In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Community Journalism

  • Introduction
  • Foundation of Community
  • Foundations of Community Journalism
  • International Community Journalism
  • Online Community
  • Journalism’s Role in Community, Both Online and Off
  • The Impact of the Market
  • Future of Community Journalism Research
  • Key Journals

Communication Community Journalism
Hans K. Meyer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0299


Community journalism is far more prevalent than its national or regional counterparts. As of 2018, nearly 7,200 publications existed in the United States with a circulation under 50,000 daily, compared to just four with a circulation of more than 500,000. Any annotated bibliography of community journalism, therefore, must go beyond examining this form of media simply as smaller entities performing the same work as larger national organizations. Research on community journalism largely defines it, in addition to circulation size, by its overall focus on everyday life and the more intimate connection journalists have with the audiences they serve. Community journalism seeks to build and support relationships between audience members within a clearly defined community, whether geographic, virtual, or nestled in a specific topic or interest. As a concept, community journalism cannot be dismissed simply as the province of hyper-local news websites. As what we do on the Internet has expanded and social media has brought us closer together, for good or for ill, community journalism research has examined ways that community forms online through the efforts of connected and concerned journalists sharing facts and making sense of the world for their audiences. To have a community, all one needs is a group of people with something in common and something that differentiates them from other groups. Journalism empowers the group by providing factual information and contextualization of issues in a succinct, easy-to-understand package, while also giving voice to the voiceless and holding the powerful accountable. This annotated bibliography will lay the foundation for understanding how scholarship has applied foundational theories of community to create a new way of understanding the relationship between journalists and audiences. It explores the nuances of how community functions in different media and the ways in which journalists influence it. Finally, it delineates how recent research has expanded this definition to include virtual communities and communities of interest that hold true to the journalistic values of fairness, balance, and verification.

Foundation of Community

To understand community journalism, scholars must delve into the sociological roots that define what a community is and what it means to be part of it. While community is easily labeled as a group of like-minded people who come together over a shared interest that makes them distinct from other groups, this definition does not explain why people come together, what benefits they get from being together, and what they need to ensure these benefits continue. The key works examined in this section underpin how scholars approach the topic, while also connecting the goals of a community with the functions of journalism in a society. Tönnies 1957 introduces the key concepts of what makes a community or Gemeinschaft. When forming a community, rules govern how personal social ties and in-person interactions take place with a distinct goal of creating an overall cooperative social organization. The rules are based on people’s moral obligations to one another. Tönnies also romanticized small rural, homogenous communities. Calhoun 1980 disagrees with Tönnies’s rural focus but reinforces the need for people to come together. Cohen 1985 establish people’s natural tendency to join those who think alike. Oldenburg 1999 establishes “third places” as distinct operating spaces outside of work and home where community forms. For McMillan and Chavis 1986, building a community creates trust and shared experience. The whole of what one derives from community is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts, according to Chavis, et al. 1986. By coming together, Putnam 2000 explains, community members create social capital, or key connections and relationships, they can use for their own and the community’s benefit. Putnam blames media, in part, for a decrease in social capital, but Christians, et al. 1993 connects strong communities with committed journalism. The good news is the information journalists provide does more to empower community members than cause them to drift apart.

  • Calhoun, C. J. 1980. Community: Toward a variable conceptualization for comparative research. Social History 5.1: 105–129.

    DOI: 10.1080/03071028008567472

    Early definitions of community were idealized and simplified because Tönnies relied on his bias toward a simpler way of life. Calhoun’s work helped community evolve to embrace the relative anonymity that exists within growing cities.

  • Chavis, D. M., J. H. Hogge, D. W. McMillan, and A. Wandersman. 1986. Sense of community through Brunswik’s lens: A first look. Journal of Community Psychology 14.1: 24–40.

    DOI: 10.1002/1520-6629(198601)14:1<24::AID-JCOP2290140104>3.0.CO;2-P

    People are part of a community because they want to belong to something larger than the sum of its parts. They also possess a shared emotional connection, through prolonged contact and a sense of intimacy among insiders. This, in turn, creates an us-versus-them mentality against people outside of the community.

  • Christians, C., J. Ferre, and P. Fackler. 1993. Good news: Social ethics and the press. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The notion of community includes commonalities based on race, interests, profession, or religious affiliation. Journalists are key to identifying what people hold in common as they share facts with an eye toward bringing people together.

  • Cohen, A. P. 1985. The symbolic construction of community. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203323373

    Community at its most basic level needs two things: those within the community must have something in common, and they must somehow differentiate themselves from other groups.

  • McMillan, D. W., and D. M. Chavis. 1986. Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology 14.1: 6–23.

    DOI: 10.1002/1520-6629(198601)14:1<6::AID-JCOP2290140103>3.0.CO;2-I

    A sense of community occurs when members experience the feeling of belonging together due to shared experiences and a shared sense of trust among those who consider themselves members.

  • Oldenburg, R. 1999. The great good place: Cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community. Boston: Da Capo Press.

    Another central aspect of community are “third places,” which Oldenburg defines as “a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Community media play a large role in defining which places bring people together.

  • Putnam, R. D. 2000. Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    A necessary component of community is the social capital one can build as a part of a it. This social capital allows members to share and support each other while also benefiting themselves. It is central to building strong and lasting connections. Media play a role in sometimes distracting people from getting involved.

  • Tönnies, F. 1957. Community and society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). Translated and edited by C. P. Loomis. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press.

    This early research explained that community involved a feeling of membership and shared emotional connection. Communities acted as extended families, and members remained united despite any factors that might divide them, including distance.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.