«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
These three examples suggest that consistency—being able to regularly enter a specific place or space and see familiar faces—is another condition for community. These examples support Oldenburg‘s theory of the ―third space‖— places outside of home or work where people have the opportunity to interact with one another. However, the levels of interaction in each of the examples provided seem too surface level for true community. Selznick (1992) argued that high levels of participation are required in order for the relationships to form and the work of community to be accomplished. So, while my participants‘ experiences in these third spaces may contribute to a sense of community, whether true community exists there is unlikely. Morgan (1942) argued that community exists when people who to a considerable extent have cast their lots together, who share problems and prospects, who have a sense of mutual responsibility, and who actually plan and work together for common ends. There must be a mutual understanding, respect, and confidence. There must be mutual aid—willingness to help in need, not as charity, but simply as the normal mode of community life. There must be a feeling on the part of each individual that he is responsible for the community welfare (p. 22).
Whether Ginger‘s regular customers or Melissa‘s fellow dog-walkers share this degree of commitment to community is unknown, but unlikely. So, while certain regular interactions might contribute to a sense of community, they do not
Certainly, this claim could be challenged by members of these so-called communities, and circumstances may arise which challenge people‘s interactions and relationships, creating communities where only a sense of community existed.
Other participants described a sense of community found in volunteer organizations, neighborhoods and in the local schools. Christine Folks, mother of grown children, reported having found a sense of community during her time with the local PTA. Nate, 64, talked about the sense of community he felt when he was the parent of school-aged children, but now that his kids are grown, that sense
of community has diminished. He said:
Once your kids are grown it‘s harder to, you don‘t make as many friendships, I think, or have the occasion to make as many friendships as you did during that phase of life. And, like I said, when the kids were on ball teams, went to nursery school, they went to elementary school, they were in scouts and so in all those things you would meet with other
But, Melanie Dzwonchyk, resident of Old Town and whose kids are also grown
said she doesn‘t have to look too far to find her community in Old Town Laurel:
I really don‘t have to leave Laurel to find a party to go to, or friends to call up and say, ‗Let‘s go out to dinner.‘ Or, [there are] always volunteer opportunities, you know, a group is getting together to beautify a school.
You could volunteer to the city. There are so many places of worship and churches, and recreation departments. It supports the people that live there
For Melanie, as with many other participants, community is found in local organizations, churches, and in gatherings with friends. But, who is responsible for organizing such parties and deciding who‘s invited to the table? My participants had differing thoughts.
Who or what is responsible?
Public Officials A couple of the public officials with which I spoke claimed responsibility for helping to create and sustain community in Laurel. While Mayor Craig Moe said that he believes residents have a responsibility in the matter, the city‘s elected
officials have an obligation to lead the effort. He explained:
I think the people [make Laurel a community] … I mean you could put houses. You could put cars. You could put all sorts of structures. It‘s the people that make the community. And, it‘s up to me, you know, as the top elected official, that we make sure to continue to bring these people and these communities together.
Mike Lesczc, at-large councilmember, said that as a result of his role on council, he receives many invitations to participate in local events, and he ―[tries] to go to as many of those events‖ as he can. He also cited the Mayor‘s meetings in the parks, along with other city government sponsored events, like clean-up day at the river, and a flower sale on Main Street in May. At this event, members of council were also going to teach attendees how to construct their own rain barrel. These
community. Kristie Mills, the city administrator, agreed and said that she and her colleagues ―work hard to keep our small town feel.‖ Other participants also cited Laurel city government for having a role in creating and sustaining a sense of community in Laurel. Christine Folks, Leader columnist out of West Laurel, and Gina, college student from Old Town, noted activities like the Main Street festival, Riverfest, and Fourth of July festivities— all sponsored and organized by the city—as activities that bring people together, creating community in Laurel. Gina said that even though she isn‘t always able to attend the events each year, just knowing that they‘re continuing makes Laurel
feel more like a community. Christine Folks agreed:
I like the hometown atmosphere, I really do. Lots of people work hard to create that, you know? We have our Main Street Festival and we have, even just our little Main Street. We have a Fourth of July [parade] and I don‘t always go to them, but just knowing that they‘re there to go to is
Bob Mignon, Russett resident and owner of Minuteman Press, along with Donna Crary, Old Town lawyer and member of city council, both said that community in Laurel is sustained by a small group of individuals—city officials, volunteers, heads of local organizations—who help to plan the many activities in which residents may take part. Bob said that ―certain individuals… step up‖ and help plan activities for the rest of the people in Laurel. But, according to Donna, those people are few compared to the many who call Laurel home. When I asked
said, ―I would say four to five hundred, depending on the activity … but I think those four or five hundred people are the ones that are involved in everything.‖ Residents/Readers Several residents/readers said that being a part of a community—and thus experiencing a sense of community—is, somewhat ironically, an individual responsibility. Julie, 22-year-old college graduate from Old Town, said ―I don‘t matter to a place like Laurel unless I make myself matter, you know?‖ Pat Farmer postulated that ―maybe it‘s up to the individual‖ to create a sense of community for themselves. She continued, saying that she thought Laurel was a community because of the number of personal acquaintances she has there. Both Gina‘s and Pat‘s comments suggest that if individuals wish to have a sense of community in Laurel, they are responsible for getting involved.
