I’m not one for semantic arguments. There’s little-to-no practical value in deciding the names of things. (“User-generated content,” anyone?)
But if you spend your days and side projects talking to journalists about interacting with their readers, you tend to look for the right words to get your message across. Or at least I do. Because they’re not really “readers” anymore, are they? The people formerly known as the audience? Accurate, but wordy — and maybe a little too professorial for my usual purposes.
So what do we call the human beings who both consume the journalism we produce and participate in its creation? Are they members in a geographical or topical community of interest? Does that qualify them as a community?
I asked a similar question on Twitter and in a blog post a few weeks ago, and most of the answers were negative: No, our readers aren’t necessarily a community. No, you can’t slap the label of “community” on a group of people; they have to do that for themselves, or otherwise prove that they’re a communal gathering. No, most of our readers are still a static audience, one-way receivers of information.
And then I spotted something in one of the not-about-journalism blogs that I read. Specifically, Wired.com’s Geekdad. Here’s what Geekdad blogger Jonathan Liu wrote, trying to explain to a friend why he and his colleagues referred to themselves as “geeks” so often in their blog posts. Are they like Diggers or BoingBoingers or Treehuggers? Maybe…
But the other answer I came up with is this: We are a blog in which the writers, the readers, and the subject matter are all the same: it’s about the intersection of parenting and geekiness. Our readers are geekdads and moms, and our writers are geekdads and moms. And, in fact, all the new writers (myself included) were readers first who wanted to geek out about their own obsessions. We write about our passions, for people who share something in common with us.
Because I’m a geek/dad, if not necessarily a full-blown Geekdad yet, it makes perfect sense. These are people like me writing about experiences that are either familiar to me, or talking about ideas that I’m profoundly interested in as a member of the community of people who self-identify as geekdads.
So maybe readers have a common topic of interest (baseball, city government, gardening), but a community is the topic of interest itself (baseball players, city council members and local activists, serious gardeners).
I’ll take that a little further into the realm of definitions: A community is not defined by its participation in your media product, but by their own experiences which you happen to also be describing, or engaged in yourself.
For a local news organization of any sort, I expect the next question to be whether a geographic location alone is enough to define a community. I don’t think so. I do think there’s a subset of residents of a place that can form a community, but it might be time to get used to the idea that the people interested in highly detailed process stories coming out of city council meetings are a niche community, and not the broader population.
What do you think? How do you define a community, and is that what you’d call the people participating in acts of storytelling, activism, and/or journalism in your town or topic of interest?