Missing the (small) boat

(the following post was given to me by Chris Waddle, VP/News of The Anniston Star and President of The Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism. He can be reached at chris_36207 at hotmail.com

Good as this conference is, Mediamorphosis neglects the beauty of community journalism. Heartland media – print and broadcast – present a ready digital market for participatory journalism. When the reader or viewer can walk into a county seat newsroom and tell off the editor or manager, goes one definition, that’s community journalism. Blogging is just the electrification of personal feedback already going on. The courthouse café is unwired at present but is a vigorous chat room on issues from the election to Friday night combat by the local high school football team. Beauty parlors seethe with local commentary, waiting for a virtual microphone. Subscribers already know the news from all the town’s many listening posts. They just buy the paper to see if the local clarion gets it right. So draft all those citizen-journalists into a digital reporting and picture-taking system! Why, do you know they even have cell phones on Main Street? Romanesko reported more Americans now use the Internet than cable TV. That digital shift moves sluggishly in rural America. Still, opportunity beckons information companies where the grass grows green. Nimble, small media outfits know how to work on the cheap and don’t bother with all the bureaucratic barriers bothering huge communication corporations. Phone companies ought to partner with small papers and stations to develop virtual audiences and to promote their broadband services. Scaled-down markets add up. The smalls tap energy of young staff who want to take on an electronic project in exchange for the experience and autonomy. And mainly they are already doing conversational journalism. At my 30k-circ paper, The Anniston Star, community writers get a star printed by their best letters-to-the-editor. The publisher then invites them to an annual banquet for vigorous reinforcement of relational journalism. Best practices like that abound in every quarter. Such fertile ground begs for online networking. And it wouldn’t come as mere threat response, creating so much anguish in metro markets. We Media thinking in the countryside reinforces the local franchise, consolidates community feeling that’s already thriving and adds value rather than merely rescuing a media company from future shock. Citizen-journalists call and send in their local news tidbits now. The social architecture of customer-driven media merely waits for editors and producers to digitalize and tantalize their participatory audiences. Rejoice, rejoice you knowledge managers! Community journalism has a handy tool.

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