Bipolar Perspectives in Asian and American Community Journalism

As I sit down to write this requested little piece, it dawns on me after half a century in journalism and journalism/mass communication teaching in Asia and the United States, that I have essentially lived in two journalistic worlds—the American and Asian. Translating this into community journalism, one can say that I have been exposed to two journalistic traditions—that of Asian community journalism and that of American community journalism.

The community press in the United States is libertarian and competitive and subscribes to free enterprise. The typical community newspaper publishes in a small town, but its circulation is relatively big in proportion to population (like a 500-weekly circulation in a town of 1,000 or less). The picture in Asia is more kaleidoscopic—the papers range from controlled and crummy to sophisticated and free. But their circulations are uniformly small in proportion to population because of poverty and illiteracy (like 1,000 copies weekly in a city of 100,000 or more).

I came from another world of international journalism as an Agence France-Presse news editor, but after a Ph.D. in mass communication at the University of Minnesota, I returned to my country and my first job was to train journalists for the Philippine community press. I remember that my first research project was a survey of the Philippine community press in 1967—probably the first of its kind. Since the beginning, my research has focused more on the practical rather than the theoretical side of journalism.

What makes community newspapers and radio stations tick? What are the factors that make for success or failure? Who are the people behind these small-town media? What are their personal and professional profiles? What are their perceptions of their roles in society? Who trains them in journalism? What are the profiles of the journalism and mass communication schools that train them? My 1971 paper on Philippine journalism and communication education was also probably the first of its kind in the country. The main research methods were surveys, case studies, content analysis, and in-depth interviews.

One of the earliest running debates I had was with an expatriate radio journalism trainer from Germany. At many journalism seminar-workshops we conducted, we would debate whether community in community journalism was a geographic community or a community of interest, like science or environment. It was an endless, entertaining debate until we decided it could be both. To my mind, however, community journalism still refers more to geographic community rather than to community of interests, although with the onset of the Internet, community journalism of interests is becoming more common.

The field of community journalism and community journalism research has expanded since then. With the Internet, community newsletters have sprouted all over the place with the production costs going down. This beckons as a promising area of research to the new, Internet-savvy generation of journalism researchers. The Oh-my News of Seoul, Korea which at one time had a staff of 35,000 volunteer citizen journalists using cell phones to report the news, comes to mind.

In 1993, my book, The Rise and Fall of Philippine Community Newspapers, was published in celebration of 25 years of personal involvement in community journalism research and teaching. Since then, I have switched to the study of development journalism. Development journalism is journalism with a purpose—to help promote community development. The concept was first developed in Asia, which is understandable because the continent is where most of the underdeveloped nations are. The two concepts merge at the point where practitioners analyze their roles—are community newspapers and radio stations expected to contribute to community development purposively?

It is interesting to note that a parallel movement in the United States started in the 1990s, called citizen journalism, or civic journalism. It has faint resemblance to development journalism because it seeks to involve citizens in the identification and reporting of issues that affect the community.

My most recent research interest has turned to peace journalism. Peace journalism has been advanced as an alternative, or complement, to conflict reporting. Peace journalism focuses on the areas of agreement, rather than disagreement, in any confrontation. It rejects the journalistic obsession with conflict as a news value. Like development journalism, peace journalism has a purpose—to promote peace.

One will notice that the common thread in these three variations on the theme of journalism—development journalism, civic journalism and peace journalism—is advocacy. The new buzz word is advocacy journalism, which runs counter to the age-old (decrepit?) concept of objective journalism. This is a new area where debate is a-brewing and makes for exciting research. ###


*Chapter in Foundations of Community Journalism: A Primer for Research (2010),edited by John Hatcher and Bill Reader, New Delhi and London: Sage Publications.

One Response to Bipolar Perspectives in Asian and American Community Journalism

  1. Cherilynn 15 February , 2012 at 12:24 am

    I guess finding usfuel, reliable information on the internet isn’t hopeless after all.

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