A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Neighborhood Communication Systems

By Fred Gillette

 

Whether you’re part of an organization that’s trying to promote an upcoming neighborhood history presentation or an individual hoping to share your thoughts with other neighbors, there usually exists an elegant sufficiency of media to carry your message. Consideration of which medium to choose varies with your objectives, resources, and the numbers of senders and recipients involved. For starters, we’ll look at media considerations most appropriate for an organization.

For a neighborhood group, functional objectives typically include broadly dispensing information, publicizing events and activities, raising funds, allocating resources and recruiting new members. Communication objectives eventually evolve beyond highly focused, issue oriented tasks. They include establishment and maintenance of networks of information exchange and communication that facilitate an overall sense of community.

Once a network of media paths exists within a neighborhood, it can facilitate activities that may have little to do with a particular neighborhood organization. Other special interest groups may use the network to further their ends and to sustain themselves. The neighborhood improvement group may, at its website, promote a new club or announce a special social event or give attention to local religious activities. A more traditional neighborhood newspaper, online or print, may promote the events of numerous special interest groups as well as serving as a broad forum for issues of local interest and concern. Each medium is being applied, ideally, with consideration of its own unique characteristics and qualities, yet all work in tandem to produce well linked neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

Communication Media

 


The Web

As modern methods of displaying online information were developed, it quickly became apparent that the internet could well serve the needs of some relatively small groups of people. Within the past couple of decades, the printed neighborhood newspaper or newsletter has been largely supplanted by the neighborhood website. It is now relatively easy for most groups to produce a functional and even professional level website.

For pervasiveness, cost and flexibility, it is hard to beat this medium. It can cover a variety of issues, allowing the reader to easily focus on those that are of interest. Community members can be reached in large numbers as by no other method. It is deserving, therefore, of a major portion of an organization's energies; ever more-so with organizations having a large percentage of membership usually staying away from meetings. Some organizations choose to establish a relatively static website, with parts of the site occasionally being updated, amended or redesigned. This is most common for neighborhood commercial entities, for example, a shop, a service provider, or an actual online newspaper. The more common web presence for a neighborhood organization is a periodic newsletter. Although we’ll touch on organizational matters common to both, our initial focus will be the periodic neighborhood organization publication. Following, are the basic steps involved in designing, producing and maintaining a neighborhood web site.

Plan

Be it a static site or one with dynamic, ever-changing content, the first step is to have group involvement in stating overall objectives for establishing and maintaining the site. The site will be a major face of the organization or entity, and its success depends on the successful completion of this foundational step.

Organize

A set of operational procedures is established. An editor is formally identified. This is someone who can organize neighborhood news and information and present it in an orderly and timely fashion in accordance with the goals of the organization. The basic logistics of ongoing website production are agreed upon by the general membership or representatives thereof. These include operating budget, frequency and time of publication, graphics resources, selection of the site manager or webmaster and, far from least important, identifying and getting commitments from writers. Although the sophistication of presentation and delivery may have evolved significantly, the quality of content has not always undergone a synchronous transformation. The proficient writers are now faster, more web savvy and more graphically sophisticated, as are the less proficient writers.

Graphics considerations will include the selection of a repeating masthead or heading, article titling and formatting and placement standards.

Establish

If your neighborhood organization has members with web skills and some time they’re willing to donate, you can develop a very customized site. You must also find a web hosting service at which to park your site. Neighborhood Life uses and highly recommends Go Daddy and Site 5. Yahoo and Google also have good web hosting offers for those with limited or even no web skills who want to merely plug content into an existing template.

 

At this point we will advance our focus more specifically to the remaining procedural steps needed to operate a dynamic, periodically changing site approximating the “newsletter” model.

Unlike a blog, a neighborhood website is invariably the product of a group effort, either a subcommittee within a neighborhood organization or a stand-alone journalism product … an online neighborhood newspaper. Its contents feature a variety of points of view and sources of articles and features. It has a regular publishing schedule. It’s almost always free and open-access. Like the neighborhood print newspaper model, any revenue likely comes from ads, or perhaps solely from the organization’s general fund. If the site is produced and maintained by a neighborhood organization, it may freely reflect a bias that represents the values and objectives of the organization. Stand-alone online newspapers usually attempt to be less biased and seek a wider diversity of opinions. They may also venture more into areas of art and entertainment than an organization-based site.

