September 29, 2011

Some thoughts about COMJIG from AEJMC

I post this to solicit comments from members about COMJIG. We recently went through an assessment process and then the top officers met with an AEJMC team that interpreted our self-assessment and they, in turn, made some suggestions. But it's the very last line that may cause some concern.

I've asked other COMJIG officers for their views and all agree that we need to do more on diversity, but then we seem to differ. Officers say the report can be viewed as either a wake-up call to do more and do it better, to keep doing what we're doing and do more reaching out, or to provide AEJMC with a remedial education on what COMJIG is all about. Please read over the following report and comment on what you think it means for COMJIG, as well as any thoughts on what we can do more of, &/or how we can do things better.


AEJMC Assessment of the Community Journalism Interest Group (2006-2011)

2010-11 Assessment Committee members: Tony DeMars, Council of Divisions; Marianne Barrett, Standing Committee on Teaching; Ann Hollifield, Standing Committee on Research; and Randall Beam, Standing Committee on Professional Freedom and Responsibility.

I. Overview: The Community Journalism Interest Group (COMJIG) was formed in 2004 and in its early years was quite strong. Its status was renewed in 2007 and that year, the group created a 24-page teaching booklet, “Community as a Teaching Resource” and collaborated with other groups and divisions on panels. In 2008 the group had five PF&R sessions including a mini-plenary. Currently though, the group faces some challenges. Perhaps the most significant in terms of its long-term prospects is the confusion over its mission and its ability to differentiate itself from the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group.
Over the past five years, COMJIG has co-sponsored a number of activities with Civic and Citizen Journalism including the annual J-Lab luncheon. The two groups have discussed merging, but have decided to remain separate. When asked by the assessment team what its mission is, the group’s officers were not clear. They seemed to be defining community very broadly—ethnic, religious, geographical and other communities. The team suggested the group narrow its focus, and concentrate on becoming specialists in what it means to be a community. COMJIG, like many other AEJMC divisions and interest groups, also needs to devote attention to improving its diversity. In 2010-2011 there was no ethnic diversity among the group’s officers, panelists, moderators or discussants. Further, there is only one woman officer. Women, have, however, served as paper judges (3), panelists (3) and moderators (1).

II. Research: COMJIG has consistently struggled with research paper submissions. It received 12 in 2010, but only 8 in 2011. The difficulty in attracting submissions may in part be due to the confusion over what the group is and how it differs from Civic and Citizen Journalism. The assessment team offered the group several suggestions for bolstering the number of submissions, many of which are linked to focusing on what it means to be a community. The team also suggested the group consider participating in the mid-winter conference as a way of raising its research profile, particularly among graduate students.

III. Teaching: Over the last five years, COMJIG has largely focused on Teaching and PF&R, alternately between the two one year to the next. It has occasionally devoted some of limited programming slots to research. Most notably, in 2006-2007, COMJIG participated in a mini-plenary in which its contribution was “Community as a Resource.” As noted in the overview, the group compiled a 24-page booklet that provided teaching tips. In 2010 COMJIG co-sponsored three panels on teaching. The group has as one of its goals a syllabus sharing clearinghouse. Outside of the convention, the group produces a blog and each officer is responsible for posting to the blog at least once a month.

IV. Professional Freedom and Responsibility: As noted above, because of its limited number of programming slots, COMJIG focuses on PF&R and Teaching in alternating years. In 2011, it concentrated on PF&R with a particular emphasis on public service. Among its activities was co-sponsorship of the J-Lab luncheon, something it has done for the last several years, and was sole sponsor of a panel on community newspapers’ efforts to move content online. The group also launched a survey of state newspaper and broadcast associations and ethnic community news organizations to get input on how COMJIG and the academy could better serve the industry. Although the group is to be commended for its efforts in this regard, the assessment team wondered about the efficacy of the survey especially given the group’s limited resources. In its 2010 report, COMJIG noted its “orientation as a bridge between the academic and professional worlds means much of what we do has PF&R aspects. . .” That orientation is clearly reflected in the group’s activities.

V. General Comments and Suggestions:
The Community Journalism Interest Group seems to be at a crossroads. It continues to struggle with attracting paper submissions, has seen turnover in its membership, although its membership seems to have stabilized somewhat in 2011, and is having difficulty clearly defining its mission and differentiating itself from the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group. The group recognizes the need to recruit new members who can help revitalize the group. The assessment team suggested narrowing what the group is trying to do and focusing on becoming specialists in what it means to be a community. The group should also make an effort to reach out to women and people of color. The team suggested finding a place in the group’s officer ranks for everyone who volunteers to review papers or perform other tasks during the year. To date, except for its blog, the group does not participate in any out -of-convention activities. The team suggested the group consider participating in mid-winter as a way of raising its research profile and attracting paper submissions, especially from graduate students. Given the group’s challenges, particularly with respect to its mission, AEJMC should closely examine whether the group’s status should be renewed.

1 comment:

Jack Rosenberry said...

The AEJMC review panel seems especially concerned about overlap of COMJIG and CCJIG. As a past officer in both groups, maybe I can offer some perspective in terms of ideas for defining the separation of the two.

In 2008 I was responsible for writing the CCJIG renewal petion, which said in part:

"CCJIG’s unique purpose is its exclusive focus on the role and purposes of audience-centric journalism in the contemporary media mix, especially as it relates to members of the journalistic audience connecting with one another with or without professional facilitation. ... Examination of audience-created content certainly could fall within the missions of numerous other groups within the association, such as Comm-Tech, which includes a great deal of Internet-related work in its purview. The particular niche CCJIG fills, however, is an exclusive focus on the journalistic aspects of these presentations.

"Most audience-created and audience-presented content is technologically enabled through the Internet, of course. And while this Internet content has substantial impacts on media and society that are worthy of scholarly interest, most of these presentations through outlets such as blogs or YouTube videos are not journalistic in nature. Thus, CCJIG fills a niche not met by other AEJMC groups because in examining these activities because CCJIG has audience-created journalism as its sole province whereas other units go well beyond journalism interests.

"Also, while other units within AEJMC such as the Newspaper Division and Community Journalism Interest Group have interests related to journalism, they also have different missions that would exclude some of the activities that fall under CCJIG’s purview. Research or PF&R activities about so-called hyper-local news sites, for instance, would fall outside Newspaper’s realm of coverage since such journalism is not presented by traditional newspaper operations. COMJIG likewise exists to serve a mission focused more on professional expressions of community coverage, which does not necessarily include the type of participatory, audience-content-creation activities upon which CCJIG focuses."

I know CCJIG right now is again rethinking its focus, perhaps even considering a name change to emphasize the participatory aspect of its mission. (See newsletter at ) Perhaps that becomes a point of departure for helping distinguish the two groups more precisely.