I'm working on my masters thesis - an exploration of the the evolving relationship between the public and the press in America, via a comparison between the public journalism movement and the current development of citizen journalism.
Like so many of my colleagues, I thought it would be helpful to share my work in its early stages, so following is the intro, as it stands now. I welcome your thoughts and look forward to an enlightening discussion/debate on this topic.
According to the Newspaper Association of America and the Audit Bureau of Circulation, as of March 31, 2007, the average circulation for daily newspapers in the United States decreased by 2.1 percent over the same period in 2006, while Sunday circulation dropped 3.1 percent over the same period. Meanwhile Nielsen//NetRatings, an Internet media and market research company, reported that more than 59 million people visited newspapers’ websites during the first quarter of 2007 (37.6 percent of all active Internet users). This represents a 5.3 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. Scarborough Research, a firm that researches media habits, reports that, on average, newspapers’ websites contribute to a 13.7 percent increase in newspaper audience for 25- to 34-year-olds, and a 9.2 percent increase for 18- to 24-year-olds.
But, it is newspapers’ weblogs (blogs) that have enjoyed the largest increase in readership. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, visits to the blogs of the top ten newspapers grew by 210% from December 2005 – December 2006, garnering 3.8 million unique visitors in December 2006. By contrast, total online readership at the top ten newspapers grew only 9% over the same period.
While one interpretation of these statistics could potentially fuel the debate over whether the newspaper is “dying,” what is more accurate and interesting to note is that the newspaper organization is changing – and changing dramatically. These statistics indicate that while readership of the print edition of newspapers is decreasing, newspaper organizations are successfully retaining their audience, and in some cases growing audience, particularly in the younger demographics by complementing their print offerings with an online component, especially online offerings like blogs where readers can not only read the news, but participate in the journalistic process by commenting and engaging in conversation and debate about the news and in some cases even contributing content in the form of photos and commentary, a practice called citizen journalism.
As a result of newspaper organizations’ adoption of these new communications technologies, the public’s relationship with the press continues to evolve and change. It has been argued that these new technologies threaten the future of the newspaper. But, this paper will argue that these new online tools provide newspaper organizations with the opportunity not only to preserve, but even enhance their role as an important social institution in American society.
To illustrate this assertion that newspapers have evolved over time to continue to serve the needs of society and to explore the evolving relationship between the public and the press, this paper will focus on two particular and relatively recent developments in the history of American journalism: public journalism and citizen journalism.
By examining the public journalism movement of the 1990s and the emergence of the current citizen journalism phenomenon, this paper will establish a historical context to support this thesis and explore the following questions:
• Has the relationship between the public and the press changed as a result of new media and communications technologies? If so, how?
• Is there some intersection between public journalism and citizen journalism that is emerging to create a new relationship between the public and the press?
• In this age of new media and citizen journalism, what are newspapers for?
• What does the future hold for the newspaper organization as a social institution?
Why is a comparison of public journalism and citizen journalism relevant and important to exploring these larger questions? It is relevant because this comparison represents a microcosm of the relationship between the public and the press over the course of a single generation – approximately 1988 to the present (2007). This particular historical period is important to the evolution of this relationship because it coincides with the introduction of the personal computer and the rise of the Internet. Additionally, this comparison is interesting and important to examine because public journalism demonstrates a concerted effort on behalf of the press to re-engage with the public, while citizen journalism is an effort initiated by the members of the public to get more actively involved in the journalistic process.