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Representative Journalism: A definition

Representative Journalism, a term coined by Leonard Witt, aims to build sustainable journalism one small group at a time. As mass journalism markets unbundle and become niche markets, news operations, if they are to survive, will have to join the niche movement rather than fight it. Rather than think in terms of a circulation of, let’s say, 100,000, they should think in terms of 100 niche markets of 1,000 each and form membership communities around those niches.

The centerpiece for each membership community will be the news and information tailored to each community’s needs, with a reporter and editing support devoted specifically to each community of 1,000. Online social networking, interactivity, face-to-face events will all be used to build group cohesion.

A network weaver will help to bring the groups together. The 100 individual groups can be diverse as a lawyers’ group, wanting local legally related news, to hunters to low level healthcare workers, wanting their information needs met by their own group’s Representative Journalist.

Then all these niche membership groups are aggregated under an umbrella news operation, which in turn might be aggregated further with other umbrella operations nationwide or internationally wide. Alternatively, a small town newspaper like the Anniston (Alabama) Star, a possible experimental partner, on maybe a one person operation, might add one or two reporters to it rostrum via a couple of Representative Journalism groups — or an individual might start her own local Representative Journalism community. Thinking big or small there are opportunities for everyone.

Tomorrow: How it might work in two experimental communities.

18 Responses to “Representative Journalism: A definition”

  1. Of networks, soccer parents and representative journalism « Global Vue Says:

    [...] Witt down in Georgia has some interesting ideas about representative journalism. He’s worked out the money ideas of hiring professional journalists for small interest groups [...]

  2. Periodismo Ciudadano Says:

    [...] capital de 51.000$ es el aporte inicial para esta primera prueba de la viabilidad del “periodismo representativo”, que, a grandes rasgos, propone que sean las propias comunidades (tanto geográficas como de [...]

  3. Defining “Representative Journalism” « Spot Us - The Blog Says:

    [...] – I thought I’d take a post to look at how Witt defines Representative Journalism. It is very much in-tune with Spot Us. In fact, whenever I explain Spot Us – I also bring up RepJ [...]

  4. Anybody want to buy a journalist? « Ink-Drained Kvetch Says:

    [...] practice of crowdfunding journalism — another advocate of this concept calls it “representative journalism” — is likely to increase. Especially with more and more journalists joining our ranks every [...]

  5. RepJ through the ages « Bonnie Obremski, RepJ Says:

    [...] Witt, who coined the term “representative journalism” on August 24, 2007, according to his blog, offered the following definition at that time. “News operations…will have to join the [...]

  6. “Locally grown” news gets a boost » Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism Says:

    [...] Journalism at Kennesaw State University. In his description of Representative Journalism, Witt says: As mass journalism markets unbundle and become niche markets, news operations, if they are to [...]

  7. Michael J Says:

    I apologize for the over long comment, but I think you are really on to something.

    I like to use the word “tribe” instead of community. Communities imply location as a primary characteristic. Tribe includes location but also captures movement, allegiance, temporary alliances and networks of power.

    An under appreciated property of print is that it often function as a token for a tribe. A tribal token is one operational definition of a “brand.”

    In New York City, there is a tribe of “people like us” who buy the NY Times because that’s “what people like us do.” Carrying the TImes on the subway was a signal of tribal membership. Just as having an iPod was what “people like us, do.”

    When the mass market newspaper first emerged, the most vibrant newspapers were either organs of a political tribe or of various immigrant tribes. At the time, each tribe spoke their own language. As industrialization advanced, the language of the tribes at the top of the publishing pyramid prevailed. When steam driven printing came on the scene, the mass market newspaper arrived.

    It is plausible to believe that with the new print technologies that are now coming on line, print newspapers will regain their place. Once it is practical to do versioned newspapers for each of the communities/tribes you describe, new revenue streams are made available.

    I believe that once all the pieces you describe are put in place and streams of revenue start flowing, Representative Journalism will scale. Local ads for local organizations/business can be a pretty easy sell.

    But only if they can see their ads in printed newspaper that is present in their local environment and is seen as the token of “people like us” . “People like us, shop in stores like this.” The web ad is the “nice to have” for a local business. The print ad is the “must have” to make the sale easy.

    I look forward to a good discussion.

  8. “Locally-grown” news gets a boost Says:

    [...] Journalism at Kennesaw State University. In his description of Representative Journalism, Witt says: As mass journalism markets unbundle and become niche markets, news operations, if they are to [...]

  9. Terry Steichen Says:

    The idea of focusing on location-specific niche markets, and then having the means to aggregate them, makes sense, at first glance. However, there needs to be a value to the aggregation, and I’m unclear just what that is expected to be.

    You could apply a similar logic by moving top-down. You could filter a broad stream of news to extract only that which is relevant to specific local markets. This could complement the bottom-up approach that is used to describe “Representative Journalism.”

    But while you’re at it, why not focus on a more generalized niche-oriented approach (as opposed to seeking to target a mass market)? Why not focus on specific topic areas (in additional to specific locales)? You might have a reporter that is familiar with a topic or so, and that could be augmented by citizen journalists recruited from those who are passionate about some particular topic.

  10. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, un proyecto de periodismo representativo – Periodismo Ciudadano Says:

    [...] dice el JJIE es fruto de su concepto de Periodismo Representativo, que anima a utilizar a periodistas profesionales para cubrir los nichos de información [...]

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About RJ

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    Leonard Witt

    Leonard Witt is the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger at

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  • A Definition

    Representative Journalism, a term coined by Leonard Witt, aims to build sustainable journalism one small group at a time.

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