«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
Communication in community life According to Carey (1989), ritual communication ―conceives [of] communication as a process through which a shared culture is created, modified, and transformed.‖ The notion of ritual communication provides the theoretical 3 The survey did not explicate how ―daily‖ or ―weekly‖ were defined.
journalism (p. 43). Typically thought of as a means of moving bits of information across space, the transmission model of communication conceives of it as a mechanism for sending and receiving information. The transmission model puts a premium on sending greater amounts of information more quickly and more efficiently across greater space. Carey‘s ritual view of communication suggests that communication—both interpersonal and mediated—is not simply a means to transmit information, but rather a ritual that draws ―persons together in fellowship and commonality‖ (p. 43).
In a ritual definition, communication is linked to terms such as ‗sharing,‘ ‗participation,‘ ‗association,‘ ‗fellowship,‘ and ‗the possession of a common faith.‘ This definition exploits the ancient identity and common roots of the term ‗commonness,‘ ‗communion,‘ ‗community,‘ and ‗communication.‘ A ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of
Carey‘s ritual theory makes clear that conversation and communication are the elements that make community possible. A sense of community is created and sustained through the process of communicating—whether face to face or through media. Citizens must share things in common as well as be actively engaged— talking with one another—to make community work. Furthermore, Carey‘s ritual theory suggests that people cannot communicate effectively if they do not
than that which forces them apart. This means, when applied to community journalism, reporting good news as well as bad news. An emphasis on sharing need not mean reaching consensus on controversial issues in the community, but rather a willingness to engage meaningfully with one another on the basis of some basic shared beliefs; understanding that despite differences (and differences of opinion) people all have some fundamental goals and values and based on that, they can find ways to work together to resolve problems and challenges.
Dewey (1927)—a scholar whose work significantly influenced Carey‘s thinking—argued that true ―local communal life becomes a reality‖ only through face-to-face communication, or conversation (p. 218). Discussing the superiority of conversation versus publication, he argued Vision is a spectator; hearing is a participator. Publication is partial and the public which results is partially informed and formed until the meanings it purveys pass from mouth to mouth. There is no limit to the liberal expansion and confirmation of limited personal intellectual endowment which may proceed from the flow of social intelligence when that circulates by word of mouth from one to another in the communications of the local community … But that intelligence is dormant and its communications are broken, inarticulate and faint until it possesses the local community as its medium (p. 219, emphasis added).
Years earlier, in 1916, however, Dewey argued that
than a man ceases to be socially influenced by being so many feet or miles removed from others. A book or a letter may institute a more intimate association between human being separated thousands of miles from each other than exists between dwellers under the same roof (quoted in Barney,
Dewey flip-flopped here; but he made two interesting arguments, both of which have merit and modern-day relevance. Speech and conversation, as well as mediated forms of communication, are both very important to community communication. Park (1922) demonstrated this point in his study of the immigrant press in America, where he argued that the ―mother tongue is the natural basis of human association and organization‖ (p. 5). Immigrants who came to America organized their lives and formed their communities on the basis of the language they spoke.
Our great cities, as we discover upon close examination, are mosaics of little language colonies, cultural enclaves, each maintaining its separate communal existence within the wider circle of the city‘s cosmopolitan life.
Each one of these little communities is certain to have some sort of cooperative or mutual aid society, very likely a church, a school, possibly a theater, but almost invariably a press (p. 6-7).
Park pointed to the importance of interpersonal as well as mediated communication in immigrant communities, but more importantly to the significance of a local language, where members of a community share a common
crucial if one is to function fully in a community context. As a result, such a distinction is important in the context of community communication.
Carey (1997c) argued that ―all ritual begins … in the gridless ambience of conversation‖ but resisted Dewey‘s 1927 insistence on face-to-face conversation by suggesting that such ritual [face-to-face communication], of course, can be displaced (abbreviated, transformed, resituated) in secondary, mediated forms.
However, these forms—the printing press, television, the Internet—do not so much create communities as remind us of communities elsewhere embodied in first-order ritual and conversation (p. 315).
The two scholars make a similar point—that true community life has its foundation in face-to-face interactions and personal discussions and that mediated communication cannot create community, but rather point to ones that already exist in real life. This point, however, has been a matter for debate.
New communication technologies New communication technologies, like the Internet, have in some cases, proved otherwise. Several of these technologies have either supported existing communities or fostered new ones through their channels. New communication technologies allow relationships to form where previously—without such technologies—such relationships were difficult, if not impossible. Rakow (1992) studied women‘s use of the telephone in a small Midwestern community. She found that ―women‘s talk holds together the fabric of the community, building
(p. 34). In Rakow‘s case, the telephone supplemented or supported an existing community. Rakow found that the talk the women did on the telephone did not replace the importance of actual get-togethers and found that the women‘s use of the telephone was closely linked to their location and mobility (or lack thereof).
