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«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»

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49 Because I was unable to talk with editors at The Gazette, I did not learn who handles its web edition. However, upon review of a draft of this work, Melanie Dzwonchyk noted that Farmer no longer handles updates to the Leader‟s website. She said, ―So much has changed about our web approach in the last year; it is updated daily by a few of us, including our new social media editor … since it‘s more than just what was in the paper that week.‖

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journalism. He cited The Gazette‟s recent $42 million investment in the new printing plant, located in Laurel, as an expression of the company‘s optimism that the future of community news is in print.

Several of my older participants tended to agree. Anne, 62, and Lara, 67, said that reading online was not part of their habit. Anne speculated that if the Leader were to go online only, she‘d probably read it less. Ray, 76, said that he tends to use the newspapers‘ websites for ―research‖ but not for regular reading.

Even Christine Folks, 52, community columnist for the Leader, said she prefers reading the newspaper in print.

If it was going to be on the web, and not a newspaper, in that case I would go to the web and read whatever was there. … I‘d rather have the newspaper but if they were to have it on the web yes, in that case I would definitely, I would get it somehow. I would want to read it. I would want to know what‘s going on, but I prefer to have the newspaper.

But, my younger participants, Julie, 22, Brian, 21, and Gina, 20, said they rarely use the newspapers‘ websites to get Laurel news. When I told them that I was surprised to learn they didn‘t use the web to read the local newspapers, Brian said it had less to do with using the Internet and more to do with not having a strong news reading habit.

You‘ve got to think, too, like with me, I didn‘t start reading the Laurel Leader until not too long ago, so the younger people I guess don‘t really

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For those who have developed a news habit, the Internet provides a level of convenience that a weekly print edition of a newspaper does not. Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said that The Gazette and the Leader‟s websites allow him to read the newspaper at any time of day or night, which is especially convenient for his busy lifestyle. In addition, the Internet makes is much easier to share content with friends, family and co-workers. The mayor said that people in his office share online content with one another all of the time. ―If they see stuff, they know I‘m interested in certain things and so they‘ll send me to a link or they‘ll pass that information on to me,‖ he said.

Only about one fourth of my participants reported using the two Laurel newspapers‘ websites to read local news. Thirteen people reported using the Laurel Leader‟s website, while only 11 reported reading news from The Gazette online. Only one of my nine participants over the age of 65—Irene—reported using the Internet for news consumption. This is not surprising as, according to the 2010 State of the News Media annual report, only 31 percent of people age 50 and older read news online (Online: Audience Behavior). Interestingly, Pat Farmer, 65, who is responsible for updating the Leader‟s website weekly, said she did not read the local papers online. A few other participants reported using other Internet sites to get news, including Yahoo.com, MSN.com, CNN.com, and two reported reading G. Rick Wilson‘s blog, Laurel Connections.

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as what type of content is most desired—is something that Paul Milton, executive editor of Patuxent Publishing, said the company is still working on. Milton said that Patuxent‘s early examinations of site visits indicate that online audiences are more interested in regional news than hyperlocal news—in contrast to the Leader‟s print audience.

What we‘re finding is that while our papers are hyperlocal, there‘s interest from almost a regional scale on the websites because people might be concerned about something that is happening a couple miles out of their community because it may affect their driving patterns. […] We‘re noticing those kinds of patterns where people are a little more, I don‘t mean open, but they think a little broader in the sense of what‘s community when they‘re online and I‘m not exactly sure why but that‘s what we‘re sort of noticing initially.

This could be the result of the fact that after the paper‘s move to Columbia, the Laurel Leader no longer hosts its own website, but instead appears under ―ExploreHoward.com.‖ This website, which is sponsored by Patuxent Publishing and Baltimore Sun Media Group Interactive, hosts not only the Leader, but also the Columbia Flyer, Howard County Times, Guide to Howard County, and Howard Magazine. A user could access content from any of these publications once on the ExploreHoward.com website. Mayor Craig Moe said he has become frustrated when accessing the Leader online because ―it‘s all Howard County stuff‖ there. Pat Farmer, editorial assistant at the Leader, who was responsible for

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unfortunate that they no longer have a separate identity with a separate website.

But, Milton said that the difference has to do with the fact that the two mediums simply have different audiences.





I still think that there‘s two different sets of readers. I think that the websites tend to be more breaking news driven and people might be a little bit more forgiving in what‘s going on regionally because they‘re looking for that updated breaking news.

The fact that the Internet allows news organizations to track readers eyeballs in a way not possible with print delivery is encouraging to journalists.

David Driver, sports reporter for the Leader, said he likes being able to know how many people are actually reading his work.

One thing I would say about the Internet and website is that you know that somebody read your story on the web ….Whereas, you can say your circulation is 25,000 … that doesn‘t mean 25,000 people have read your

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But, another challenge of gaining and sustaining an audience on the Internet emerges from the difference between content that is ―pushed‖ versus content that is ―pulled.‖ Websites provide content that readers must navigate to themselves; in other words, they must be pulled—in most cases, on their own as a result of web navigation—to a newspaper‘s website in order to view content. But, new technologies, like Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and listservs, allow news media organizations to ―push‖ content out to readers in a way not possible in the past.

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than relying on the reader to navigate there on their own. But, no matter how they get to the content, if they‘re viewing it online, readers can be tracked more efficiently than they can in print.

Tracking circulation more accurately is certainly a benefit of electronic delivery, as is the ability to provide constant updates and fresh content.

