October 17, 2011

COMJIG response

What follows below is my e-mail to the Council of Divisions about its written report following the COMJIG interview with COD reps this past August in St. Louis.


> Hello Tony,
> I'd like to take a bit of your time to respond to the report "AEJMC
> Assessment of the Community Journalism Interest Group." The report
> came out of the oral interview the Council of Divisions
> representatives had with Andris Straumanis and me back in August in
> St. Louis. I consulted with past and present COMJIG officers and we
> would like you and the committee and the COD to know our thoughts.
> To be honest, we were surprised by the report. Personally, I thought
> it was negative and that the last line, "AEJMC should closely examine
> whether the group's status should be renewed" was threatening.
> I thought that Andris and I stated quite well why COMJIG's original
> mission and charge has changed and grown. The committee seemed to be
> asking us to continue to define ourselves along the old model of
> COMJIG being the "small newspaper" interest group/division. It's true
> that COMJIG grew out of the Newspaper Division (as a founding member I
> remember the meetings quite well), but COMJIG has had to grow with
> technology. Thus, we feel that we have to be the group that is open to
> all. COMJIG isn't just about the legacy media communicating with the
> audience along the traditional gatekeeper model, it also has to
> incorporate the non-traditional media seeking a dialogue with the
> audience ­ textual and non-textual. Being hyperlcoal has to include broadcasting, the 'Net, etc.
> Andris and I were asked what separates COMJIG from the Civic and
> Citizen Journalism Interest Group. So, then, I'd like to answer that
> question again by pointing out our call for papers for the past
> several years, which I and other officers helped write:
> The Community Journalism Interest Group (COMJIG) is interested in
> research focused on any and all aspects of community journalism. We
> emphasize that community need not just be defined as within
> traditional geographical or social boundaries, but that given
> technological advances it may also be applied to journalism and its relationship to communities of interest online.
> Our goal is to identify and present original, meaningful research that
> advances the understanding of the role of journalists and news
> organizations as members of communities, geographic or digital. We
> have particular interest in issues unique to those situations where as
> a function of geography or technology the community and news
> organization tend to be or have the potential to become highly engaged.
> I believe from that it's obvious that COMJIG isn¹t really about
> citizen journalism, per se. The key is that COMJIG is the place where
> people can discuss both "community" and "journalism" at a critical
> juncture of the media history timeline.
> Two new books, "Foundations of Community Journalism," by Bill Reader
> (former COMJIG head) and John Hatcher (current COMJIG program chair
> and vice head), and "Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories From Small
> Towns," make the distinction better than I do. Each also points out
> the distinction between community and citizen journalism. The latter
> book reports what many of us have noted for a few years now, that
> community journalism is the bright spot in traditional journalism,
> having been less affected by the digital transformation than
> metropolitan media. But it also must adapt to the digital era, and
> much of the research and service activity of COMJIG members is
> directed to that end. Also, the current issue of AJR has an article that places "hyperlocal" news sites (as more and more spring up) in context with community journalism.
> There is also a new journal put out by the Texas Center for Community
> Journalism that is now looking into key research on community
> journalism and it is partnering with COMJIG. And there is also the
> Convergence Newsletter run out of the University of South Carolina
> that highlights some community journalism efforts since convergence
> levels the playing field between the daily monopolies on the block and
> community news organizations, print and broadcast and websites.
> I would also note that we are trying to address some of the issues
> raised in the report. For example, the report says we (and all
> divisions and IGs
> actually) have to be more aware of diversity. We are thinking about
> this when we seek paper judges and panel members. Going hand-in-hand
> with that are recruitment efforts to draw in a more diverse group,
> both in their research interests and in their backgrounds.
> We also:
> * Have plans in the works for a syllabus exchange. It will likely be on our
> Yahoo page.
> * Are trying to drive traffic to the blog and our Facebook page where we
> can communicate better and more efficiently.
> * Are looking into "recruiting" grad students at either the mid-year in
> Oklahoma in March or the Southeast Colloquium (also in March) in
> Virginia. As a former COMJIG officer put it, we're probably better
> able to help budding scholars because our smaller size can easily
> translate into more care and nurturance of grad students than some of the larger divisions.
> * Are working to increase our research presence by having the vice chair
> and research chair "recruit" people. For example, when I was research
> chair I sent out a couple e-mails a day to those who had presented at
> AEJMC in the past reminding them that we existed. We can also deepen
> our research presence by having a stronger push for research papers
> and panels that couple with other divisions and interest groups and
> which look at both the research aspects of our field, as well as
> issues of diversity and international comparisons of community journalism.
> * Will get better with our blog postings.
> Taken all together I think that we not only stated our case clearly in St.
> Louis, but are working on necessarily expanding our core mission. The
> lack of research papers may not show this, but we can concentrate on,
> say, PF&R and/or teaching to validate our presence, as was mentioned at the meeting in St.
> Louis.

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