“But the pioneer newspaper of the upstart city, like the western railroad, had to call into being the very population it aimed to serve. This gave it certain distinctive features which would long shape American life. … Some American newspapermen have called this preoccupation with the local community the leading characteristic, the principle novelty, and the secret strength of American journalism.”
— Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience, 1965
The Advocate. The Dispatch. The Tribune. These are the newspapers of America. Their names are bold and active. The Bee. The Herald. The Call. Invoking sound, almost loud, these are names that announce and engage. But, it is fair to ask, just why are they so bold and active? What are they announcing, and who are they engaging?
Nearly two months ago, like many in Bloomsburg, I stood waist-deep in a flooded home amidst dirt and debris, helping friends begin their recovery. From time to time I would see the activity on the streets about me, noticing crowds of people at most every house. I thought I saw and felt, repeated in others, that same personal need to help, the need to look after their family and friends and neighbors. I wondered, “What next? What happens after a few weeks? Where does this suddenly visible community come from and where will it go?”
That question has stayed with me these past weeks on this journey that a few friends and I call The Bloomsburg Daily. Our effort was born out of a sense of frustration and loss, yes, but also of something more meaningful and permanent: a desire to engage the people around us in conversation and to see what community develops. Like the original newspapers of America’s early upstart cities, we too are writing for a community that doesn’t yet, or only barely exists.
But unlike these pioneer newspapers, it is not a physical town that we are trying to create. Rather, the internet is our space, our western prairie, and it is conversation around community that we seek to call into being, with Bloomsburg as the focus. This “paper” has become our loud activity, but what we hope is not that our readers simply listen. What we hope is that our readers engage us, constantly and openly as a community. This I feel is The Bloomsburg Daily’s preoccupation, and our secret strength.
“It was a presentiment that human thought, in changing its form, was about to change its mode of expression; that the dominant idea of each generation would no longer be written with the same matter….”
— Victor Hugo, “This Will Kill That”, Notre Dame de Paris, 1831
The Bloomsburg Daily’s form is not like a newspaper. Even to call it a newspaper is misleading. Newspapers are static. They bring you the day’s events in a specific way at a specific place and time. The information they serve is one way. You simply read the news and put the paper down, maybe mentioning something to the person sitting across from you. But the conversation ends there. No more interaction takes place.
The internet has changed the mode of expression between news and the reader, between reader and reader. This change is openness.
The most important aspect of this openness is how readers interact with each other. Note that I said with each other, not with the news source. The source of news information has become less important than what people do with information once they receive it. Thus I think news sources must be facilitators as much as providers of information.
This is simply impossible with traditional print. There may be a handful of letters to the editor in a newspaper, but with the openness of the online form, each reader can talk to every other reader. Every comment can be commented upon and every reader is an author. Each reader contributes back to the news and becomes a part of its telling.
For me this is the essence of what The Bloomsburg Daily hopes to achieve. The newspaper brought people information. Open News brings conversation. But what conversation brings is anybody’s guess. This is why building an open community around the news of Bloomsburg is vital. It’s why we ask for contributions, comments, and the sharing of our stories. It is through open conversation that community is created.
Changing thought needs new modes of expression. “This will kill that.” Video Killed the Radio Star. And now, this, the open internet, will kill that, newspaper’s static word.
The question remains: What do we do with this mode of expression?
“I don’t know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher. I just try everything I can think of.”
— Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane, 1941
“What are we?” I can’t recall how many times we at The Bloomsburg Daily have asked ourselves that simple question. Though we’ve asked it constantly, we’ve still yet to find an answer. However, it’s not that we’re unable. It’s that this form is still so new that no one has yet found a way to answer the question. We ask this of ourselves not to answer, but to imagine.
There are so many things we could be: a newspaper, a journal, a forum, a community magazine. One of the things we want to do is make people aware of current happenings. That does make us a newspaper. Then again we get some of our greatest activity around articles about Bloomsburg’s past. Are we then a kind of historical journal? In a way, yes. We also encourage discussions around each and every article. Does that make us a community forum? Of course. We are all of these, but not quite, yet something more.
I think the best answer is that The Bloomsburg Daily, and every internet presence like it, is simply this: it is something new that everyone is trying to figure out. What we do with this mode of expression is entirely up to its community. What it will become is exactly what all of its participants and contributors make it, whatever we discover along the way.
In the meantime, we just try everything we can think of.
“Our selections have been made, our editorials written, our proof read, sitting on the ground with a big shingle on our knee for a table. Think of this, ye editors, in your easy chairs and well furnished sanctums, and cease to grumble.”
— Kansas Weekly Herald, First Issue, 15 September 1854
So we begin again, every day, calling out to our readers, trying to build conversations around our community. Some won’t answer; some will.
With those that do, we hope you join us not only in reading and not only in writing, but in discovering how to use these new methods to find ways to talk with each other. We don’t know what means are best or what ways are right, but we hope through conversation we find together the forms your news will take.
Photo Credit: Max Wolfe, used under a Creative Commons 3.0 Commercial License.