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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

#JCARN: The Web can be a ‘third place’ to expand news sources

A ‘third place’ is not home. It’s not work either. It’s the place where we hang out to connect with others. It’s the coffee shop, the book store, the public library. It can be the mall or the market. About a year into my career, I learned the third place was vital for journalists. It allowed me to expand beyond the official sources that were easy to find. It allowed me to see what real people had to say about the issues I was covering.

I still teach my students about ‘third places’ in my news writing classes. I still use the same Pew Center video that introduced the concept to me. (I’ve embedded part of the video below.) But we always wonder aloud, where are the third places in the digital age? Are they still in the coffee shops, the markets, and malls? Have they migrated online as well?

One of the best ways I’ve found to teach students about reaching out to unofficial sources is asking them to approach the Web as a third place. The more they immerse themselves in the digital forums where people hang out and discuss, the more surprised they learn about their communities. More importantly, they expand the number of sources they use and paint a more vivid and relatable picture of the news.

One of the best examples of how the Web can function as a third place is Flickr. I love searching through Flickr for anything that relates to my hometown. It’s one of the first things I encourage journalists to do. The people who are willing to photograph and share the sights of their hometown have the kind of passion journalists crave. They may not be physically involved in every news event, but they’ll know the issues and be reasonably able to comment on them. I’m continually surprised at home many of the communities, in which I have lived and worked (Hesperia, Barstow, Columbia, Athens), have Flickr groups. If there isn’t a group, create one. It’s an easy way to use the Web to reach out to those you wouldn’t normally reach.

The same holds true with other social media. I’m surprised how few of the journalists and journalism students I meet have Google alerts set up for blogs about their beats. Even fewer have created or search hashtags on Twitter. Sites such as What the Hashtag or Hashtag.org are great places to start to find what people are saying about a community.

I’m sure these tips seem simple, even obvious. Just like walking into a coffee shop and approaching a stranger for a comment, it takes some guts to use them. We have to work to overcome the stigma attached to Web content. Not everyone who opens himself up online has an axe to grind or is a shameless self-promoter. Most of them are average citizens who love where they live and work. They get together online, just as they would at a real world third place, to connect with others that feel the same.

Journalists need to be part of that conversation.

PhotoCredit: Thanks to kelly bone who posted this great photo in the Cafes, Coffee Houses, Burger Houses, Food Carts group on Flickr.

Note: The following post was the second in the Carnival of Journalism, an ongoing discussion about how to improve journalism. The topic this month was the following: “Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?” To follow the discussion, search for the hashtag #JCARN on Twitter or visit the Carnival of Journalism blog Friday for a roundup.

ThirdPlaces

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7 Responses to “#JCARN: The Web can be a ‘third place’ to expand news sources”

  1. Love the concept of “third places.” I’ve not heard it put quite that way; one American Press Institute seminar I attended years ago advised, “Find out where people are spending their time, and go there.” It seems they were visiting the places you’re talking about.

    Great advice on Flickr, too. I’ll have to add that to the SGFNews effort.

    Hope all is well in Ohio. You definitely still have your writing mojo.

    Take care,
    Jonathan

    February 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm
  2. Hans, cool post thanks for putting it together. I did a #jcarn post this time around inventing a hashtag and thought in the back of my mind that maybe I’d be embarrassed by my post later (as I was in the first round). But you’ve given me moral fortitude with a very like-minded observation.

    The third place is a very cool idea, almost meditative, and I’ll be keeping it in mind in the future. One more note: I looked for a desert island cartoon to modify and use as banner for my entry and couldn’t find anything that worked and was Commons. So I drew something myself that is pretty bad. Hopefully some artists check out your post and start putting up some more stuff on Flickr.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:06 pm
  3. Hans #

    @Eliot – You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Glad we are on the same wavelength. I use Flickr a lot because I can’t draw, and I’m too lazy most of the time to shoot my own. I always make sure to link back to protect the link economy, right?

    @Jonathan – Writing mojo? You are too kind. Clyde introduced me to Flickr, but I love showing it to journalists now. They are usually astounded at what they can find. They never thought about actually contacting the photographers and starting a conversation.
    Check out what we do on athensi.com with Flickr. We tell photographers to tag their photos with athens ohio. Flickr will create an RSS feed for you from a tag. I think we used Widgetbox to create the applet that runs on the page.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm
  4. I LOVE this quote.

    “Not everyone who opens himself up online has an axe to grind or is a shameless self-promoter. Most of them are average citizens who love where they live and work. They get together online, just as they would at a real world third place, to connect with others that feel the same.”

    Great work Hans!

    February 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] 2) Hans K. Meyer @OhJProf / Points to the web as a “third place” for journalists and asks about the paucity of j-gen… […]

  2. Carnival Roundup No. 2: Increasing news sources #JCarn « RJI - February 18, 2011

    […] Nicole, Hans K. Meyer emphasizes the importance of seeking out community gathering places. He says the Internet itself is […]

  3. Carnival Roundup No. 2: Increasing news sources #JCarn « Carnival of Journalism - February 18, 2011

    […] Nicole, Hans K. Meyer emphasizes the importance of seeking out community gathering places. He says the Internet itself is […]

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