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Not paid to play: A case study of online community participants and the effects of non-monetary motivation upon public journalism
Unformatted Document Text:  NOT PAID TO PLAY 13 When  suggested  in  the  interview  for  this  study  that  BT  could  have  published   the  column  as  a  blog  post  on  the  newspaper’s  website  without  the  editor’s  approval   (a  seemingly  common  practice  among  these  community  participants),  BT  said  that  he  did  not  want  to  risk  his  relationship  with  the  editor,  nor  his  opportunity  to  write   for  the  paper.  He  took  the  editor’s  comments  that  it  was  “too  soon”  to  publish  the  piece,  while  posed  politely,  was  not  a  suggestion.  BT,  who  is  retired,  explained  that  “when  I  was  working  and  your  boss  says,  ‘I  think  this  is  what  we  should  do,’   sometimes  that’s  not  a  question.”  Indeed,  he  said  he  did  not  want  to  be  “fired”  from  his  “job”  as  a  volunteer,  recognizing  the  social  control  and  pressure  to  conform  to  institutional  policies  or  risk  losing  his  column.   By  and  large,  most  of  the  concerns  among  the  writers  had  to  do  with  less   pressing  matters,  namely  the  editing  and  presentation  of  their  columns  and  the   selection  of  headlines.  “The  only  thing  I  really  find  annoying  is  the  choices  that  the  headline  writer  makes  about  what  headline  to  give  the  piece,”  one  writer  said.  “I  can’t  begin  to  understand  why  they  choose  what  they  do.  I  always  send  them  a  title.   They  never  use  it.”  Another  writer  complained  that  the  newspaper  staff  “ignores”  his  request  for  them  to  change  his  photo  that  accompanies  his  column  in  print  and  online.   The  relatively  positive  relationships  between  writers  and  editor  that  all   interviewees  described  seems  to  have  created  a  comfort  for  the  columnists  to   become  further  invested  in  their  local  newspaper.  At  least  three  of  the  columnists  said  that  they  frequently  send  news  tips  to  reporters  at  the  newspaper  or  suggest  to  their  editor  story  ideas  for  the  news  department.  Additionally,  two  of  the  columnists   said  that  they  turn  to  editors  or  reporters  to  gain  information  for  their  columns.  This  comfort  suggests  that  they  feel  part  of  the  institution  even  if  they  are  not   “professional  journalists.”     However,  the  opinion  editor  said  that  the  close  relationship  between  the   newspaper  and  the  community  participants  has  created  a  “confusing”  relationship.   For  example,  he  said,  the  autonomy  that  the  columnists  have  to  run  their  own  blogs  on  the  newspaper  site  presents  a  question  of  who  is  in  control.  He  added  that  columnists  sometimes  need  to  be  reminded  not  to  represent  themselves  to  the   public  as  part  of  the  newspaper.     At  the  same  time,  newspaper  management  tends  to  believe  that  the   participants  “fall  under  our  umbrella,”  he  said.  “They  are  a  part  of  our  brand.”  And,  the  editor  said,  despite  his  “efforts”  in  discussions  with  the  public  about  the  role  of  the  participants  to  create  a  divide  between  them  and  the  newspaper,  “people  don’t   know  what  the  writer’s  group  is  all  about.  They  think  these  are  paid  columnists.”  In  effect,  he  said,  this  perception  may  cause  some  to  expect  the  community   participants  abide  by  professional  journalistic  ethics  and  standards,  that  are  writing  news  even  though  it  is  printed  under  “opinion.”       Discussion  and  Conclusions      This  study  provides  important  insights  into  the  production  of  community   and  public  journalism  from  the  perspective  of  those  producing  it,  which  will  be  discussed  individually  below.  First,  evidence  presented  through  these  depth  

Authors: Gutsche Jr, Robert. and Arif, Rauf.
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background image
NOT PAID TO PLAY  13 
When  suggested  in  the  interview  for  this  study  that  BT  could  have  published  
the  column  as  a  blog  post  on  the  newspaper’s  website  without  the  editor’s  approval  
(a  seemingly  common  practice  among  these  community  participants),  BT  said  that  
he  did  not  want  to  risk  his  relationship  with  the  editor,  nor  his  opportunity  to  write  
for  the  paper.  He  took  the  editor’s  comments  that  it  was  “too  soon”  to  publish  the  
piece,  while  posed  politely,  was  not  a  suggestion.  BT,  who  is  retired,  explained  that  
“when  I  was  working  and  your  boss  says,  ‘I  think  this  is  what  we  should  do,’  
sometimes  that’s  not  a  question.”  Indeed,  he  said  he  did  not  want  to  be  “fired”  from  
his  “job”  as  a  volunteer,  recognizing  the  social  control  and  pressure  to  conform  to  
institutional  policies  or  risk  losing  his  column.  
By  and  large,  most  of  the  concerns  among  the  writers  had  to  do  with  less  
pressing  matters,  namely  the  editing  and  presentation  of  their  columns  and  the  
selection  of  headlines.  “The  only  thing  I  really  find  annoying  is  the  choices  that  the  
headline  writer  makes  about  what  headline  to  give  the  piece,”  one  writer  said.  “I  
can’t  begin  to  understand  why  they  choose  what  they  do.  I  always  send  them  a  title.  
They  never  use  it.”  Another  writer  complained  that  the  newspaper  staff  “ignores”  
his  request  for  them  to  change  his  photo  that  accompanies  his  column  in  print  and  
online.  
The  relatively  positive  relationships  between  writers  and  editor  that  all  
interviewees  described  seems  to  have  created  a  comfort  for  the  columnists  to  
become  further  invested  in  their  local  newspaper.  At  least  three  of  the  columnists  
said  that  they  frequently  send  news  tips  to  reporters  at  the  newspaper  or  suggest  to  
their  editor  story  ideas  for  the  news  department.  Additionally,  two  of  the  columnists  
said  that  they  turn  to  editors  or  reporters  to  gain  information  for  their  columns.  This  
comfort  suggests  that  they  feel  part  of  the  institution  even  if  they  are  not  
“professional  journalists.”    
However,  the  opinion  editor  said  that  the  close  relationship  between  the  
newspaper  and  the  community  participants  has  created  a  “confusing”  relationship.  
For  example,  he  said,  the  autonomy  that  the  columnists  have  to  run  their  own  blogs  
on  the  newspaper  site  presents  a  question  of  who  is  in  control.  He  added  that  
columnists  sometimes  need  to  be  reminded  not  to  represent  themselves  to  the  
public  as  part  of  the  newspaper.    
At  the  same  time,  newspaper  management  tends  to  believe  that  the  
participants  “fall  under  our  umbrella,”  he  said.  “They  are  a  part  of  our  brand.”  And,  
the  editor  said,  despite  his  “efforts”  in  discussions  with  the  public  about  the  role  of  
the  participants  to  create  a  divide  between  them  and  the  newspaper,  “people  don’t  
know  what  the  writer’s  group  is  all  about.  They  think  these  are  paid  columnists.”  In  
effect,  he  said,  this  perception  may  cause  some  to  expect  the  community  
participants  abide  by  professional  journalistic  ethics  and  standards,  that  are  writing  
news  even  though  it  is  printed  under  “opinion.”    
 
Discussion  and  Conclusions  
 
 
This  study  provides  important  insights  into  the  production  of  community  
and  public  journalism  from  the  perspective  of  those  producing  it,  which  will  be  
discussed  individually  below.  First,  evidence  presented  through  these  depth  


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