Vehicles for Communities: On Paper and Online

It seemed about as close as you get to having an episode of deja-vu while in the process of reading.

I was only on the first page, and in the first few paragraphs, of Chapter 3, “Content,” in Richard Millington’s Book, Buzzing Communities.

As I was reading along about how Richard advised, “The best content for a community is content about the community,” I immediately thought: JUST LIKE A LOCAL NEWSPAPER.  A few sentences later, local newspapers were exactly what Richard was talking about.

“Think of your content as the equivalent of a local community newspaper that tells you what’s going on in the community.”

“The content of an online community is the same. It tells you what’s happening in the local online community.”

Boom!

Suddenly, the true-to-form image and understanding of an online community, and online community content, suddenly couldn’t have been any clearer for me.  That’s probably because working at a local community newspaper, reporting local community news, editing the writing of other community reporters, was my first job in journalism. (Actually, thinking back, I worked as a community-interest writer first, while a student, before I became a paid “general assignment reporter.”  That recollection provided even more clarity of what makes for good community content.

Even as newspapers have evolved to manage some sort of future in the wake of Internet journalism and online publications, people always still want to know the same kinds of things.  They want to know what is happening for their friends and neighbors, what “bigger things” are occurring in the community, and they want interpretations of how it will all affect them. In this way, Millington describes, just as the local newspaper performs “a key role as a facilitating agent for the community.”

The author continues to draw the parallels between local newspaper and online community content:

  • To provide informative and entertaining information
  • Create narratives that allow the community to follow what’s happening.
  • Develops a sense of community among members
  • Initiate conversations, things to talk about, and activities to take part in

He goes on to compare how the elements of a news publication are similar to the content parts of online community content: news stories, feature articles, announcements, opinions and guest columns, classified ads.

In fact, I know someone who has transferred the concept of the local community newspaper and made it into an online community content system.  A journalist by training, he did this several years ago, before most mainstream papers developed their online presences. He has put into effect online all the elements of community-building that Millington says comprise a thriving community.

Radio Free Hamilton

For the reasons people have turned to newspapers for decades, they can be motivated to turn to communities online that fulfill the interest and information needs they have now.

And as newspapers face increasingly challenging economic futures, it may indeed be online moderated communities that do – in addition to or in place of, perhaps — what newspapers were founded to do – record, report, and be a sounding board for the community.

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