Notes from the Neighborhood: Who is writing, what, when, where, how and why
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Closure of many mainstream media outlets in towns across the United States have left many neighborhoods bereft of any news about their community. In a number of such areas, former journalists and/or community members have started online news sites that provide news and information to the community. As these outlets focus on a small geographic location, ranging from a neighborhood to a city, they are called hyperlocal news sites. The questions that logically arise then are how are these outlets reporting the news? Are they similar to their mainstream media counterparts or is their approach to news and information different? Most importantly, how do the people who start, or work at these sites, adopt the new all-in-one roles, where they are not only the reporter but also the ad sales manager and the publisher? This dissertation, through a two-method approach, examines these questions and tries to provide answers. An online survey of the people who started and or work for hyperlocal sites, provides data that those working for hyperlocal media have the same demographics as those who work in American mainstream media. The survey results also showed that most of respondents follow the same journalistic behaviors and gatekeeping practices as their mainstream counterparts. From a role identity perspective, the study shows that in the absence of role-models, the journalists-turned-entrepreneurs are in the process of carving a niche for themselves within journalism. In-depth interviews with the respondents reveal that while they identify themselves as journalists, their active role in revenue generation requires them to frame their work identity and present a holistic, positive image of their work. What this study does is capture the dynamism of the journalists’ changing roles. It explains why journalists who start news media sites are unable to monetize their product; they lack role models/exemplars/prototypes that can provide them a blueprint for modeling their behaviors in these new roles as well as the direction in which they take their sites. This research and more in the area can be seen as building blocks towards the creation of a roadmap for them.