«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
The interviews Each participant provided signed consent before our interview began.
Participants also completed a basic questionnaire, which provided me with demographic information as well as some basic information on their news reading habits, which could be cross-checked with their responses during our interviews.17 All interviews—save one at the participant‘s request—were digitally recorded 17 For a copy of the questionnaires, see Appendix 4.
owners were all individually interviewed. Residents were interviewed, depending on availability and ease of scheduling, as individuals, in pairs, or in focus groups of three to four people. While I only interviewed each participant once for this present study, I did rely on them—in ongoing relationships—to help advance my knowledge of Laurel, as well as to find additional participants for the study. A few participants continued to keep in touch with me via phone and/or email, and would share new thoughts as they arose. Additionally, all participants agreed to being contacted after our interview, if necessary, for follow-up questions or conversations.
A different set of questions was devised for participants in each of the constituent groups listed above.18 Each participant—depending on what category within which they fell—was asked questions from the appropriate list. Most questions were open-ended. Interviews were semi-structured, as a number of factors affected them. In some instances, time prevented me from asking every question on the list. For instance, several of the small business owners agreed to interviews during their normal workdays and so were unable to devote an hour or more to our conversation. In those cases, I asked questions that I felt to be the most important and relevant to the participant(s). Sometimes, questions were asked out of order, depending on how conversations developed. One conversation with a resident took on a life of its own; though we ended up covering all of the questions I had intended, I asked formally only two questions throughout our three-hour conversation. Some interviews, because of 18 Lists of interview questions are provided in Appendix 5.
Interviews took place in many different settings and locations. Several residents invited me to their homes in Laurel; others met me at a variety of local establishments, including coffee shops and diners. Two focus groups were held in a space in St. Mark‘s Methodist Church in Laurel, while another was held in the Laurel Museum, and one in my own apartment. All city government officials were interviewed at the municipal center save one, who invited me to her law office in Laurel. Business owners/advertisers were interviewed at their business establishments. Each location provided interesting insight into daily life and business in Laurel. I was able to witness participants interact with others they knew in public places, as well as to see laminated news clippings hanging proudly in local business establishments. For a detailed list of the interviews—their location, length of time, and date—please refer to Appendix 6.
Institutional Review Board This project was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Participants were provided with the information presented in the IRB application, including the benefits and risks of participation in this research, methods, and confidentiality orally and in written form via the consent form.19 Upon their written consent, participants who were considered public officials (journalists, publishers, public officials) were named to maintain levels of authenticity and credibility. However, to minimize the risks to the participants, each participant was allowed access to a draft of the work before presentation or publication to 19 For copies of the consent forms, see Appendices 7 and 8.
some individuals or places (organizations, businesses, etc.) named by the participants in interviews were altered to protect the anonymity of people or places not directly involved in this research. The names of participants considered to be public individuals are used as a result of their written consent;
because real names will be used, there was a social risk to these participants.
However, this risk was minimized by allowing the participants to view drafts of the study before any publication. Following Liebow (1993), all named participants were given an opportunity to comment on the draft, and any information they found to be damaging to their status in Laurel was discussed and negotiated. Of the 21 named participants, 11 replied with comments. The overwhelming majority of their comments were both positive and constructive.
Several participants provided factual corrections. For instance, if I had named a town as being in an incorrect county, they pointed that out so that I might get it right for the final draft. Others sought to update me on changes that had occurred since my time in the field. Their comments are highlighted, some places in text and others in footnotes, throughout the remaining chapters. 20 All other participants were granted confidentiality via pseudonyms; because of this, there was no risk to them.
Interviews were digitally recorded. I was the only researcher with access to the material and participants were allowed to ask for information to be ―off the record‖ at any time. In addition, if participants felt that the details they were 20 Mike McLaughlin said upon review of the draft, ―I hope you get a lot of comments on it, even if you may feel like you‘ve disturbed the beehive, because it will enrich your final product and confirm its importance.‖
using them was relevant and necessary to the authenticity of the report) or left them out altogether. All materials—hard-copy and digital— are to be destroyed after the project and its publication is complete.
Ethical considerations Because this research brings together methodological assumptions from three fields—the practical field of journalism and academic fields of journalism and cultural studies—special consideration had to be given to the treatment of participants, specifically whether or not to use their real names in the final text, as discussed above. A question which raised much thought and discussion was: can participants be protected if they are named? Caughey (2006) summarized the
Because your participant helped you by voluntarily opening up his or her life, you have a significant obligation to protect this person in what you write … On the other hand, you both entered into this relationship with the understanding that your purpose was to learn and write about the person‘s life. The issue here involves what to tell and how to tell what you do tell
A stark contrast marks the treatment of sources in journalism and ethnography. Journalists expect complete openness from sources and almost always print their real names in stories. Under certain circumstances, journalists will provide anonymity to sources if it is thought that their comments might endanger them in some way. However, when the ―greater good‖ can be served,
sources without permission. By contrast, the norm in academic ethnographic work is to provide anonymity to participants. Participants can be named only when the participants‘ written consent is provided. Likewise, ethnographers often work closely with participants even after the fieldwork is complete, allowing them access to drafts of the thesis, essay, or book. Allowing participants to object to a characterization or to an interpretation gives some power back to them. In the instances that participants want material changed, researchers can oblige their request, or take a similar approach to that taken by Leibow (1993) in Tell Them Who I Am; he added the participants‘ comments about the text in running footnotes throughout it and did not alter his original interpretations.
