As students of the media, as well as participants in the news process, Evolve Communications has taken the time to think critically about the role media plays in society. If you look back at the origins of the newspaper and news organizations, their mission was to be the voice of already existing, highly localized communities. Even when news organizations shifted to mass media (i.e. radio, television and widely distributed print publications), there was a strong commitment to being the voice of a group of people tied together by a set of cultural commonalities.
As the profit motive grew into an imperative by media organizations, the focus shifted away from community to ratings and settled on what we would call bottom-line thinking. Before the Internet existed, news organizations’ sole focus on profits contributed to the fragmentation of audiences (ala cable TV), with critics bemoaning the quality of news and its lack of ability to foster community.
Today, of course, community has taken on an entirely different meaning. Today, communities can still be localized, but they can also span geographies as they unite people with both common interests and culture. It’s common knowledge that the place where communities are formed has moved online.
Some news organizations are doing a great job of refocusing on building community by engaging people through social media. Others still don’t get it. Case in point: the Washington Post’s memo stating that the paper’s sole use of social channels should be to spread news and not engage readers online.
Communities happen where there is conversation. We don’t know yet if community can support for-profit media, but what we do know is this: for-profit media needs to support the communities they serve. And they can do that by communicating with their audiences–wherever those audiences may be.