November 9, 2009

Washington, D.C. – New forms of journalism are being created around the country where online local news sites have launched to report on their communities. 

The journalism is characterized by a deliberate shift in the definition of objectivity, a drive for community conversation and discussion, and broader definitions of “news” that seek to connect readers to a sense of the place where they live, according to new research released today by American University’s J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

The research found that journalism on independent local news and information Web sites is increasingly becoming an act of participation, not just an act of observation.  The participatory involvement calls for site editors to collaborate with readers in trawling for stories, unraveling news as it is happening, and ensuring that people know how to engage in community issues and events.

Site editors say they are abandoning what some call “antiquated” notions of dispassionate objectivity to “cut to the chase” and provide news that connects their community, not just covers it – even as they value and adhere to standards of accuracy, honesty, transparency, and sharing.

These are among key findings from focus groups and interviews with women news consumers and news creators who are populating the new media ecosystem. The research was funded by the McCormick Foundation as part of J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative. It was conducted by Maria Ivancin, an American University assistant professor and focus group expert and Jan Schaffer, J-Lab director.

“We are beginning to understand that the kinds of news that are evolving in the new media ecosystem are different from the news that was delivered by traditional news organizations,” said Schaffer. “Yet it is responsible and seems to be connecting with people in their communities in interesting ways.”

“The New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative is yielding a treasure trove of promising media startups and insightful research on news consumers and creators,” said Clark Bell, the McCormick Foundation’s journalism program director. “This research shows the impact of women on the changing media landscape.”

The research report was released today at a summit in Washington, D.C. featuring women founders and editors of start-up community news sites around the country.

The goal of the research was to understand how women are consuming news in the evolving news ecosystem and how their significant roles as founders of community news sites and placeblogs are impacting traditional journalism conventions.

Through four focus groups and interviews with 11 women founders and editors of hyperlocal community news sites, the project explored how women news entrepreneurs are defining opportunities for creating news, how the news they are creating differs from traditional journalism. It also probed what women news consumers value in news and how they are altering their news habits.

The McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative is a project of J-Lab, a center of American University’s School of Communication. J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use new media technologies to create fresh ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, the Knight Citizen News Network and the New Voices community media grant program.

The McCormick Foundation supports free, vigorous and diverse news media that provide citizens the vital information they need to make reasoned decisions in a democracy. The Journalism Program supports non-profit initiatives that enhance news content, build audiences and protect the rights of journalists.

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