«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
think so, but I‘m sure of only one. In Newjack, I describe B-Block, the immense building where I worked. Housing six hundred inmates, it is one of the largest freestanding cellblocks in the world. Horrific and very dim inside, it seemed as if the windows hadn‘t been washed in fifty years. I included that detail in the book. The wife of a B-Block inmate sent me an email after visiting her husband and wrote, ‗My husband just wanted you to know that a month after your book came out, they washed the
Unlike Conover, I in no way deceived any of my participants. I was upfront with them about my intentions regarding this research and our time spent together during interviews or community events. Still, I hope that the findings of this research will allow my participants and others in Laurel to reflect on the status of community journalism in their town and to make necessary changes to correct or enhance the practice of this important public service.
That is why naming Laurel is so important to this study. Naming Laurel at this moment in time not only provides an understanding of cultural and social makeup of the town as a result of certain forces acting upon it, but also marks it as being significant, special, and worthy of study. But, naming the town and its newspapers (as I also have chosen to do) also meant revealing the identities of my participants, especially the journalists and city officials, because there are so few
Baranek & Chan (1987), successfully name the news organizations they are studying while maintaining the confidentiality of their participants because of the size of the newsrooms under investigation. Schlesinger studied the BBC, one of the largest news organizations in Europe; Ericson, Baranek & Chan studied The Globe and Mail, one of the three largest circulation newspapers in Toronto with more than 1,100 employees at the time of the study (p. 82).
Such confidentiality is impossible in a study of Laurel, Maryland‘s newspapers because of the small staffs; for instance, the Laurel Leader‟s entire editorial staff is comprised of only five people. Because of this, I believe that I have best protected them and the other public officials and business owners by naming them—with their complete understanding and consent. Naming them leaves no room for speculation in the community regarding who said what. In addition, those who hold an office or write for a newspaper are already public figures. While becoming involved in any research project involves some risk, even if minimal, by explaining the goals of the project and the manner in which the data will be collected and used, participants were able to make an informed decision regarding their participation in the project.
Furthermore, naming them also gives them ownership over the project.
Though some might argue otherwise, it is my belief that, if done carefully and respectfully, using real names can be in line with the feminist ethical model, which values ―individual uniqueness‖ and ―celebrates personal expressiveness‖ (Denzin, 1997, p. 276). Attaching the participants‘ names to their ideas,
knowledge—can empower them, giving them an authority and an understanding that they are making a contribution to knowledge about the culture of community news in their town. Like Laurel, they, too, are special and significant.
However, I have extended anonymity to the private citizens—the residents—involved in this project. All residents‘ names have been changed.
Business owners/advertisers were given the option of using their real name (as well as the name of their business) or using a pseudonym and generic description of their business.
I set out with the desire to name all ―public‖ participants, who included the journalists and government officials. All those who fall into the categories of journalist and government officials agreed to be named. I had planned to grant business owners as well as residents anonymity. Three of the four business owners, when given the choice, wished to be named; two, who were initially interviewed as ―residents‖ were later discovered to be business people in Laurel, so they are not named. Additionally, a couple of people who fell into the resident category also agreed to be named because of a public role they fulfilled. For instance, Segundo Mir, a Hispanic pastor at the Laurel First Baptist Church, plays a very public role in helping his parishioners, and so agreed to be named. In the chapters that follow, participants whose real names are used will be referred to by first and last name; participants whose names have been changed will be referred to by first name only. For detailed information regarding the location, length of time and date of interviews, please refer to Appendix 6. Here, readers can also
by their real name.
Thematic analysis In order to complement my participants‘ perspectives and perceptions of the weekly newspapers and their role in Laurel, I conducted a thematic analysis of the Laurel Leader and The Gazette, for the duration of my six months spent in the field. Studying the content of these two weeklies provided another access point to the culture of Laurel as a town and, possibly, a community. Matheson (2005) argued that ―the news is not telling us something new, but reminding us of the resilience of already known structures of knowledge‖ (p. 18). Texts, he continued, must be seen ―within their contexts, and particularly as language in action as part of social practice, rather than as stand-alone texts‖ (p. 19).
Examining the weekly newspapers that, in many ways, strive to define Laurel as a community helped me to understand some of the values held by the citizens and stakeholders—or at least perceived values as understood by the journalists reporting on Laurel.
Each paper is published once per week, on Thursday. I began collecting the papers in January 2009 and continued until I finished fieldwork at the end of June 2009. However, I had been reading both papers frequently for nearly one year prior to beginning my fieldwork, which allowed me to ask specific questions about content as well as understand specific references made to it by my participants during our conversations. In total, I examined 16 issues of the Laurel Leader and the Laurel edition of The Gazette. I noted recurrent items in the
and classified ads. I also kept a close eye on the content of the news articles in search of recurrent themes, such as local events, news about local people, local government, and local business, always looking for evidence of local values, morals, and behaviors. The recurrent content of both papers is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6.
Data analysis In addition to the thematic analysis of the Laurel newspapers, as described above, all 29 interviews were analyzed. All but two interviews were transcribed.
Those two interviews had poor sound quality; as a result, I listened to those interviews and took notes on the clear and interesting comments made by the participants where possible.
All interview transcripts were reviewed at least twice. The first reading allowed me the chance to note common themes present across all interviews.
From those themes, I was able to develop a set of five to six analytical categories for my questions relating to community and community journalism in Laurel.
