Many media organisations now focus on engaging their community, and a great number of them have staff members with roles such as community manager, or community coordinator.
But exactly what does ‘community’ mean and how does one organisation identify these groups, reach out to them and understand their varied interests?
At the News Impact Summit in Manchester today (2 November), the topics of conversation revolve around the phrase “the future of news is community”.
The opening panel highlighted organisations that create or enable journalism produced in closer relationship with the readers than you might see in larger, more established media outlets.
Rachel Hamada, journalist director at The Ferret, Emma Meese, manager of the Centre for Community Journalism, and Alec Saelens, media and operations coordinator at The Bristol Cable, answered questions on what they consider to be the community their organisations serve and what value their teams can bring.
No “one community”
“We define ourselves as ‘investigative journalism’ but that can put people off, so we also call ourselves ‘public interest journalism'," said Hamada of the work The Ferret does, partly financed through crowdfunding and reader contributions.
“There isn’t just ‘one’ community that we work with,” she added, explaining that there are several types:
- communities of skills, for example those with journalistic background who might want to work with The Ferret;
- communities of interest, around politics or new media;
- and communities of concern, comprised of people who are engaged with what is happening in their local area.
“It’s a very extensive picture. We serve our communities definitely, but I think the word collaboration is quite important,” she said.
The Ferret, a media co-operative focused on Scotland, involves its readers and contributors into the story selection process, and keeps them updated with developments about stories as well as general information about the organisations through an online forum.
“It’s still important that there is a sense of professionalism – not with a capital 'p' where everyone is a trained journalist, but high standards.”
Saelens also pointed out that the media should be sensitive to the class, gender, and ethnicity of their readers and understand how journalism can affect people on many levels.
“The word community could not be interpreted in the singular,” he said.
Stories from The Bristol Cable, which also operates as a media co-operative, are not aimed at a particular audience, but rather answer particular demands around content in the local area.
“Community as related to The Bristol Cable, it’s people who have a shared interest and see the value of having an independent media outlet that acts as a public asset, a public service,” he added.
The Centre for Community Journalism has set up the Independent Community News Network, a representative body for hyperlocal journalism organisations operating in the UK. Meese explained that one of the biggest misconceptions about this community is that they are “just bloggers”, while many of them are actually professional journalists who have lost their jobs in traditional media.
“We look for ways of serving our community – where are the gaps, where are people struggling, how can we help?”
Saelens highlighted professionalism as an important characteristic of The Bristol Cable team – where the founders do not have a traditional journalistic background.
“The word community has been categorised as a byword for 'a bit crap' – community does not have to be that at all. There is a real sense of professionalism that we want to bring.”
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