Other participant‘s comments suggested this to be true as well. Melissa, 25, and relative newcomer to Laurel, said to me, ―I think if I moved here, like you, two years ago and had no association with [a Laurel organization], I would not know half the people, no I wouldn‘t know 90% of the people that I know.‖ Melissa‘s experience did not seem rare among my participants. Indeed, those who expressed the strongest sense of community in Laurel were those who were involved in one or more local organizations. A list of local organizations in which my participants‘ reported being involved can be found in Appendix 11.
Rick Wilson, local blogger, agreed that participation in local organizations is strong, and that creates what Putnam (2000) called ―social capital‖ or
and trustworthiness that arise from them‖ (p. 19). Rick said:
When you look at Putnam for degrees of community, we hit high on a lot of those. So, in the fraternal and volunteer organizations, [Laurel has] really high participation in those. The joke around here is that the fire department is a political party. The rescue squad and the fires department taken together are the number one volunteer things in the county. So, whatever either demographic, financial condition, or whatever that enables these folks to donate, some of them who donate their time are third generation, we still have some of that. We have very strong faith communities. They‘re big and go way back. […] So that grows, and those communities pull in more than the city, so it‘s broader than just the city.
Yet, Ginger Reeves, owner of Toucan Taco in Laurel, acknowledged that coming together is a necessity for community, but not something that most people make time for. When I asked her what some of her criteria for community were, she said, ―People being involved in things together consistently to build, but I think too many people are coming and going right now. [It] would be hard to have that.‖ Pat Farmer, editorial assistant for the Laurel Leader and South Laurel resident, agreed: ―Everybody is busy doing their own thing to some extent. [But] I think there‘s a lot of activities that bring people together.‖ So, Pat‘s earlier suggestion—that community is up to the individual—is plausible when considering the fact that, as several participants said, everybody is busy doing
members being ―appropriately present‖ on regular occasion (Selznick, 1992).
Journalists The Leader journalists used a variety of metaphors to describe their role and the role of the newspaper in Laurel. Melanie Dzwonchyk, editor, and David Driver, sports reporter, both likened the newspaper to a mirror, held up to the community and providing an accurate reflection of it. Gwendolyn Glenn, city government reporter, said that the role of the newspaper is to give a voice to the community, allowing not only the top officials a chance to communicate with residents, but also giving residents an opportunity to speak to one another. Still yet, Pat Farmer, editorial assistant, said that the purpose of the newspaper is to serve as an historical record of the happenings in Laurel.
None of the journalists outright said that the newspaper plays a direct role in creating or sustaining a sense of community in Laurel, though some of their indirect comments suggested that they do see themselves as having such a role.
For instance, Dan Schwind said that while he doesn‘t live in Laurel, he becomes part of the community and has an impact on it through his work as a journalist.
―When you go to the school and see articles that you‘ve written clipped up on the wall, I mean, that sort of indicates to you, ‗Hey, yeah, I‘m having an impact on this place,‘‖ said Dan. I saw similar evidence during my travels throughout Laurel. At the Mayor‘s Open House, several stands for various Laurel organizations had Leader and Gazette articles pinned up on poster boards. And Ginger Rogers, owner of Toucan Taco, had a Gazette article laminated and hung
said that the stories in the newspaper serve to ―define the community,‖ and the fact that people in the community clip articles and save them to hang on the refrigerator or place in a scrapbook suggests that the newspaper is contributing to shared knowledge and shared history—two things that scholars have shown to create a sense of community (Janowitz, 1952; Selznick, 1992; Nord, 2001).
Several of my participants who live in Laurel also agreed that the newspapers create a shared sense of local history. Lara, 67, South Laurel resident, said that the newspaper are a part of the ―intellectual life‖ of the community and help the residents to make it a better place. Doug, 76, of West Laurel, said ―Newspapers historically have been the thing that helped build community in Laurel. It brings people together to let people know about other people, and you know, you can‘t do that without a newspaper.‖ Theresa, 59, from Old Town, said that if Laurel were to lose the newspapers, it would lose its sense
of community along with its history. She said:
[Without a newspaper] I think you lose a recording of a huge amount of important history because, and I‘ve said this many times, that much of the community‘s history becomes what‘s recorded in its local paper. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of events that have happened in Laurel that we only know about because there was a story written about it in the paper. There is no other written record.
So, even if the journalists themselves do not see their work as creating community, certainly others in Laurel do. More about the newspapers‘ role in
Advertisers Advertisers had strong feelings about the local newspapers and about the role of news and advertising in creating and sustaining community. Joan Kim, owner of Main Street Pharmacy, stopped advertising in the Leader when she learned it had moved their operation to Columbia because, she said, she felt as though it was no longer supporting the local community. For business owners dependent upon local patrons, establishing themselves as part of the community is important. Joan Kim did that through offering free blood pressure screenings to the elderly at the nursing home just down the street and through promoting her business in the local newspapers. When the Leader‟s office relocated, Joan stopped advertising and began sponsoring local organizations and events through donations. She said, I think it‘s a much wiser decision to advertise yourself but in a good way, in a way that you can benefit everyone including yourself, because the community that you‘re in, most likely, the community will grow and become stronger and you know they will in turn support their local
Joan Kim‘s business certainly plays a role in the Laurel community, and Joan, while not necessarily helping to create community, works to support through her advertising strategies.
Because of its complexity, community will never be completely defined.