Becoming a voice in the community choir

Posted on December 29, 2010 by Janet Coats

I’ve been doing some research the last couple of weeks on job descriptions for community managers.

This is part of an effort I’m working on to help enable connection among entrepreneurial community news publishers. These publishers are developing their own websites focused on very local issues and on finding new ways to create connection in the communities they serve.

But they need connection among themselves as well, so that they can share better practices and solve common problems together. A community manager, someone who can help pull together threads of many conversations among the publishers into a common stream, is an important step in that direction.

With the help of University of Missouri graduate student Kathleen Majorsky, I’ve been collecting definitions of community management from many different sources. Some of those definitions focus on community management as a part of journalism, but we’ve also drawn definitions from a wide range of businesses and non-profit organizations.

I have never hired a community manager or worked with one in an organization. So perhaps all of this research reflects my insecurity as I try to think about how to define a community manager’s role in helping this particular community connect.

Insecurity aside, I love to learn about how people are thinking about ways to engage and connect. Reading the various descriptions helped me think about how community management works best in general and how we could use it specifically for this task.

Those descriptions of a community manager as someone who actively monitors the conversations of a particular community, participates in those conversations to add context, facts and meaning and engages with others who can add value to the dialogue did put me in mind of one thing:


There are those who hold that what journalism does is present an accounting of particular events and then steps aside and hopes for the best. Hopes that others will take up the conversation. Hopes that the conversation reflected or even begun by this reporting will continue. Hopes that misinformation and rumor will not overtake constructive dialogue.

I have never believed that the job of journalism is to hit and run – to act as if the events we cover are episodic and unconnected. When I edited newspapers, I often spoke of what we were doing as creating a tapestry of life in our community. If we did it well, the threads we wove were long and richly colored.

I understand better now that the role of journalism and journalists is not really that of weaver. We aren’t working to create something static. We should be working to enable conversation and dialogue.

To do that, we can’t stand apart. We can’t simply monitor the conversations of the communities we cover. We have to participate, adding context, facts and meaning. And we have to actively engage with others who can add value to the dialogue and draw them in.

It isn’t a tapestry at all. It is like being part of a choir. Each individual has a voice, each has a part to sing – including the journalists.  By raising those voices together, the music is infinitely richer.

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