John Robinson, editor of the blog-and-citizen-journalism-happy Greensboro News & Record in North Carolina, points to Robin Roger’s UNC-Chapel Hill master’s thesis on “Creating community and gaining readers through newspaper blogs.” [The full thesis as a PDF is here.]
Robinson on the broad strokes of community-building:
“We use the blogs to help us add information, context and further depth to news events. Because the online world is so fluid and natural, we talk with readers, readers talk with us and with each other. Ideas and information are exchanged. Arguments break out; perhaps even understanding and acceptance occur. That’s community. That’s civic engagement.”
Roger surveyed blog readers, asking them questions about the sense of community they get from participating in the newspaper’s blogs. Her findings have a bit of tail-chasing to them. Readers who visit the blogs more often report a greater sense of community; readers who start off with a stronger sense of community report visiting the blogs more often.
From her conclusions:
“The results of this study suggest that a strong sense of community may influence people to visit more often, or vice versa, but only half of the respondents reported a strong sense of community online. One suggestion would be to increase the sense of community online and see if daily page views increase. The question is “how does one do that?” The people at the News & Record have taken the first step by asking readers what they want and involving them in this ongoing experiment. Agency and ownership can contribute to a sense of community, and these elements have been implemented from the start.”
I think creating that sense of ownership is key, and I’m interested in finding out how big a step of letting-go that is for editors and management to take. Lucky me, my research is going to focus on that sort of question. While Roger concentrated on the reader’s point of view, I’m planning to stick with the decision-makers at the organizational level who decided to launch blogs at newspaper sites, focusing on figuring out why they did it and what factors influenced their rationale.
- Worth noting: Roger’s thesis advisor was Phil Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, and prof/blogger Paul Jones was one of the readers.
- Bonus Link: Ed Cone notes the role the independent Greensboro blog community has played in the success at the News & Record.
- Via: Reinventing College Media
- Previously: My potential thesis has reared its bloggy head.