How I plan to examine/research/submerge myself in community newsrooms

Photo by Flickr user Aprilesole

Soon I’ll find myself out of a newsroom as I head for university life, spending the next four months in academia.

(Cue fish-out-of-water cliches.)

In June, I was awarded the first-ever Michener-Deacon Fellowship for journalism education.

As part of that fellowship, I’ll be a journalist-in-residence at Carleton University, and teaching a multimedia class to third-year journalism students.

Another part of that fellowship involves a research project, and in my proposal I outlined how I’d like to examine community newsrooms.

My original plan was broad enough to be a PhD dissertation, I worked with Christopher Waddell, the Director of the School of Journalism at Carleton, to sharpen its focus. I’d like to examine Canadian initiatives, as well as projects south of the border. And most importantly, it has to be a study that can be completed in four months, the length of the fellowship.

So, here goes – thus far:

Research goals:

  • To establish a criteria of the type of stories created by community newsrooms and their citizen journalists, with a focus on Canadian newsrooms (ie. hard vs. soft news – where are citizen journalists most likely to contribute?)
  • Examine the quantity of stories a community newsroom produces for a news organization, relative to journalists in its traditional newsroom
  • Examine the resources (fiscal and staffing) used to run these community newsrooms, and the backgrounds of these Community Newsroom editors

Newsrooms to examine:

  • The Winnipeg Free Press’ News Cafe
  •, an active smaller community site in Steinbach, Manitoba
  • The Edmonton Journal’s, community initiative, The Capital Experiment
  • The National Post’s community initiative, The GastroPost
  • New Haven and Torrington, Connecticut have active community newsrooms, as well as a news café in Torrington
  • In Pennsylvannia, three active Digital First community newsrooms: Pottstown, Lansdale, and West Chester.
  • In York, Pennsylvannia, they have launched a mobile community newsroom dubbed the ‘newsvroom’ . Similar mobile community newsrooms have been launched in St. Paul, Minnesota and San Jose – going out in the community to cover the community
  • A weekly live webcast involving people from the community at the Delaware County Times.


All findings will be posted on my blog, as I conduct my research, and I will be able to share what I learn with students and include them (if possible) in my research.

At conclusion of the winter term 2013, I will present my research to the Carleton community. This can be streamed and recorded so that it is accessible beyond the campus. I will also present my findings to the Citizen’s newsroom.


Am I missing a great newsroom project? Is there another way to examine this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “How I plan to examine/research/submerge myself in community newsrooms

  1. this is really interesting Mel. I suppose a subset to the research goals could be tone of coverage — does working in a community newsroom differ in any way from traditional in terms of how a story is framed? Is hard news shied away from or less edgy because the reporter could be living and socializing within that community? Food for thought…Looking forward to following this project!

  2. A fascinating project that both your students and your broader community of readers will learn from.

    Perhaps you could start out with a post defining a “community newsroom” and listing some of the key characteristics/functions common to them. When I looked at the examples you provided in your post, I was surprised that they seemed to break rule one of good online composition: Give me an About page so I can figure out what the heck I”m dealing with. Each seems to be somewhat different.

  3. Agree on Joseph’s point, re: defining community.
    There is very likely a different definition in the U.S. than there is in Canada. Based on your selection of Canadian newsrooms, you’ve chosen mostly major dailies. Perhaps I’m already misunderstanding community– as in an online community? Or a geographical one?
    I’m excited to see where your journey takes you!

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