Once the categories were established, I went back to the data, looking for more specific and concrete representations of those categories. The texts were highlighted according to category. Once the second wave of analysis was complete, I compiled the data from each highlighted categories in order to begin framing my results chapters. The remainder of this dissertation presents the results of my fieldwork. Chapter 5 provides data and discussion on my participants‘ views of Laurel as a community. Chapter 6 covers the role that community
Chapter 7 deals with the future of community journalism in Laurel and, specifically, the ways in which one local blogger views his role. Finally, Chapter 8 provides discussion and conclusions about how my participants‘ perceptions of these complex matters shape the face of community and community journalism in Laurel, Maryland.
For an outsider, getting to know and understand Laurel, Maryland is no easy feat. Laurel is a complicated place, with a rich history and its share of modern-day challenges. Examining Laurel through its history and especially through the eyes of its current residents—is necessary for determining whether Laurel is a community where people share a sense of interdependence, or simply a place on the map, filled with people going about their individual lives. This chapter first explores the history of Laurel since its incorporation in 1870, then takes a present day snapshot by exploring Laurel‘s demographics and sections.
Finally, my participants weigh in on how they understand, operate within, and make meaning within their lives in Laurel in 2009.
History of Laurel
midway between Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The MARC Commuter Train, located at the end of Main Street, extends to both of these major metropolitan areas, making travel to work in either of these cities easy for Laurel residents. Annapolis, Maryland‘s state capitol, is also less than twenty-five miles to the east of Laurel. The Patuxent River runs behind Laurel‘s historic Main Street, separating Prince George‘s County Laurel from Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Laurel.
“Laurel Factory” Laurel‘s roots date back to 1658, when the land that would become Laurel was owned by Richard Snowden, a Welsh immigrant. Snowden received a Colonial Manorial land grant for 12,260 acres (Bladey & Curtis, 1983, p. 25).
The family, who remained prominent land owners for years to come, eventually started industry in the area. Nicholas Snowden opened a grist mill along the Patuxent River on Main Street in 1811. In 1824, the mill was converted to a cotton spinning factory. Because this factory and others were the primary industries in Prince George‘s county, the town became known as ―Laurel Factory.‖ In 1870, Laurel was incorporated and by 1875, the Post Office dropped the ―Factory‖ from Laurel‘s name. During the Civil War, the factories turned out war materials. But, the end of the war and the ―advent of the steamship‖ ceased the demand for sailcloth, one of the factories‘ primary manufactured goods; the cotton mill closed in 1911 (Denny, 1997, p. 236).
22 Many participants argued that the tip of West Laurel stretches into Montgomery County, as well.
Post civil-war, the job market was in decline and new transportation options made it easy for residents to find new jobs outside of their hometown. No longer were residents dependent upon a purely local economy, but rather upon ―regional economic trends and income levels‖ (Bladey & Curtis, 1983, p. 33). Laurel was turning into a suburb.
“Suburban” Laurel By 1888, the city of Laurel was the largest town in Prince George‘s county and a prominent stop along the railroad between Baltimore and Washington, D.C—where many local people had to look for work when the factories closed in Laurel (Denny, 1997, p. 237). Railroads, trolley lines, newly paved roads and highways turned Laurel residents into commuters who left town for work. The trolley line, which extended from Main Street in Laurel to G Street in Washington, was constructed in 1902 and allowed Laurel residents to travel an hour to work in government jobs rather than locally at the mill (City of Laurel Walking Tour, 2006). In 1929, Route 1, the Baltimore-Washington Boulevard now known as Baltimore Avenue, was constructed, and Laurel was its midpoint.
Bladey and Curtis‘s 1983 anthropological study of Laurel‘s ―human cultural history‖ argued that the development of Laurel as a suburb after the closing of the industrial economic markets was an attempt to ―control‖ the ―sense of place as well as the relationship of the community to the regional market‖ (p. 1;
p. 34). At the end of the nineteenth century, when Laurel entered into a competition of sorts with other local towns for residents who would ―support the
―spa‖ community, which ―offered optional country homes rather than permanent residences to workers of Baltimore and Washington‖ (Bladey & Curtis, p. 35).
However, Bladey and Curtis indicated that the concept failed mainly because Laurel became ―overwhelmed by the demands for suburban/commuter housing‖ (p. 36).
search of housing, and families were growing. Though many were leaving town for work, World War II brought many military personnel working at Fort Meade into Laurel in search of housing. Additionally, the National Security Agency moved to Fort Meade from Virginia in 1952, and the Department of Agriculture was based in Beltsville, just down Route 1, creating an even bigger population boom in Laurel (Denny, 1997, p. 241).
Between 1940 and 1950, Laurel felt the tremors of the baby boom, and the population nearly doubled, going from 2,823 to 4,482. It doubled again between 1950 and 1960, reaching 8,503 by the decade‘s end. By 1970, the population gained another three thousand (County in Transition, 1970, p. 55).23 The rapid growth continued, and today, the city of Laurel boasts nearly 20,000 residents;
greater Laurel has more than 100,000.
During that four-decade post-war span Laurel was becoming a popular place, and regional newspapers were talking about it. A 1957 headline in The Washington Post read ―Booming Suburb – That‘s Laurel‖ (Gertrude Poe, 1970, p.
106). Two 1963 headlines from The Evening Sun heralded Laurel as ―A Fabulous 23 These figures represent the city of Laurel.