum. In Jock Lauterer, Community
Journalism: the Personal Approach. Ames: Iowa State University Press, p. 282.
Orlean, S. ( 1995, September 11). Her Town: Since Heather Heaton
came to Millerton, it's been a one-woman story. The New Yorker, pp. 44-53.
Oukrop, C. (1995). Addendum. In Jock Lauterer, Community
Journalism: the Personal Approach. Ames: Iowa State University Press, pp.
Raspberry W. and Etzioni, A. (1995, December 9). Community of
communities' best. State College. PA: The Centre Daily Times, p. 4A.
Sewell, E. (1968) Signs and Cities. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, p. 31.
Stiff, C. (1996, March 20). Untitled abstract accepted for
presentation to the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media and National
Newspaper Association Symposium on Community Journalism, Nashville. pp. 1-2.
America is in the midst of the age of the emergent and enlightened
community. Citizens increasingly demand from their newspapers high-quality,
explanatory coverage of local issues. Community newspapers are growing, and big
city media outlets are rethinking their news coverage philosophy. This paper
discusses why the trend is healthy, why teaching community journalism is
critical now more than ever, and how to introduce and integrate a community
journalism component into an existing journalism program.