November 24, 2010

A call for giving weekly papers their due

In the Summer 2010 issue of American Journalism, Beth H. Garfrerick issues a call for researchers to give weekly newspapers special separate recognition.

Unfortunately, full text is not available except through the expensive EBSCO database, and since it is in the Research Notes, it's not even in the limited PDF of abstracts available on the AJHA site. But a few excerpts:

The history of community weekly newspapers in the United States has been largely ignored in spite of the fact that for much of the twentieth century, weeklies far outnumbered dailies and served a larger population. I believe it is time that we give weeklies their due, appreciating and exploring the role that these strong local voices played in our country’s history and recognizing them as an important feature in the history of journalism.

She notes that journalism historians have traditionally applied a "developmental" context to weeklies, seeing them as inferior, "as nothing more than smaller, low-quality versions of their larger daily counterparts." But, she writes:

I would argue, however, that the professional, developmental perspective is not the proper one to apply in evaluating community weeklies. Because of the inherently “localized” nature of the community weekly, the accepted standards of “professional” practices in journalism do not apply in full to community weeklies. They differ in content, context, and purpose from daily newspapers, responding to the specific needs of residents in sparsely populated regions. Despite the fact that most journalism history works have considered weeklies and dailies together when referring to newspapers, weekly community newspapers deserve a category of their own and attention rather than avoidance when it comes to explaining the role of newspapers in everyday lives.

Journalism historians should consider community weeklies more seriously as an important part of journalism history because they reflect the cultural, political, and technological changes taking place in American life.
Garfrerick also discusses the differences between suburban and traditional community weeklies, and their different economic roles in their communities (traditional community weeklies sought to keep shoppers at home; suburbans benefited from ads from large retailers in shopping centers and downtowns) And she concludes:

Journalism historians should consider community weeklies more seriously because these small-town publications reflect in a more personal way the cultural, political, and technological changes experienced in American life. Thus, community weeklies are worthy of taking their respective places among the pages of journalism history. For without the story of America’s small-town newspapers,
that history remains incomplete.

It's a well-written explanation of why weeklies - and by extension community journalism - are important. If you can get your hands on it, I recommend reading it.

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