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Is Community Journalism Doomed by Individualism?

There is a must read article in California Magazine by Michael Zielenziger He writes in part:

Concern for the fate of our civic fabri–and what the Internet does to atomize us–s especially appropriate in a nation so defined by its radical sense of rugged individualism. If Americans believe that any person can grow rich through his or her own guts, savvy, and ambition, what gets lost when each of us retreats into our own compartmentalized and self-defined world of ear buds, individual computer screens, and remotes? Is journalism, and especially “community journalism”doomed?…

On the macro level, notes James T. Hamilton, an economist who teaches public policy at Duke University, sufficient numbers of people care enough about the state of Congress, or the direction of U.S. foreign policy, that their patronage can keep large national organs such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal attractive enough to advertisers that need to connect with the affluent and well educated. But who’s going to pay for civic-minded watchdog journalism to look out for the local community? “The greatest market failure today is local public affairs coverage,” Hamilton says. Indeed, this cycle can become rapidly and brutally vicious, as Joel Waldfogel, an applied economist at the Wharton School, has argued. His research demonstrates that as the circulation of The New York Times increases in out-of-town markets such as Denver or San Francisco, voter participation in local elections decreases, because those most interested in public affairs stop buying their local newspaper as a “second read.” Therefore, over time, they become far less involved in local affairs. The title of Waldfolgel’s research paper is “Does The New York Times Spread Ignorance and Apathy?” His answer seems to be yes.

“The identity of the local newspaper is now up for grabs,” argues Hamilton, and the traditional role of the local paper to monitor local and state institutions or businesses is increasingly at risk…


…the very same technology that breaks down the mass audience into tiny segments also allows savvy entrepreneurs to reconnect those fragment–or “aggregate” them, in new-media spea–so they again draw the eyeballs of readers and the interest of advertisers. “We’re not there yet,” Hamilton argues, “but if you can get really good at determining the preference of individual readers, then you can aggregate those preferences back up and sell it to advertisers.”

John Battelle, cofounder of Wired magazine, says:

“Are newspapers in danger? Yes,” Battelle says. But a Web-based community built from the “bottom up” can still deliver sufficient revenue, he asserts. “If you provide information or opinions that others want to read and talk about, then you have publishing that is useful as well as profitable.” Rather than having a newspaper publisher determine which news “fits” his community, the Web will allow communities to come together and determine for themselves, spontaneously, what information they want to read….

“We’re at a point of transition,” Battelle acknowledges. It’s clear the traditional model of journalism has reached its limits, and that new forms of “citizen journalism” have yet to prove themselves. “But I’m confident the problem will work itself out,” he says, pointing to the deepest human cravings for belongin–and community. “We as humans find value in gaining information and analysis about things that are important to us. We want to connect. I simply don’t believe that those core things will ever die.”

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