«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
I settled into Pittsburgh after the first semester, when luckily, I not only managed to line up two courses with a focus on media, but I also pursued an internship with a program called Take Back the Hill. Take Back the Hill is a newspaper produced by teenagers in Pittsburgh‘s Hill District. The Hill District is a collection of predominantly African American neighborhoods that lies right outside of downtown Pittsburgh. In recent years, the neighborhoods have been afflicted by drug abuse and gang violence.2 The newspaper project was part of an after-school program at The Hill House, an association in Pittsburgh that provides ―care and support for more than 500,000 children, adults and seniors living in urban environments‖ (About Us, 2009). The Take Back the Hill project was meant to help the urban teens learn not only to express themselves, but also to reclaim their neighborhood with an understanding that the future was in their hands; their voices could make a difference. Though I only worked on this project for one semester, its premise remains with me today. Citizens can reclaim their towns and neighborhoods through writing and reading news.
When I began my doctoral studies at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, I knew I was interested in issues related to community and local 2 During the course of my internship, a teen was gunned down late one night on the sidewalk in front of the building in which I worked with the teens. The shooting was linked to gang violence.
however, made it abundantly clear. The power of news media in towns, neighborhoods, and communities is great. I saw this as a writer at Wilkes University, as a workshop teacher in Pittsburgh, and as an emerging scholar at the University of Maryland.
This particular project grew out of an earlier project with the journalists at the Laurel Leader. During my coursework, I took an ethnography course with Dr.
John Caughey. As part of the course, students were challenged to carry out a project utilizing ethnographic methods. Immediately, I knew I wanted to get inside a newsroom. With the help of a few friends with connections, I soon found myself inside of the Laurel Leader‟s newsroom. The opening vignette is a scene from that project, which inspired this dissertation. I feel lucky to have spent two years in Laurel, a comfortable town where people smile at you when you walk past them down Main Street. Reading the newspaper made me feel more connected to the place, even though I knew very few residents there. This study summarizes not only the experiences of my participants as they interact with Laurel and the news media there, but also highlights some of my own experiences of adapting to a new community.
Chapters ahead Chapter 2 lays a theoretical foundation on which to examine the concepts of community. Chapter 3 reviews previous research on the relationship between community and media, as well as the role online media, such as community blogging, play in this relationship. Chapter 4 reviews previous studies of
methodological framework for this research. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 detail my participants‘ thoughts about community in Laurel, newspapering in Laurel, and the role of local blogging there, respectively. Finally, Chapter 8 summarizes these findings and offers analysis and discussion of their impact on community journalism in Laurel. Chapter 8 also explores the theoretical implications of this research, as well as the need for additional research in this area.
A community can be located in a town, a village, or a neighborhood. It may emerge through a memorable experience or a hobby. A cause or a crisis.
Religions, races, and regions. A sense of community is known to spring up in and around all of the aforementioned. Community can be found in suburbs across America, in churches, at workplaces, in ―Worlds of Warcraft‖ and for some, in their ―Second Life.‖ Members of the ―Days of Our Lives‖ community connect through plot lines, while fantasy sports fanatics connect across foul lines (though both technically connect via cable or fiber-optic lines). Academic communities gather at their respective conventions once a year, while PTA parents and city councils gather once a month. A group of my mom‘s fellow retired teachers get together for breakfast once a week, while she sees her community of ―regulars‖ at the gym she goes to nearly every day of the week. In one way or another, we are always floating in and out of communities; they are at the center of our social lives.
Communities can be both tangible and intangible in that sometimes we see our fellow community members, while sometimes they are simply imagined (Anderson, 1983). The word community can refer to ―actual social groups‖ or ―a particular quality of relationship‖ (Williams, 1983). Sometimes communities are grounded in place, while others are grounded in feelings and senses.
Communities can have thousands, or only handfuls, of members. For many of us, the thought of community makes us feel ―warm and fuzzy‖ (Williams, 1983). It
of us feel claustrophobic—as if we need to escape it (1997b). But, ―unlike all other terms of social organization (state, nation, society, etc.) it seems never to be used unfavourably, and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term‖ (Williams, 1983). Community is complicated, no doubt.
Many have attempted to define and theorize community. Its elusiveness makes it a difficult concept with which to work—but also one that seems deceptively easy, such that many scholars use the concept, albeit in many different ways. In 1955, Hillary compiled and reviewed 94 definitions of community to find points of agreement among them only to conclude that ―there is no complete agreement as to the nature of community‖ (p. 119). According to Carey (1997b), here agreeing with Raymond Williams, ―community is one of the most difficult, complex, and ambiguous words in our language. It is a contested concept, one that represents or gathers to it contradictory, mutually exclusive images, meanings sacred and profane by turn‖ (p. 1). We are, he suggests ―a people who are forever creating new communities and then promptly trying to figure out ways to get out of town‖ (1997b, p. 2). And, it‘s no wonder. Like anything else, communities have both positive and not-so-positive qualities.
While they often provide us with friendship, security, and a sense of belonging, they also can have a tendency to smother or squash our individuality—at least that is often one of the arguments against community.
Especially in America, the tendency toward individualism is also a force with which to reckon. People yearn for independence, and the sheer number of
of this, new media technologies have emerged as a way to keep us connected, though we are, often times, physically apart. But, the need for community—for coming together around shared goals and values to make positive change, or simply to feel a sense of belonging—remains essential to American democratic ideals, no matter how many individual rights we look to secure. As Carey (1997b) correctly noted, ―We live fully interdependent lives. The notion of the self-sufficient individual, the self that contains within his or her own person, the resources necessary to a full life, is the single most pervasive myth of our time‖ (p. 4). In other words, no matter how much we may desire to, we cannot go it alone—in America or any other corner of the globe. We need to rely on others to fulfill many of our physical, social, and emotional needs.