Several of the women she interviewed lived away from their families (because of their husbands‘ work or choice to live in a different location). Rakow found that the telephone may ease the separation from family and friends; it may help transcend the restricted mobility of those confined by small children, the illness of their husbands or other relatives, old age, disabilities or even fear; but it does not solve these problems. A telephone is not an equal substitute for a full, secure, purposeful life among others. Indeed, in some respects the use of the telephone in these cases should be seen as symptom—of isolation, loneliness, boredom, or fear—rather than as a cure
Apple, Inc. might disagree with Rakow. The powerhouse technology company recently took Rakow‘s understanding of the ways a telephone provides connection to physically disconnected people to a whole new level with iPhone 4‘s ―FaceTime,‖ which allows cell phone callers not only to hear the person on the other end of the line, but also to see them. Apple described the new feature
People have been dreaming about video calling for decades. iPhone 4 makes it a reality. With the tap of a button, you can wave hello to your
at your stories — iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 or to the new iPod touch over WiFi. No other phone makes staying in touch this much fun (FaceTime).
Apple, with this latest breakthrough in telephone technology, relies on the notion that virtual connections are real connections, and while they are a substitution for physical connection, they are no less real simply because they are virtual.
Wellman (2001) seemed to confirm Rakow‘s findings in his discussion of individuals who stay connected through technological or virtual networks, saying ―well-connected people [feel] lonely because of the lack of physically-present community members‖ (p. 243). Yet, Wellman argued that communities should be defined socially rather than spatially.
He said contemporary communities are not limited to neighborhoods anymore, as people achieve and maintain relationships outside of their neighborhoods ―through phoning, writing, driving, railroading, transiting, and flying‖ (2001, p. 233). Since the advent of the telephone, and as Wellman pointed out, other communication and transportation technologies have emerged, which play a role in community life. One of the most recent of those developments is the Internet, which made the creation of virtual communities possible. William Gibson, the science fiction novelist who in his 1982 novel Burning Chrome also coined the word ―cyberspace,‖ said in a 2007 Rolling Stone interview that in the near future, the line between the virtual and the real will become blurred. ―One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the
literally impossible‖ (Leonard, 2007).
But, at present, scholars of community are still making the distinctions. In ―geographically dispersed virtual communities,‖—communities that have no roots in physical place—―participants … have strong interpersonal feelings of belonging, being wanted, obtaining important resources and have a shared identity‖ (Hollander, 2002, p. 32, paraphrasing Blanchard and Horan; Wellman, 2001, p. 247). They are formed by individuals using the tools made possible by the Internet. In geographically dispersed virtual communities, members may never actually ―meet‖ one another or interact in a face-to-face manner. But, Wellman argued that members of these communities ―are truly in cyberplaces, and not just cyberspaces‖ (Wellman, 2001, p. 247). Cyberspace is ―a medium by which people arrange things and fill in the gaps between meetings‖ (Wellman, 2001, p. 247). It has also been defined as ―the online world of computer networks‖ (Cyberspace). But, cyberspaces become cyberplaces, according to Wellman, when frequented by community members more often than they frequent physical communities. In these cyberplaces, participants have ―strong interpersonal feelings of belonging, being wanted, obtaining important resources and having a shared identity‖ (Wellman, 2001, p. 247).
Much like geographically-based places, cyberplaces become meeting places for members to interact with one another, much like physical ―third spaces‖ (Oldenberg, 2001). But, like even geographically-based places, not all cyberspaces become cyberplaces. Rather, in some instances, the Internet has
―Physically based virtual communities‖ form as a result of an existing physical community and support, rather than create an entirely new, community (Hollander, 2002, p. 32, paraphrasing Blanchard and Horan).
This study of two Maryland weeklies is most concerned with the use of internet communication technologies (ICTs) to support physically-based communities, though further exploration of virtual communities is warranted, since all forms of media have the potential to support or sustain community communication, whether via ―old‖ or ―new‖ forms. Several studies, like Rakow‘s research on telephone, have shown this potential. Cell phones (Wei & Lo, 2006), email discussion lists (Hampton, 2007), and online newspaper message forums (Rosenberry, 2010) have all been shown to help sustain relationships and, in doing so, create a sense of community among users. Even as technologies continue to advance, making it easier to stay in touch without actually being close enough to touch, and as local communities grow too big for all residents to personally know one another, both ―old‖ and ―new‖ forms of mediated communication have the potential to provide interaction that at worst facilitates a separate and secondary community, and at best, inspires real community on a personal, face-to-face level. The next section examines some of the most important and influential works demonstrating how ―old‖ media—specifically newspapers—have helped to sustain community.