Community Journalism, Online: Changes, Challenges, Opportunities

Elise Kalfayan

BY ELISE KALFAYAN

Zanku Armenian and I connected via Facebook more than a year before we met. I “liked” his Think Again page, which features his monthly column in the Glendale News-Press. He had seen my Sunroom Desk blog links posted on Facebook. In February 2011, we finally met at a Los Angeles Society of Professional Journalists forum.

“The Changing Face of Community Journalism,” moderated by Glendale News-Press Editor Dan Evans, and featuring LA city hall critic Ron Kaye as one of several panelists, explored publishers’ financial challenges, new ways building audiences on the internet, and the civic engagement ideals of the profession. The program drew local reporters, freelance writers, bloggers and columnists who were all experiencing online local journalism’s evolution.

At least three columnists/community activists now contributing to Asbarez attended the event: Zanku Armenian, Garen Yegparian, and me. Talking afterwards, we discussed our own Armenian-American community’s level of engagement with local government, and how recent immigrants’ approach to issues differed from those of native citizens.

The worthy issue of genocide recognition gets a lot of community focus in Glendale, and brings together large numbers. Less compelling issues that affect residents’ day to day lives need critical mass as well, and those gathered at the journalism forum knew their mission was to increase it.

Glendale citizens’ concerns about cell towers were the local expression of an international problem: thousands of new cell antennas needed for the latest smart phones and tablets v. concerns about radiation near homes or schools. I started covering the subject from a skeptical, citizen’s point of view after a neighborhood dispute with T-Mobile. My advocacy on the subject later expanded to include smart meter wireless technology and consumer privacy, network security, and public health concerns. I told Yegparian and Armenian that online articles I posted on these subjects drew “hits” from all over California and beyond, even when they didn’t attract a wide audience in Glendale.

Armenian and I talked again just over a month later, after we each attended a March 27 Glendale City candidates’ forum organized by a local homeowners’ association and promoted in print and online. We agreed that Garen Mailyan, who had been dismissed as an unlikely contender or even (by Armenian in one of his columns) as an election spoiler, had made a good point. He captured the audience’s attention with his question about rumors of ethnic discrimination within the Glendale Police Department. Mailyan said that Glendale’s City Manager should not have dismissed such allegations as “baseless” or invalid. Why, Mailyan asked, were such allegations never even explored?

These are just a couple of issues that came up after attending two meetings. Reporters break the stories, earnest candidates raise questions, bloggers and columnists advocate for awareness or change. Community leaders and advocates organize events so citizens can meet. All of these activities are worthwhile and require community as well as financial support so motivated writers and citizens can continue their efforts. That was another big “takeaway” from the journalism forum!

Questions about the risks of wireless and utility technologies in Glendale and elsewhere will probably not be answered fully for quite some time, but the questions should still be asked. Glendale’s City Manager just announced his retirement at the end of 2011 and recommendations about a process for replacing him were the subject of Armenian’s latest Think Again column. He called for a completely open hiring process. So did council member Rafi Manoukian during a council meeting, along with several members of the public who also spoke that evening. Critical mass is shaping the process toward an open, broad executive search. Stay tuned, stay engaged, and encourage your local community journalists!

Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of www.SunroomDesk.com, a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.

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