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Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Think the traditional news business is dying? Consider Japan, says a New York Times article describing the country's vibrant traditional media sector and moribund digital news startups. OhMyNews, a hugely popular South Korean citizen-journalism site that flopped in Japan, is cited as one example of how digital news culture has awkwardly mapped onto a Japanese context. Interestingly, some quoted in the article hypothesize that countries with more deep-seated social and political divisions may take to digital news media more easily than those without.

Obviously, one example does not a trend make. But the question of sociopolitical and sociocultural context for media is important. If nothing else (I don't know of anyone who's explicitly tested the hypothesis mentioned in the article; please chime in if you do), it does remind us to consider the importance of political institutions and political culture when talking about supposedly universal trends regarding the evolution of news media. The news business is undergoing sweeping change in certain developed countries, but in others the advent of digital news media may play out in very different ways, shaped by factors such as: regime type and form of governance; the relative importance of public debate; the presence or absence of a political culture that allows for questioning authority; ease of access to different forms of information and communication technology; trust and social capital; and so on. Food for ongoing thought.

Photo Credit: Flickr user dihlie.


It's perfectly sensible to accept that differing political institutions and accepted cultural practices can create bumps in the evolutionary cycle of news media. But like most "evolve or die" scenarios, the resulting evolution is not necessarily linear. Deep community engagement at every level is key for citizen journalism, local newspapers, and community portals. It is not enough to toss a site up on the web with the name of a local town without knowing anything about its citizens, needs, organizations, schools, and politics. Attempting to find a one size fits all approach will not work. We’ve already struck a magic balance which works for our community. is based on our own concept of collaborative entrepreneurship; proving that a for-profit entity can create a lucrative business model based in large measure on the idea that furthering the interests of an entire community is sustainable as well as profitable. For a small community: Chagrin Falls, Ohio, that’s the winning combination.

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