The ―new journalism‖ movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which combined the genres of journalism, ethnography, and the novel, shed light on methodological and ethical dilemmas, including naming sources. Also called ―intimate journalism,‖ the new journalism called into question how journalists
treat their sources. Harrington (2003) summed it up this way:
As [intimate] journalists, for instance, our ethical obligations are not only to the subjects but also to readers, whom we are to keep informed as the ultimate justification of our press freedoms. This stance contrasts that of ethnographers who believe they are so indebted to their subjects that they would never publish anything that might harm or embarrass them, even anything with which a subject disagrees. Journalists are sensitive to the impact stories might have on subjects, particularly ordinary people who
committed to the idea that their ultimate allegiance is to readers. If withholding what we know to be true in order to protect subjects would mislead readers, we don‘t withhold it. As journalists, we usually name names, unlike ethnographers who hide their subjects‘ identities supposedly to protect them. We use real names because we believe it lends authenticity to our stories and because the truth and accuracy of those stories can then be tested, something that is impossible with most ethnographic reports‖ (pp. 100-101).
I consider myself well-suited for this particular project, having been trained as a journalist and as an ethnographer. But these two backgrounds presented me with some difficult options to weigh. My journalism instincts told me that, above all, I was beholden to those who would read my study, to the truth, and to the advancement of knowledge. I owed it to readers to present what I had learned in a straightforward, honest, and truthful manner. I also felt that I could not convey the unique culture of the town if I did not name it.
My ethnography instincts (and a desire to adhere to the feminist ethical model), on the other hand, told me that protecting those who helped me throughout this research journey was, at all costs, most important; without them, new knowledge would not be possible. Denzin (1997), who has written about both journalism and ethnography, argued that the social sciences ―maintain the illusion of privacy within the postmodern world‖ (p. 280). He credited writers like Wolfe and Mailer, ―new journalists‖ who combined the genres of journalism
social science and ethnographic inquiry‖ by writing about real people, with real names, real descriptions, and with real life consequences (p. 279).
Because this project is a case study of Laurel, Maryland, its people and its newspapers, it was important for me to name both the town and the newspapers.
Doing so not only enhances the credibility of the text, but also provides a cultural description of Laurel at a specific moment in time. Getting specific about place and time is a foundational principle of cultural studies: ―Contextualizing cultural forms and audiences in historically specific situations helps illuminate how cultural artifacts reflect or reproduce concrete social relations and conditions—or oppose and attempt to transform them‖ (Kellner and Durham, 2001, p. 12).
Conover (2000), a journalist/anthropologist who went undercover as a corrections officer in order to write Newjack—a story about Sing Sing, ―New York State's most troubled maximum-security facility‖—solidified the culture of the prison in a specific place and time to help others understand prison culture from the inside.
In order to do this, he not only named the prison in the book, but also most of his participants. A work of non-fiction, the book provides real scenes and situations gathered by Conover using small spiral notebook he kept in his breast pocket.21 Conover said in an author‘s note that most of the individuals written about in the book were identified using their real names, though some names were changed to protect the privacy of certain officers and inmates. Because Conover was undercover—no one in the prison knew he would eventually write a book about 21 All of the guards carried these pocket-sized notebooks, though Conover notes that ―unlike most of them, I took many notes‖ (2000, Author‘s note).
I worked with people who didn‘t know what I was doing. I decided that if I portrayed them in any way they might find embarrassing, I should change their names. I changed about one-third of the names in the book‖ (Kramer and Call, 2007, p. 38).
Though ethnographic in nature, the book‘s cover sleeve calls it ―a milestone in American journalism: a book that casts new and unexpected light on this nation's prison crisis and sets a new standard for courageous, in-depth reporting‖ (Newjack). The relationship between ethnography and journalism is a close one; ethnographers and journalists employ many of the same techniques to discover and uncover cultural phenomena. I consider this dissertation to be both an exercise in in-depth reporting as well as an exercise in ethnography. The study is an example of journalism, or in-depth reporting, because it aims to ―provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing‖ (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007, p. 12). Learning about the role of journalism in communities— as it presently is and as it could or should be—is important if citizens, as well as journalists and public officials, are to support democracy and public life on local levels. This study is also an example of ethnography, in that it aims to advance scholarly knowledge and theory while taking into account the social and emotional effects the outcomes may have on the participants. I hope that it has impact in the community in some way, even if small. Conover pointed out the
impact of Newjack: