Community Journalism – Week 1

Robert Mills

Last week I started a free, online, five week course with FutureLearn on Community Journalism. The course has been put together by Cardiff University, the very place where I graduated in 2003 with a degree in Journalism, Film and Broadcasting.

I’d been wanting to study something related to my degree but would also be relevant to the day job. This was the perfect opportunity, distance learning I could complete at leisure. Rather than make notes that are lost over time and lose context, I am going to write a post on my blog at the end of each week. A summary, associated thoughts, whatever seems appropriate.

I’ve just completed week one and what a lovely trip down memory lane it was, with plenty of food for thought too.

Community

The first week introduced topics,  themes and tools (all the t’s!)  that will follow in more detail over the following weeks. Naturally it asks what is community journalism, also known as hyperlocal journalism. You hear local or community and you think geography but with the world ever shrinking and becoming more connected via the web, is it wise to only think in terms of your close physical surroundings?  That’s a rhetorical question really but it did get me thinking, what is community?

Of course it can be your local area and that lends itself well to the practice of community journalism in terms of news that is of interest to a specific group of people who live in a shared environment. Working with clients on their websites, as a user of social media and with a keen interest in globalisation, I’m keen to explore how the practice of community journalism I learn in the next 5 weeks can be transferred to online communities who may be spread far and wide.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines community as:

A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

And also as:

The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

Interesting. This is definitely something I want to think more about because we share and interact in so many ways these days. If I search #cardiff on Instagram for example, I am seeing the photos from a community even if they don’t identify themselves in that way. Are the people I follow on Twitter a community? Those who are added to a Twitter list? Those who like the same Facebook page? We can engage others far beyond our physical local space and therefore the very essence of a community is far wider reaching than the places we inhabit.

Audiences

The next part of week one looked at a subject close to my heart, audiences. It was a rather quick look but a valuable one all the same. Having worked as part of the audience research team at BBC Wales, I have a keen interest in audience research with a focus on the difference between knowing your audience and understanding them, something I have written about previously.

It suggests that anyone who is trying to create content for a community should find out who they are targeting. Common sense perhaps but often overlooked. Oliver Doerle, Head of Marketing at the Office for National Statistics said that:

Only when you understand your audience can you communicate to them effectively.

I couldn’t agree more. Oliver also mentions how there is an enormous amount of information available to people about their communities, not least the Census information. This is free data that measures changes and is a good starting place for those involved in community journalism.

One of the videos on the course looks at the experiences of how others got started and they mention social media as a good way to find out about your audience and encourage participation. What was interesting though is the fact that all the online engagement is good but you can learn a lot about your local community by sitting in a cafe and watching and talking to people. The chap in the video also said that people like his page on Facebook but they also like a physical place to check into on Facebook, related to that community. (I know, that bit lacks clarity as it is linked to the video on the course). It is good to have a digital prescence but with one foot firmly rooted in the physical world too.

Culture

Whilst the course is UK-centric in its examples, there are references to community journalism beyond the UK. It was mentioned that radio is still a better platform for community journalism in some places than the web is. It also acknowledged however that there is ‘an unstoppable and permanent shift in the way people consume news and content.’  This is where I started to see more relevance to what we do at Bluegg when working with clients and their audiences.

There were some good statistics and facts included in an article as week 1 of the course progressed. I found the following particularly interesting:

  •  The UK’s oldest surviving newspaper, the Berrows Worcester Journal, first appeared regularly in 1709. It is now available online and in print
  • Local journalism in the UK grew out of the pamphleteers of the 17th Century
  • There are 1100 local newspapers and 1700 associated websites in the UK
  • Print versions are read by 30 million people a year. Digital channels by 79 million
The article really took me back to my main journalism degree many moons ago.

Verification

It’s too easy to publish content these days without checking how accurate it is and where it came from originally. There’s no excuse though and any journalist, community or otherwise, needs to work to morals and ethics.

We’ve all seen those picture accounts on Twitter where images are shared and no reference is made to the source. Sometimes it is next to impossible to find that out, often it is easy and there are tools to help you.

This section of week 1 looked at exactly that. It started by discussing our own digital footprints and the sites we can use to check them. The first was Pipl, which promises to dive into the deeper web and retrieve results you won’t find via other search engines. Then there was WebMii which helps you find all the public information about yourself (and others!).

The part that I was most fascinated with was the image related tools. Chances are you use images on your own blogs, when working with clients or you share them on social media. Who created the image though? Who else has used it? Has it been tampered with? Now you can find out by using TinEye. You upload an image or enter the image URL and it will show you where the image came from, how it has been used, if modified versions exist and if there is a higher resolution version.

It pays to check all of this information, whether working specifically on a community journalism project or something else entirely.

I have already had a good refresh of some knowledge from my main degree, reignited my love for journalism and feel there will be a lot that I can apply to my day job and client work in the coming weeks. Right now I’m about to start week two and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on that soon enough.

If you liked this, you might like:

Community Journalism – Week 2

Community Journalism – Week 3

Community Journalism – Week 4

Community Journalism – Week 5

 

Header image is my own photo of the Film Map poster I bought here. A map represents the geography of a community and the film references a shared interest. See what I did there?