What Is Community Journalism?

Find out what is community journalism and how it differs from other types of journalism.

Community journalism is news media that focuses on a particular community, often defined by a geographic area or a specific interest or group. The type of community journalism that most people are familiar with is their local newspaper. This is a good example of a community news outlet with news stories provided by professional journalists detailing issues that are relevant to those living within a certain locality.

Community reporting is a form of journalism that also exists on other platforms, with local news radio stations, television stations, and websites growing in popularity in recent years. Another example of community journalism is publications dedicated to non-geographical communities, i.e., The Jewish Standard, which is dedicated to publishing stories that are relevant to the Jewish community.

Local Journalism Is Community Journalism

What is community journalism?
Community newspapers are often published weekly (although that’s not a definitive rule)

Rather than focusing on world news, community journalism concentrates on stories that affect readers from a certain community. For instance, local politics and sports would not interest most national organizations. However, they might be the subjects of most interest for those living within the locality they are relevant to.

This point is made in Harvard University’s course dedicated to community journalism. They describe the task of community media journalists, stating that the “cover (sic) the news that is often of the most interest and greatest consequence to readers: events, developments, and challenges in the places where they live.”

Community newspapers are often published weekly (although that’s not a definitive rule). When they are weekly newspapers, they tend to cover subjects around community life, with proximity being the key issue. They also feature analysis and editorials on subjects that are of interest to the community.

When discussing community journalism, Leo Lerner, the founder of Chicago’s Lerner newspapers discussed the difference in what is of interest to a national newspaper reporter, as opposed to a community journalist.

He said: “A fistfight on Clark Street is more important to our readers than a war in Europe.” In other words, the relevance of a story depends on how it affects a community directly, rather than the scale of the event.

Purpose Of Community Journalism

Community journalists are fully-trained reporters who work in newsrooms producing stories relevant to their locality or community. Often, graduates from journalism school take their first job within community media outlets, although some of the world’s best reporters work in this sphere.

Nowadays, your local news’ website may have a team of experts, with videographers, social media executives, and bloggers all part of it. Read our guide to backpack journalism to learn more.

One of the key purposes of these organizations is to report on subjects that interest people within a small group but would not be otherwise covered by a news organization. For instance, if the local high school wins the county championship for the first time, this story is unlikely to end up on the editor of the New York Times’ desk. However, small-town newspapers know that their community wants to consume content relevant to that story as it touches their lives.

What’s New In Publishing touched upon this when discussing the purpose of community journalism, stating that it “helps to address gaps in the mainstream media, providing increased diversity, greater depth and context to reporting in any particular area”. Because these organizations report on topics that are valuable to the community, they can become viewed as important cultural establishments in these areas. This was touched upon in an article in The Guardian discussing the importance of community papers.

It read: “Local and regional newspapers have generations of positive heritage; tremendous brand recognition and loyalty; significant readerships; and considerable influence within the communities they serve”.

Community Journalism Vs Civic Journalism Vs Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism
Citizen journalism is media where the news is collected, reported and distributed by the public

Several other types of journalism are often mistaken for community reporting. Amongst them are civic journalism, citizen journalism and even beat journalism.

As stated above, community journalism is where journalists report news that is relevant and of interest to a particular group of people, often within a certain geographical. However, they don’t necessarily decide what the subject is that community members deem important.

Jan Larson, Wood County editor of the Sentinel-Tribunei in Ohio discussed this during a panel discussion at Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference. She said: “We don’t define the issues that should be tackled or direct the outcomes, but we listen to what our community cares about, inform the public of issues that affect them — then we follow them as they chart their course”

Civic journalism, on the other hand, is where reporters distribute the news to engage citizens and creating public debate. The idea of civic journalism is for the broadcast and print media to be part of the democratic process for social change. Thus, for civic journalism, the subjects which are reported on have to have a political value.

Community journalism is also often confused with citizen journalism (also known as public journalism). Citizen journalism is media where the news is collected, reported and distributed by the public. In contrast, community journalism is where professional reporters collect and distribute the news based off traditional journalism values.

A common critique of citizen journalism is the lack of professionalism in collecting and editing the news. However, this clearly isn’t the case for community journalists, where reporters come from traditional media backgrounds. You might also be wondering, what is social journalism?

The Future Of Community Journalism

What is social journalism?
Social media has changed the face of how localities stay informed

The future of local journalism requires media outlet that produces community-relevant news to recognize their changing environment. Where once they were the sole source of news to their locality, the likes of Facebook and Twitter have built communities where citizen journalism is thriving. Discussing this point, Roy Greenslade said the following in The Guardian:

“At one time, community issues were debated almost exclusively through the news columns and letters pages of local papers. Not any longer – now the debate rages every day, every hour, every minute across social media networks.”

It’s true that social media has changed the face of how localities stay informed. However, these forums can now be a source of news and community-building for journalists. Greenslade added:

“Facebook is the platform of choice for millions to conduct their social interactions. Twitter is an amazingly powerful news machine and story source. Linkedin connects movers and shakers in localities as well as industry sectors.”

In other words, the changing world of communication should not be feared, but used as a way to stay abreast of goings-on. Community media never had the sole focus of breaking news (the fact many of its print offerings are weekly demonstrating this). However, having a team of professional journalists research and report the news with their acquired expertise is still of value. If you like this article, check out our roundup of the best journalism tools.