«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
For Ginger Reeves, owner of Toucan Taco in Old Town Laurel, being able to ―mix and match‖ her ads across Patuxent‘s local papers, like the Howard County Times and Columbia Flyer, is advantageous, because she is reaching a wider audience—which she desires. Reeves had been placing ads with coupons in the Leader with frequency. Asked why she didn‘t advertise with The Gazette, she replied, ―I don‘t know. I never approached The Gazette and they‘ve never approached me.‖ But, advertising in the Leader and other free publications, like the Penny Saver, seems to be working, as she said she collects about 20-25 redeemed coupons per month. And, Theresa, Old Town resident, agreed that one
learn about new restaurants in the area.
Advertising plays an important role in community journalism, but in Laurel has become especially complicated for some by the Leader‟s move to Columbia. But, the success of advertising may determine the Leader‟s ability to continue publishing in Laurel. Several of my participants questioned whether the Leader has a future in Laurel.
Will the Leader survive?
Though it may seem as though many of my participants spoke negatively—and in some cases angrily—about the Leader, most did so only because it is something about which they care a great deal. Gwendolyn Glenn agreed.
When we moved, people let us know how important we were because they wanted us to stay. Even the city officials were saying they were upset that we left Main Street. So, that lets you know that people … have put value on it, other than that, they wouldn‘t care. ‗See ya.‘ One of those city council members, Fredrick Smalls, agreed that something would be missing if the Leader were to close.
I think there would be a void. There would be nowhere for us to really get, despite all the criticism we may have about the papers, not having it there truly would be a void, there wouldn‘t be any other resource for us to get local news. You certainly won‘t see any local news reporting in The
At the same time, however, he said he recognized that the paper needs to do something to draw in more readers.
I certainly know that people who are not native to Laurel, who have not lived in Laurel for a number of years, don‘t pick up that paper to read it at all. It‘s lying in their front yards for weeks and weeks because they have no interest; there‘s nothing in the paper that will draw them into reading it.
Jan Robison has watched the newspaper decline for the past several years, and said, ―I‘m not real sure that when it finally goes that, after the first shock, I‘m not sure it‘s going to make that much difference.‖ For Jan, and many other participants I spoke with, the question is not if the Leader will fail as much as it is when. Christine Folks, community columnist for the Leader, agreed, but said that its closing will have more to do with financial stability than a community who no longer wants it around.
The Laurel Leader will stay around if they have the money to stay around.
It‘s all going to come down to who can afford to stay around. It‘s not going to be whether or not people want it or not because I think people will want the Laurel Leader, especially people who have lived here for a while. They want to read what‘s in the Laurel Leader. I mean, I believe that, it‘s not that I don‘t think that people won‘t want to read The Gazette.
I think people like that, too; but I don‘t think if The Gazette lasts and the Leader doesn‘t it won‘t be because The Gazette‟s a better paper. It‘s going
didn‘t have enough money to keep it afloat.
But, Paul Milton, Executive Editor, said that the Leader is not ―a product that we thought was ever in any danger of not being here,‖ though he admitted it is struggling ―like every other newspaper is.‖ This is sort of a perfect storm right now for newspapers. The economy is bad. It‘s getting better, but since the size of our papers are determined by the number of ads that are sold, that‘s why it‘s getting smaller. Between the website and the newspaper, I think the content, we‘re probably providing as hyperlocal of content as we ever have.
On this note, however, many of my participants disagreed. This chapter has explored a number of issues relating to the state of community journalism in Laurel. Participants expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of human interest news provided in the newspapers, as well as the lack of connections made between important happenings in Laurel, such as development or actions taken by city and county governments. Participants also disagreed on the role of a community paper. Some residents and most city government officials agreed that a community newspaper should champion and focus on the positive news happening in Laurel, while the journalists agreed that the community newspaper is not a public relations newsletter; its responsibility is to record all of the news important to Laurel—even the bad news. This shift in thinking by the community journalists—that maintaining the image of the community is not as important as
from 1950s Chicago community newspapers.
Several audiences—though most prominently young people and Hispanics—seem to be ignored segments of the Laurel population. And, finally, the Leader‟s move to Columbia provided real and significant challenges for the journalists; the move alienated many in the community, and according to several readers, negatively affected both the coverage and advertising provided by the paper. But, several of the Leader journalists maintained that they are still able to do their job and cover the Laurel community from a distance. Their comments are not inconsistent with Gaziano and McGrath‘s (1987) findings that community journalists seek to keep distance between themselves and their readers in an effort to maintain a level of credibility for their newspaper (p. 325). Their study also revealed that ―a significant minority of journalists work in relative isolation from news sources, readers, and supervisors‖ (p. 328).
Though it was clear from my interviews that many people want, need and care a great deal about community journalism in Laurel, it is in a state of flux, which is frustrating many of the constituent groups with which I spoke. While this chapter explored mainly the editorial and advertising content perceptions and challenges, the next chapter will explore news distribution as well as the future of community journalism in print and on the web.
Chapter 6 explored the state of community journalism in Laurel—that is, the state of the print editions of the newspapers. This chapter will explore the role of the Internet in delivering community news in Laurel. It will also address current distribution issues of both the print and electronic formats. Both the Leader and The Gazette are delivered free in print and both also have websites to supplement their weekly print editions. And, in addition to the corporate entities that provide news to Laurel, a few local residents have taken to writing local blogs—like my participant G. Rick Wilson, who had lots to say about the role of his blog, called Laurel Connections, in Laurel‘s news distribution. This mix of professionals and citizens providing news—as well as new outlets for community conversations—are reshaping the face of community journalism.
