Lessons from Reporters - by on Friday, March 7, 2008 10:00 - 0 Comments

An Audience Is Not A Community – Wise Words From Clay Shirky

I try not to do too much preaching on this blog. Most of what I incorporate here are either tools, conversations with other ‘beat bloggers,‘ or anecdotes from the "Beat Bloggers" proper, who are part of this experiment.

Last night via Mindy McAdams I came across a wonderful excerpt from Clay Shirky’s newest book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations."

I will continue to hold back from preaching – but when somebody like Clay Shirky, who commands respect in the world of conversational media, says something as clear as this – you bet I’ll re-blog it. Also – check out the comments on Mindy’s post, some very smart folks chime in (including Shirkey, just to say hi).

The excerpt from Shirky:

A good deal of user-generated content isn’t actually
“content” at all, at least not in the sense of material designed for an
audience. Instead, a lot of it is just part of a conversation.

Mainstream media has often missed this, because they are used to
thinking of any group of people as an audience. Audience, though, is
just one pattern a group can exist in; another is community. Most
amateur media unfolds in a community setting, and a community isn’t
just a small audience; it has a social density, a pattern of users
talking to one another, that audiences lack. An audience isn’t just a
big community either; it’s more anonymous, with many fewer ties between
users. Now, though, the technological distinction between media made
for an audience and media made for a community is evaporating; instead
of having one kind of media come in through the TV and another kind
come in through the phone, it all comes in over the internet.

As a result, some tools support both publication and conversation.
Weblogs aren’t only like newspapers and they aren’t only like
coffeeshops and they aren’t only like diaries — their meaning changes
depending on how they are used, running the gamut from reaching the
world to gossiping with your friends.

More thoughts from Mindy’s post:

I couldn’t shake this out of my head after I had read it.

Newspapers used to be centered in communities. Now they are mostly
not. People in much of North America don’t even live in communities.

Is this why newspapers are dying? Because there are no communities?

I heard about someone asking a speaker how we could get young people
to read newspapers. Reportedly, the speaker took rather a long pause
before replying. When she did speak, her answer was essentially, “We
can’t.”

This makes a lot of people feel sad. Others feel angry.

But this is not about newspapers.

It’s about what Shirky said: Audiences are not the same as
communities, and communities are made up of people talking to one
another.

What does a community need? How should journalists supply what communities need?


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BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.