You Don't Build Communities, You Enable Them
from the enable-people;-don't-define-them dept
There’s an interesting debate going on among some newspaper industry watchers, concerning how newspapers should approach the question of “community.” Paul Gillin has written that the concept of newspapers building communities is a fallacy and that newspapers shouldn’t even try. He notes that the idea of a community around newspaper content usually just doesn’t make much sense, and newspapers are simply hopping on the buzzword bandwagon in yelling “community” without any real sense of how to build one. As he notes, a newspaper’s strength isn’t in building community, but in creating content.
Steve Yelvington blasts back that Gillin is quite mistaken and that community is the most important thing that newspapers should be focusing on: “Failure to build community is one of the many reasons so many newspapers are in so much trouble right now.”
To some extent, both Steve and Paul are correct — and I don’t think they actually disagree as much as Steve makes it out in his post. The traditional newspaper business model worked because the readership was a community of sorts. They were a community of “local” readers who could be advertised to. The problem for newspapers is that they didn’t necessarily understand this, focusing solely on the content creation side. But they didn’t realize that other sources of information were creating other places where similar (and different) communities could form and be advertised to. That started eating into that “community” of newspaper readers, because there was no plenty of competition providing a much better community experience.
So, yes, Steve is correct that newspapers do need to get back to cultivating a community — but Paul is correct that simply yelling “community!” and thinking you can throw some “community features” on a site aren’t going to do very much. What the rest of the internet has shown is that you build community not by building a community, but by enabling a group of people to do what they want. And that can include commenting on the news, creating the news or sharing the news among many other things. There isn’t a magic bullet to create a community — but newspapers should look to see what they can do to enable a community to form and then get out of the way.