Local newspapers aid in the development of a sense of community in many important ways. It is that sense of community that creates an atmosphere where residents are more willing to work together for solutions, programs and community growth.

“A sense of community is vital to a healthy community and is needed to get residents involved with initiatives and institutions and an improved the quality of life,” said David Burton, civic communication specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Four elements

There are four elements that help create a sense of community and a community newspaper can impact each of these four elements.

First, a community has a sense of membership. This includes some sort of defined boundaries, emotional safety, a sense of belonging and identification, a personal investment, a common symbol system and influence.

“Influence works both ways in a community. Members need to feel that they have some influence in the group, and some influence by the group on its members is needed for group cohesion. Current research on rural and urban communities have found that a sense of community is a major factor in development and growth,” said Burton.

Integration and fulfillment of needs contributes to a sense of community. Members need to feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community.

There needs to be a shared emotional connection. This is the definitive element for true community, it includes shared history and shared participation. This can revolve around the school or other community institutions and a newspaper can help support.

“A number of different efforts have been undertaken by newspapers to help build this sense of community. Some newspapers organize and host meetings of residents for community editorial boards to strengthen how they work with the community,” said Burton.

However, the ability of a newspaper to be able to commit time and staff to an editorial board or other community efforts depend on the financial health of the newspaper.

“Saying we want an improved community and then ignoring the community newspaper simply does not make sense,” said Burton. “It also does not result in an improved community.”

Contributing newspaper

How does a reader know if a newspaper is contributing to a sense of community? Burton says there is a checklist that measures the degree to which newspapers reveal community structure.

Does your community newspaper provide the following?

• Contact information for community leaders, officials, experts, and community organizations.

• Information from community leaders, officials, experts, and organizations that is usable and relevant to community members.

• Information on community services and institutions like government, school and churches.

• Information so that communities understand how to use services and institutions.

• Information on clubs and organizations.

• Information that helps communities understand how to get involved with local or relevant clubs and organizations.

• Information that helps communities take advantage of local or relevant events and festivities.

“We don’t get a better community by pulling out of our community newspapers,” said Burton. “There are new online tools that connect people, I understand that, but a local newspaper that has the community’s interest at heart is an important tool for improving a sense of community. The institution of a community newspaper deserves our time, our subscriptions and our ad dollars, especially in rural areas. The end result will be good for our community and for your family.”

Community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development Program works collaboratively with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making, community emergency preparedness and inclusive communities.

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