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.

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Comments on “You Don't Build Communities, You Enable Them”

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12 Comments
Bunny says:

You reap what you sow

In an age when most major media outlets are providing outrage-of-the-hour content, one should not be surprised that the community built around that is also comprised of illogical, emotionally charged drivel flavored with a smattering of generally useless regurgitated trivia posing as genuine information.

Well, if they really and truly want to build a community, they’re going to have to be patient and resist the urge to sex things up too much…

MLS (profile) says:

I like newspapers. There is something about words on paper with pages I can turn that I find satisfying.

I like new modes of communication such as the web because a greater amount of information can be located with relative ease. I do, however, disdain scrolling.

As I see it newspapers do have one main advantage. Ever try to line a birdcage with a monitor?

Rose M. Welch says:

I used to love reading the paper. But now it’s filled with news articles that I read on the Internet two or three days ago. For free.

Sometimes I buy a paper to see the Community calendar… Or to see a particular article on a community issue that I’m interested in. But it would be great if the whole paper focused on the community we already have… I’d love to know more of what is going on here… And I can’t get that from the Associated Press or Rueters…

A weekly write-up on whats going on with the City Council and not just when there’s a full-on controversy.

A larger community calendar with a bigger synopsis for each activity. More on school awards and classes and activities.

More on local bands and film festivals and other goings-on.

That would be great for the paper and great for the community, and that is the kind of synergy that sells local papers in this Internet age.

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck (user link) says:

First, I admit to being odd: I still read the NYTimes delivered to my home each Sunday morning. I do go through several newspaper sites (wsj.com bugs me, but most are good). It would be interesting to see them tie in forum software or commenting on articles on more sites. Either you have to hunt for this aspect of the site, or it is just not there on sites from many larger papers who would benefit from such a community technique.

Haywood says:

Hard to imagine going back.

I too really used to look forward to the paper. I liked knowing the timing of local events, even if only to avoid them.
I liked knowing what the city council was up to, and it is usually something semi-nefarious.
It really came down to value for money, once the local paper passed $200 per year & was more than 1/2 ads, it was over for me.
With the amount of ads papers carry, I don’t see why end users need to be charged at all, it should be at most a token fee.

Dave Barnes (user link) says:

Newspapers are clueless

Newspaper executives think you can create a community. They have no clue about organic growth.

My local dailies (JOA) have created a web-based community: http://www.yourhub.com/

They don’t show the traffic stats, but if you crawl around you see many “empty rooms”. The most obvious example are the classified ads. For all of Denver (500K people) they show approximately 3 ads a day being created. Needless to say, Craig’s List has a few more than that.

Guy says:

It IS a token fee

Haywood wrote: “With the amount of ads papers carry, I don’t see why end users need to be charged at all, it should be at most a token fee.”

What do you think 50 cents a day is? Subscriptions have never covered more than the cost of the paper it’s printed on and delivery. Now, with gas costs past $4 a gallon it possibly may cover the cost of driving the paper to your door.

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