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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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Limitations One of the biggest and most unfortunate limitations of this research was the fact that I was denied access to Gazette editors and reporters. 55 The two newspapers in Laurel are quite different. The Leader is older and considered to be the ―hometown‖ newspaper‖ by many participants. The Gazette is relatively new to Laurel and has clearly changed the media landscape in Laurel by providing residents with an alternative option for local news. Not being able to talk with editors and reporters from The Gazette leaves many important perspectives undiscovered. My interview with Gazette publisher, Frank Abbott, was also very brief and he was somewhat curt. The Gazette‟s lack of cooperation and transparency calls into question its motivations as a community newspaper in Laurel. Participating in this research would have allowed editors and reporters of both newspapers to learn more about how their work is perceived by the community. Doing so would also have allowed for a better understanding of how The Gazette‟s editors and journalists understand their roles and responsibilities as 55 Melanie Dzwonchyk said upon review of a draft that she felt the dissertation was ―unfair‖ to the Leader because the omission of interviews with Gazette reporters ―leads to an omission of analysis of how those reporters see their position as community journalists, and also how the community feels about the job the Gazette staff is doing.‖ However, participants were given equal opportunity to talk about the performance of both newspapers and, on the whole, participants talked more and with more depth about the Leader, which most regarded as the ―hometown‖ paper. Mike McLaughlin, former neighborhood columnist for the Leader agreed that The Gazette‟s refusal to participate was unfortunate. He added: ―Their silence speaks louder than anything Mr. Abbott said, and I think you did a pretty good job interpreting that silence while not dwelling on it.‖

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hole.

Also limiting this research was the short window of time I had to conduct my fieldwork. Studying a community is challenging, especially one as large as Laurel. More time would have allowed for more interviews, garnering a larger sample and collection of data.

Finally, while snowball sampling was effective in garnering me more participants, it often led me to ―civic leaders‖—―people who hold recognized civic positions within the community‖—and ―connectors‖—―people who move in between organizations and civic conversations [and] … often have no official capacity‖ (Doing Civic Journalism). Efforts at placing flyers around town as well as posting recruitment messages on Craigslist and a Laurel listserv proved largely unsuccessful. A research budget would have allowed for better advertising and participant compensation. I suspect that people who did agree to participate were not motivated by compensation and that having offered compensation would not significantly have enlarged numbers of participants. That said, I would have hoped to have had greater variety among participants, and especially that I had been able to recruit more young people, Hispanics, and others less active in community organizations in Laurel.

Future research This project has provided a number of inspiring ideas for future research in the area of community journalism. This study could be replicated in a variety of towns and cities across the United States in order to gather a more

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nationally. Doing so could provide an interesting look at not only where community newspapers stand presently, but also where they need to go as they move forward and as journalists strive to reinvent their craft to meet digital standards and requirements. Furthermore, a close examination of the relationship between the fiscal status of community newspapers and that of the towns they cover could provide fascinating insight into the role newspapers play in defining and sustaining these places.

More study is needed in the area of digital community journalism, including a more comprehensive and probing look at the role of blogs, listservs, Twitter and Facebook accounts in delivering news and information as well as providing social connections among community members.56 I did not intentionally set out to address issues of community blogging with this research, but instead happened upon G. Rick Wilson. My three hour conversation with him alone—along with our recurrent email exchanges—was enough to inspire ten more dissertations on community journalism in the digital era. He is helping to invent the future of community blogging and researchers could learn a great deal from his kind.57 Indeed, a rich field of study exists at the intersection of traditional news organizations and local bloggers/citizen journalists. As traditional news organizations are forced to deliver more news faster and with fewer resources, 56 Since this research was conducted in early 2009, Patch.com has entered the community journalism scene in Laurel, as discussed in Chapter 7. Its introduction may alter entirely the landscape of community journalism there.

57 Upon review of a draft, Mike McLaughlin said that my observation about Wilson inventing the future of community blogging was ―right on the money.‖

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and how community newspapers are working hand in hand with local bloggers and citizen journalists could provide invaluable insight into ways traditional news organizations can reinvent their business models.





Conclusion This study has provided an interesting look at a town, its citizens, and its newspapers. Laurel, Maryland was an excellent backdrop for a study of community and community journalism. Laurel is a distinctive American town and provided an interesting opportunity for the examination of the role of community news in creating and sustaining community. Though distinctive, Laurel and its weeklies presented many of the same challenges faced by others American towns and newspapers. The findings of this research have the potential to impact the state of community journalism in Laurel and elsewhere, especially at a time when the newspaper industry is in flux. While not necessarily generalizable, the findings of this research are certainly transferable to other communities where community journalism exists. The findings are especially transferable to communities where community journalism is struggling, either as a result of financial constraints or competition. Community journalism is a rich scholarly field and worthy of further examination. Citizens need good community journalism that serves a watchdog function but also a ritual function that works to create and sustain community in towns like Laurel all across the country.

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Seeking participants for research on opinions of Laurel media. Must live or work in Laurel. Participation is voluntary. Minimal time commitment (one interview).

Must be 18+. Call or email Lindsey at 240-294-4459 or laurelmediaproject@gmail.com.

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PHONE MESSAGE

Hi. Thanks for calling for more information about the Laurel Media Project. My name is Lindsey and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland. I am studying the relationship between communities and media and I am using Laurel, Maryland as a case study. If you currently live or work in Laurel and are 18 years of age or older, I would love to talk with you. You need not be an avid news reader to participate. Your participation is voluntary and your time commitment will be a 60-90 minute interview should you agree to participate. If you would like to participate or learn even more about the project, please leave me your name, telephone number and the best time to reach you, and I will return your call promptly. Thanks for your interest.

