Last autumn I spent an unexpected amount of time in Witney Methodist Church. No, I hadn’t suddenly become religious; I was reporting a public inquiry into a local planning issue and the Methodist Church was where it took place.
Staffing is one of the biggest headaches for many community newspapers. While even the most understaffed regionals usually have somebody in the building during normal office hours and somebody to take messages over the phone, community newspapers don’t have that luxury. The usual scenario is to have just one or two part-time members of staff.
Freelance journalists often talk about the feast or famine work cycle. (When I say “talk”, I mean “complain”, of course.) I’d like to find a better metaphor, though, one that conveys the reality of the experience. The word “feast” conveys leisurely eating, but the feast periods in my freelancing life are all about the opposite: frantic production as opposed to relaxed consumption.
Community journalism is a relatively new and rapidly changing area, so I don't feel confident in coming up with a catch-all definition of what makes a community newspaper. On the other hand, I do want readers of this blog to know what I'm talking about, so it might be helpful if I list some of the characteristics that most community newspapers have in common.
A community newspaper...?
In my last blog post, I wrote about how many regional papers are calling themselves community newspapers despite being nothing of the sort.
I want to reclaim the term "community newspaper". A real community newspaper is created by the community with the fundamental aim of enriching the community it serves. This enrichment may take many forms, including but not limited to:
At the time of writing, Google is returning 1,160,000 results for the search term “community newspaper”, as opposed to 192,000 for “regional newspaper”. On that basis, you could be forgiven for thinking that community journalism has become the most prevalent form of print media in the world today.
At the end of next week, I’ll be leaving Leys News, the community newspaper I’ve been editing for the past two years. I’ve learnt a lot in that time, but the biggest epiphany was this: community journalism is a sector in its own right.