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Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Programmer-Journalists and Local Social Capital

Rich Gordon writes today about his journalist-programmer program at Northwestern’s journalism school.  He’s looking for a project idea…

For more than half a century, newspaper readership has been declining – and so have a variety of other indicators of civic and community engagement, such as participation in PTA’s, membership in bowling leagues and turnout on Election Day…

What I’ve been wondering about is whether new technologies can, in any way, help rebuild social capital among people who live in the same community. We know that online communities enable people with common interests to build powerful connections even if they are halfway around the world from one another. I’m intrigued by the possibility that we could apply these online community tools to strengthening local bonds.

It’s also hard to ignore that when conversations about the news occur on the Web, they often turn ugly — or, at best, fail to advance the discussion beyond ranting and raving…

Evidence that local media can play a role in fostering community conversation can be found in newspaper history. David Paul Nord’s fascinating book, “Communities of Journalism,” for instance, describes many instances in which newspapers served as community forums…

Cass Sunstein in his book Republic.com – [argues] that online communities can foster isolation and division by enabling people to connect only with those whose characteristics and attitudes are like theirs.

What I might challenge our students to do is come up with ways to improve online conversations about the news — to build social capital and raise the quality of these conversations.

Of course, this is what Front Porch Forum is all about!

Posted in: Citizen Journalism, College Students, Community Building, Democracy, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, Neighborhood, Newspapers, social capital, Social Networking, Start ups


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