EMAIL MESSAGE

Thanks for emailing for more information about the Laurel Media Project. My name is Lindsey and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland. I am studying the relationship between communities and media and I am using Laurel, Maryland as a case study. If you currently live or work in Laurel and are 18 years of age or older, I would love to talk with you. Your participation is voluntary and your time commitment will be a 60-90 minute group interview should you agree to participate. If you‘d like to learn even more about the project, please reply, providing your telephone number and general availability for an interview. Thanks for your interest.

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Questions for Readers COMMUNITY/LAUREL  How long have you lived in Laurel?

 If you had to define or describe Laurel to an outsider, how would you describe it?

o How does Laurel compare to other places around it, like Columbia, for instance?

o How does Laurel compare to Washington D.C. and/or Baltimore?

o How does it compare with other places you‘ve lived in the past?

 When you refer to Laurel, in your mind do you make distinctions between Laurel ―city‖ and the outer parts of Laurel (like North Laurel, West Laurel, Montpelier, Russett)?

 What are the attributes of Laurel that you like/appreciate? What, if anything, don‘t you like about it?

 How would you describe the people that live in Laurel? What are they like?

 Are you involved in any clubs or organizations in Laurel?

 Is Laurel a place you plan to stay long-term? Why? Why not?

 Do you consider Laurel to be a community? Why/why not?

NEWS IN LAUREL

 (If new to Laurel) Were the newspapers helpful in your adjustment to living in Laurel? Can you give an example?

 How do you stay connected to/informed about what‘s going on in Laurel?

(Do you care what‘s going on in Laurel? If yes, what makes you care? If no, why don‘t you care?)  What kind of information (about Laurel) is important to you? Where do you get that info?

 What kind of media do you use most frequently?

 If/When you get the weekly newspapers, where do they land in your house? How long do you keep them around?

o How are they delivered?

 When you pick up either the Leader or The Gazette, what are you expecting to see?

 Do you like the weekly papers in Laurel?

o What do you like about the Leader? The Gazette?

 Are there any specific features about the paper you particularly enjoy?

o What don‘t you like about those papers?

o Do you ever go online to read the papers?

 Has your name ever been in the paper?

o How often does the paper mention someone you know?

355  Are the advertisements useful to you? Do you ever clip coupons, or visit a store you saw mentioned in the newspaper?

 Do you ever talk to people about what you read in the weekly papers?

 Have you ever written a letter to the editor? What prompted you to do so?

 Do you know who owns the weekly newspapers? Where the offices are?

 Are the newspapers important to Laurel? To your life in Laurel?

Questions for Journalists (at the Laurel Leader) ROLE  How did you become a journalist in Laurel?

 What are your responsibilities? How do you meet them?

COMMUNITY/LAUREL  Do you live in Laurel? (Have you ever lived in Laurel?)  If you had to define or describe Laurel to an outsider, how would describe it?

o How does Laurel compare to other places around it, like Columbia, for instance?

o How does Laurel compare to Washington D.C. and/or Baltimore?

o How does it compare with other places you‘ve lived (covered) in the past?

 When you refer to Laurel, in your mind do you make distinctions between Laurel ―city‖ and the outer parts of Laurel (like North Laurel, West Laurel, Montpelier, Russett)?

 What are the attributes of Laurel that you like/appreciate? What, if anything, don‘t you like about it?

 How would you describe the people that live in Laurel? What are they like?

 Are you involved in any clubs or organizations in Laurel?

 Is Laurel a place you plan to stay—either as a resident or workingprofessional—long-term? Why/Why not?

 Do you consider Laurel to be a community? Why/why not?

 As a journalist, do you feel as though you are part of the Laurel community?

NEWS IN LAUREL

 As a journalist covering your section of Laurel, how would you define your responsibilities?

 How did you learn what those responsibilities were?

 What are the values held by the people you cover? How do those values affect the work you do?

 What kind of stories do you look for? Where do you get story ideas?

 How often do stories you know of go untold? Why? Can you give an example?

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NEWS AND POLITICS

 What is the relationship between the local newspapers and the Laurel government like?

 Can you think of an example of an interaction with a local government official that went well? Where there was a misunderstanding?

Questions for Neighborhood Columnists (at the Laurel Leader)

ON BEING A COLUMNIST

 How did you become a columnist? What do you like best about being a columnist? (Least?)  How do you decide what to write about in your column?

 Is the Laurel Leader a forum for regular people in Laurel to express themselves? For example, had you written letters to the editor a lot before becoming a columnist?

 Are you paid to write your column?

COMMUNITY/LAUREL  Where in Laurel do you live?

 If you had to define or describe Laurel to an outsider, what words would you use?

o How does Laurel compare to other places around it, like Columbia, for instance?

o How does Laurel compare to Washington D.C. and/or Baltimore?

o How does it compare with other places you‘ve lived (covered) in the past?

 When you refer to Laurel, in your mind do you make distinctions between Laurel ―city‖ and the outer parts of Laurel (like North Laurel, West Laurel, Montpelier, Russett)?

 What are the attributes of Laurel that you like/appreciate? What, if anything, don‘t you like about it?

 How would you describe the people that live in Laurel? What are they like?

 Are you involved in any clubs or organizations in Laurel?



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