Indeed, the need for examination of ―community‖ at a time of profound technological as well as political and cultural change is necessary and important as we face modern challenges in our interdependent lives. This study examines the role of local print press in supporting local communities at a time when the newspaper industry is struggling to survive and adapt in a new technological and virtual environment. This chapter explores many of the theories of community in order to cultivate an understanding of the conditions that allow modern communities to both develop and grow.
What is “community”?
Because community is complex and difficult to define, a common practice is to define what community is not. The starting point for most discussions of
dichotomized the concept of community by comparing it to that of society. He wrote about the dissolution of community and the ascent of impersonal society during the rise of the industrial revolution, when there were not only significant changes in technology, but as a result, social relationships. In his treatise Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, translated Community and Society, he argued that there are fundamental differences between the two, most noticeable in peoples‘ behaviors and expectations toward one another. For Tönnies, community, unlike society, occurs naturally; ―whenever human beings are related through their wills in an organic manner and affirm each other, we find … Gemeinschaft‖ (Tönnies, 1963, p. 42). Communities resembled three types of natural relationships: blood, intellect, and proximity (p. 48). ―Gemeinschaft by blood‖ is represented by family units or relationships—parental, spousal, sibling. These bonds are natural;
The common root of this natural condition is the coherence of vegetative life through birth and the fact that the human wills, in so far as each one of these wills is related to a definite physical body, are and remain linked to each other by parental descent and by sex, or by necessity become so
―Gemeinschaft of mind,‖ refers to bonds formed around common goals that only can be achieved through ―co-operation and co-ordinated action‖ (p. 42).
―Gemeinschaft of locality‖ is based on common habitat, such as a neighborhood.
Here, ―a common relation is established through collective ownership of land‖ (p.
42). ―Gemeinschaft of locality‖ can be expanded to include a village and then a
capable,‖ according to Tönnies (p. 50). All three of these kinds of common bonds are informal, unlike the bonds shared in society, which are mechanical and contractual.
Opposite community, society or Gesellschaft, ―deals with the artificial construction of an aggregate of human beings‖ (Tönnies, 1963, p. 64). Unlike Gemeinschaft, which is naturally occurring and organic, Gesellschaft represents bonds that are mechanical and contractual. For example, a relationship that occurs between a buyer and a seller is contractual, for there are no goods with common values. Goods and services have a price, and ―nobody wants to grant and produce anything for another individual, if it be not in exchange for a gift or labor equivalent that he considers at least equal to what he has been given‖ (p.
65). Favors and goodwill do not exist in society. Though in both community and society, relationships are fostered and sustained, ―in the Gemeinschaft [individuals] remain essentially united in spite of all separating factors, whereas in the Gesellschaft, they are essentially separated in spite of all uniting factors‖ (p.
Nearly one hundred years later, Poplin (1972) described a similar dichotomy between moral communities and mass societies. In moral communities, members have a sense of belonging and of common goals. They are compelled to participate in the community and see their fellow members as ―whole persons who are of intrinsic significance and worth‖ (p. 6). By contrast, mass societies are sources of alienation; their members have divergent goals, are
as possessing worth or value (p. 6).
Similarly, Rousseau (1991) contrasted communal versus contractual theories of human association. The controversy inherent in these two theories of association, she pointed out, is between ―those who make human relationships artificial or conventional and those who make them natural, inborn‖ which has similar properties of Tönnies‘s community-society dichotomy. Contractual thinkers, who would align with Tönnies‘s concept of Gesellschaft, ―bring people into unity with each other through various kinds of agreements, negotiations, conventions, and arbitrations‖ (p. 2). Communal thinkers, like those in Gemeinschaft, ―take people to be in some kind of unity with each other by nature, prior to any choices or negotiations‖ (p.2).
Typologies, or constructed types, of human associations (such as those discussed above) have played an important role ―in theory construction and in the conduct of empirical research‖ (Poplin, 1972, p. 110, paraphrasing McKinney). A constructed type is ―basically a simplified and sometimes purposely exaggerated model of the personality, social, or cultural system that is being examined by the investigator‖ (Poplin, 1972, p. 109). Popular in sociology, typologies provide researchers with some analytical and explanatory power. Though they often represent ideal types or polarizations, their prevalence indicates the ―necessity to distinguish fundamentally different types of social organization in order to establish a range within which transition or intermediate forms can be comprehended‖ (McKinney & Loomis, 1963, p. 12). Others who have used
Robert Redfield, Howard P. Becker, Pitrim A. Sorokin, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons (McKinney & Loomis, 1963, pp. 13-23). However, typologies are somewhat limiting in that they often times employ polar opposite types that refuse to admit a middle ground or that are hybrids. Though establishing two poles implies a continuum, classifying types that fall somewhere in between can be a challenge. How, then, do we characterize human associations that have characteristics of both the types and fall somewhere in the middle?
Selznick (1992) called the Gemeinschaft an ―ideal type‖ whose imagery is ―seductive.‖ But it has limits, and ―does not encompass the full range of variables that constitute community and affect its quality‖ (p. 307). Sennett (1970) rejected typologies, arguing that ―the trouble with this idea of two poles—villagecommunity versus city-group—is that is has proved itself too neat, too logical, and too simple to account for the varieties of community solidarity‖ (p. 32).