According to Leader editor, Melanie Dzwonchyk, the ability to deliver news to readers 24/7 is certainly enhancing her and her staff‘s ability to cover Laurel. She said that everything printed in the weekly edition of the newspaper is posted online, and they revisit the website daily, making necessary updates and adding breaking news. ―The Washington Post is not going to post always the next day the results of the varsity girls‘ basketball game, but we are. That‘s important to our readers,‖ she said.

David Driver, sports reporter for the Leader, said he is both excited and encouraged by the possibilities of web publishing.

Ten years ago, our paper came out on Thursday and that was it. If a fire happened on a Wednesday night, it wouldn‘t make Thursday‘s paper. But,

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But, according to Gwendolyn Glenn, website updates and breaking news posts are not automatic yet, but rather determined by the value of the news story.

For example, at the time of our interview in early May of 2009, Gwendolyn cited

–  –  –

people information. If it‘s a breaking story, I mean some of it could be a shooting, a police officer being shot [it goes up immediately]. The story determines whether or not [we post before Thursday] because it could be something that can wait until next week. Then too, you don‘t want to give you‘re competition the story, so if it‘s a breaking news story, something

–  –  –

for. And I don‘t want to wait until Thursday to figure that out. Now, Melanie and the editor prior to her, have done a great job. [But] they still have this mentality that, ‗Oh, we can‘t put this up before our paper comes out because we‘re going to scoop ourselves.‘ Well, it‘s not Thursday. Do

–  –  –

50 Upon review of a draft, Gwendolyn Glenn said that since the time of this research, the Leader has upped its digital delivery and social media efforts. She said, ―The Leader has moved into the social media world with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. I have a Twitter page and with my business cell phone, often take pictures of breaking news, such as when a woman was killed in an accident with a tractor trailer on Route 198 West recently, download the pictures and put them on Twitter. We tweet our stories and put them on Facebook and I‘ve seen numbers such as getting 12,000 on-line hits on a story I did on Prince George‘s County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife‘s arrest.‖ She also said that because of her broadcasting background, she has begun producing video news reports for the web. She added, ―Some [videos] are in the two- to threeminute range and I‘ve also done longer pieces, such as the 10-minute video report I did (I do my own shooting with the video/still cameras we were given) on the future of the Laurel Race Track.

I‘m having fun doing them and in addition to having them imbedded in my stories online, they are also available on YouTube.‖

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criticism is warranted and something that weekly newspapers will need to address, especially as people come to expect and rely upon 24/7 news. Wilson said that he understands Melanie‘s reasoning to a degree. After all, she needs some way to ―manage her reporting assets,‖ as Rick put it. But, for Rick, the future of community journalism is about content, not medium. ―They still think of the paper through the prism of the medium. They don‘t think about it as content,‖ he said. And, to him, this is precisely the problem. While the websites are providing a more convenient way for some to access community content, lack of updates and new news—news that readers desire—proves frustrating. As David said, constant updates require more work from an already small staff of reporters and editors. But, the beauty of online delivery is the ability to more easily solicit user-generated content, or UGC. The next section will deal with the ways that digital news delivery can promote community conversation.

Digital news provides forum for participation Traditional newspaper journalism, which was mainly a one-way communication process—newspapers to readers—has transformed as a result of the Internet. User-generated content (UGC), which includes comments, articles, photographs, and videos submitted or published by citizens, has become a popular and useful side-effect of news on the Web. According to Paul Milton, readers have always played an important role in community journalism, and he is only further encouraged by the possibilities of reader participation as a result of the Internet.

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Leader, for example, has two reporters and an editor and an part-time editorial assistant who types in their calendar of events and things, but probably 50-60 percent of what‘s in that paper comes from our readers, whether it‘s the calendar listings or whether it‘s the weddings, engagements, and birth announcements, and or if it‘s a news tip about something that‘s really important. […] One of the buzz phrases in journalism right now is user generated content. […] It‘s a new buzz word, but we‘ve been doing that for a hundred years, and if we didn‘t get that information, the paper wouldn‘t be half of what it is today.

But, simply because the technology exists for such user participation does not mean that readers are catching on. Many of my participants reported rarely—or not at all—using the online version of either the Leader or The Gazette. In fact, reader participation in both the print and electronic versions of the Leader had been minimal at best, according to many of my participants. User-generated content—aside from the columns written by community columnists—is minimal in both publications. During the course of my fieldwork, I surveyed 19 issues of the Leader and 18 issues of The Gazette (from February 5, 2009 through June 4,

2009) to see just how many letters were submitted. The Leader printed a total of 39 letters, 33 of which came from Laurel residents. The Gazette published more letters—80—though only seven came from Laurel residents. Melanie Dzwonchyk said that she‘d like to see more letters submitted.

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themselves, but they don‘t bring it back to the editor that much. That‘s one way that I think the new media […] it does open up that wonderful two way communication avenue.... You read something online, comments, you push a button and say ‗I totally disagree; I think you‘re completely wrong.‘ That‘s all you have to do. You read something in the paper, ‗Oh boy,‘ you say to your neighbor, ‗what do you think? Did you read about this?‖ and you chit chat about it and talk about it. Do you contact the editor or the reporters? That just doesn‘t happen that much.

Nate, 64, commented on the lack of letters to the editor in the Leader during our conversation. When I asked him why he thought that people were not submitting letters, he said, I wouldn‘t be surprised if people have just written the paper off and don‘t write. […] I There always used to be two or three at least and they were often about something that appeared in the Leader that somebody would take attention to or question or make an alternate comment on or

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