Delivering the print editions Both The Gazette and the Leader are delivered free to many households in Laurel. For those not getting either paper on their doorsteps, free copies are available at various locations throughout all parts of Laurel. But, circulation of the print edition has proven both confusing and frustrating to many of my participants. Even Melanie Dzwonchyk, editor of the Leader, was confused.
I don‘t understand the circulation module at all. […] It used to be, if you came to the Leader office [on Main Street], you could have four complimentary copies for free. But that‘s not the case here [in Columbia], I think because this is out of the regular distribution geographic area. So if
came in and said, ‗I want to talk to the editor of the Leader‟ and said, ‗My daughter‘s wedding announcement is in here. I need extra copies,‘ I can give you one and it‘s our discretion. We have giveaways. You could just as easily go to library and pick up 25 copies, if you wanted you could pick
Dzwonchyk said that she hears many complaints from readers about the lack of consistency in delivery, but, she said, there is not much she can do, since editorial, advertising, and circulation operate independently of one another. Paul Milton, Executive Editor of Patuxent Publishing, said that ―the paper is delivered free to homes in the area‖ and is also available at many newsstands around Laurel (email communication, January 3, 2011). A list of newsstand locations, provided by Milton, is available in Appendix 10.
Fredrick Smalls, 58, city council member, said he suspects non-natives are not reading the newspaper because he sees the newspapers, tossed in driveways and on front lawns, sitting for days. Hannah, 40, who lives in Russett, said that delivery is sporadic at times. ―For a couple of months, you won‘t get the Leader, and then you‘ll get it again.‖ Sam, 44, also of Russett, said that he notices unread newspapers littering the streets in Russett with frequency. And, because the paper of late have been so thin, he said that they tend to blow around the neighborhood, creating trash. Craig Moe, mayor of Laurel city, agreed. He said he‘d rather see the Leader and even The Gazette go back to subscription in order to curb the problem.
thrown all over the place. […] Wind blows it out in the street. There‘s trash issues. There‘s security issues. Again, I understand that‘s a business decision because they‘re able to say, ‗Look, I have this amount of circulation, this is where we‘re hitting.‘ But, those are decisions that they
Nate, 64, Old Town resident, said he‘s not sure subscriptions would work because he‘s not sure anyone would subscribe.
I would be willing to pay a subscription to get it not to land in the driveway, if it came in the mail. I know postage is a big cost nowadays, but if you go away on vacation you have to get somebody to pick up the papers in your driveway. You can stop The Washington Post and I was told you could stop these too. […] You know, it‘s [the Leader] such a piece of trash. I think it‘s more viewed that way because of the way it‘s
Hannah, 40, said that she is unwilling to pay for a subscription to either the Leader or The Gazette because she finds the content of neither paper interesting. She added that if the news is important enough, ―you‘re going to find out one way or another‖ about it. Lara, 67, said that she‘d be more than willing to pay for a subscription to the Leader if she could be assured that they would hire more reporters, who would increase the news content of the newspaper. Readers of the Leader could purchase a subscription now and have the newspaper
get it free [in print].‖ Donna Crary, whose law office is located on a street corner directly behind the Laurel Giant Market, said she sees, or rather hears people picking up the Leader every Thursday from the free newspaper box on the corner. ―When the Leader comes out, cars just stop all day long and you can hear them slamming the old newspaper box because they stop. It‘s a part of their routine,‖ said Crary, who added that the box is usually empty within a day.
People are reading the Leader and The Gazette. However, many are not, as evidenced by the newspapers that land on sidewalks or are run over continuously in driveways throughout Laurel. Though free delivery bolsters a newspaper‘s ability to inflate circulation figures, their accuracy is questionable, said G. Rick Wilson, 51, local blogger and Old Town resident.
I don‘t believe Melanie‘s distribution numbers, not her personally, but these papers are putting out these numbers from … the Audit Bureau. One of the reasons I got out of the habit of reading the physical paper is that it never made it to my doorstop. Sometimes the kid doesn‘t drive down the street and throw it in the yard. And so it‘s just easier for me to just read it
While Wilson might be considered an ―early adopter,‖ of the digital versions of the Laurel newspapers, both the Leader and The Gazette are trying to grow readership by utilizing the web as a distribution channel for delivering local news.
As demonstrated by my participants‘ comments, distribution is a key component
the Leader and The Gazette.
But, is the Internet the answer? Both the Laurel Leader and The Gazette have online editions that supplement the print editions. At the Leader, Pat Farmer, the editorial assistant, updates the website, which appears under Patuxent Publishing‘s ―Explore Howard‖ site at http://www.explorehoward.com/laurelleader.49 Generally, the content published on the web is the same content printed in the newspaper, though breaking news is published online daily. The same is true of the Laurel edition of the Gazette online, found under the ―News by Community‖ tab at http://www.gazette.net/. Neither of the sites, however, have any interactive or user-generated content (UGC) components. The next section will further explore distribution of local news via the World Wide Web.
Delivering the digital edition The Internet has without doubt transformed the way journalists report news and the way people consume it. Paul Milton, executive editor of Patuxent Publishing, acknowledged that all newspapers—not just the Leader—have to rethink the way they‘ve been distributing news.
We‘re in the information gathering business. It‘s not just a newspaper business anymore … We have to we have to find ways to get people their news in whatever form they want it, whether it‘s print, which I think will