July 05, 2012

International weekly editors' group offers COMJIG members access to its Hotline, hoping to start a working relationship

Beginning a cooperative relationship that could pay substantial dividends, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has agreed to give COMJIG members access to the ISWNE Hotline, where some of the more thoughtful and dedicated weekly editors in the English-speaking world discuss editorial policies, ethical issues, management questions and just about anything that means something to editors of weekly papers.

The ISWNE Board of Directors voted at the group’s annual conference last week to give Hotline access to COMJIG members who request it, on a trial basis, with a review in January. The idea was proposed by David Gordon of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who is an ISWNE director and COMJIG member; and the undersigned, secretary of COMJIG and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. COMJIG members who want Hotline access should email me at Al.Cross@uky.edu. I manage the list-serve with COMJIG member Chad Stebbins of Missouri Southern State University, who is director of its Institute of International Studies and executive director of ISWNE.

We think the Hotline can be a good source of research ideas and class discussion topics, and give academics interested in community journalism regular glimpses into the life of weekly newspapers, most of which are independently owned. Examples of recent Hotline topics include coverage of elections, suicides and vandalism; political endorsements, use of accident photos, policies on letters and obituaries, valuations of weeklies, competing with other papers, starting a paper from scratch, relationships with broadcast and cable operations, staffing questions, employer-employee relationships, Postal Service problems and adapting to the digital age, which as you might guess covers a wide range of questions. The ethical questions have also included a discussion of the circumstances in which an editor or reporter should speak up at a public meeting. This is a rich trove of information and insights that COMJIG members should find useful in teaching, research and service.

We hope this will be the first step in a mutually beneficial relationship. COMJIG members could be invited presenters at ISWNE conferences, and ISWNE members could be panelists at COMJIG programs, possibly with travel support from AEJMC. Some or all COMJIG officers might receive ex-officio memberships in ISWNE. The ISWNE quarterly, Grassroots Editor, could become a refereed publication, or at least have one issue per year that is refereed mainly by COMJIG members. The weekly editors could get ahead of the curve through COMJIG research on digital media, and suggest topics for research. ISWNE members could review and contribute to syllabi of journalism classes, especially on weekly newspaper management, instruction in which may be spotty but could be more important at a time of creative destruction and a plethora of community journalism start-ups. We could have a continuing dialogue toward a theory of community journalism. These are just ideas right now, but illustrate the potential of the relationship. The ISWNE board agreed that representatives of the two groups should discuss these and other ideas.

A productive relationship should boost the membership of both groups, which are relatively small. ISWNE has about 250 members, COMJIG about 100. ISWNE doesn’t just want to increase its membership, but to increase awareness of the organization among journalism students (for whom a discounted membership fee might be arranged) and faculty. Likewise, COMJIG could be a source of useful research for weekly editors, who operate in a segment of the industry that is little researched. Those of us who are service-oriented would gain connections within the industry. ISWNE showed its interest and good faith by giving me travel support to attend its board meeting.

Journalism academics increasingly realize that community journalism is the most vibrant and diverse segment of journalism, and it deserves more attention. As Humphrey Bogart told Claude Rains, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

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