 

Make rules

Referring to the organization’s purposes and guidelines, topics are chosen. Writers are given assignments with clear deadlines and specifications regarding length. If there may be editing of their work for more than just punctuation and spelling the writers should be made aware of this. The editor should not be shy about setting deadlines. Readers have certain expectations about timeliness. Lax standards here could hurt the organization’s credibility. Any compensation being offered for composing or production duties should be clearly spelled out. If there are other members likely to want to participate in the production process, clear duty rotation procedures should also be defined.

Publicize

Newsletters with frequent new editions may not need to publicize them. More commonly, neighborhood newsletters are published approximately monthly and may miss the attention of potential readers unless notices of the new edition are sent out by email.

Evaluate

As with any of the media we mention it is important to get user feedback. Such feedback warrants special attention here, because it is so chronically neglected with this very pervasive yet sometimes one-way medium. Solicit and publish your reader-comments. Take the time to occasionally poll readers as to their level of satisfaction. Is this newsletter meeting their needs and expectations? How could it be better? Even lack of response is valuable information; you're probably doing OK. Praise is much harder to extract than criticism.

Circulate

There may be several useful and rewarding distribution outlets beyond posting on the web. If there is a neighborhood library, they should certainly be getting a printed newsletter copy, or be asked to provide a link to it from their own website. The city officials with whom you regularly deal, elected and otherwise, should be sent a link every time there’s a new edition or modification of the site. You may wish to leave a hard copy at coffee shops or restaurants. Your newsletter is a piece of organization good will as well as a potential vehicle for recruitment.

 

The website or online newsletter can become the strongest and most influential part of an organization. It brings into some level of participation those who, for whatever reasons, do not attend meetings or otherwise participate and it increases general visibility and influence. It forces a kind of discipline to organization functioning and can motivate other activities in line with the organization’s purposes. The editor and writers are going to expect to be able to report on the last neighborhood meeting or to describe past and future group activities, which encourages the group to actually have some. As testimony to its power, it is usually the last part of a declining organization to atrophy. There are many declining organizations kept on a kind of life support by their websites, until someone mercifully pulls the plug.

 

 

Email

Any entity with a membership likely keeps an email address book of its members. Most people have come to think of email as the primary means of mediated, interpersonal communication. What is often not recognized is the degree to which it is becoming ever more a means of mass communication.

An email sent to a highly select group of individuals can convey pieces of urgent information with speed and efficiency. Beyond this, the medium itself is capable of providing far more than just raw information. It can carry deeper meanings. Much of the email coming from large organizations includes carefully composed graphics such as a logo, key phrases linked to other aspects of the organizations business or interest, a brief phrase or sentence summarizing purpose, as well as other graphic embellishments designed to further communicate the character of the organization. Most email originating programs allow for the inclusion of graphic elements, making potential deeper levels of communication available to individuals and small organizations.

As noted, the less proficient writer is only partially aided by the technical enhancements afforded by electronic composing tools. The same holds for the more personal, specialized communication in an email. To truly further the organization or individual’s goals and intent, the rules of good written communication should be adhered to. Don’t be tempted to compose an email as you would a text message. If your message is anything beyond an urgent news bulletin, it becomes extremely important to exercise good composition practices including adherence to proper grammar and spelling. Make sure that messages are organized with logic and clarity. Consider the needs of a mass reading audience, being careful not to offend some readers or leave others out by lapsing into specialized jargon. And, as with other media, be alert to feedback.

Blog

Blogs are types of websites. They are characteristically the reflection of a single individual’s point of view. They can also, however, have a focus that relates to a particular subject matter or to a geographic area. In Tacoma Washington, Candace Brown’s Good Life Northwest is mainly centered on issues and reflections that are inspired by the people and places in and around her home town and her neighborhood. Although information and viewpoints presented are filtered through the author, the blog’s content relates to a variety of ways of discovering and living “the good life” in the Pacific Northwest. Since this, and many other blogs, allow feedback, they also permit exposure to a number of other points of view.

On the other hand, an individual wishing to promote communication or stimulate information exchange within his or her own neighborhood could conspicuously focus the blog’s contents on neighborhood matters only. Since a blog doesn’t typically have a review process, the owner could enjoy the freedom of promoting a particular point of view without being hindered by the regulation of others.

Some of the advantages cited for blogging can also, however, become disadvantages. Since the creator is unfettered and uncensored, the readers could consider it to be a private forum in which varying points of view are glossed over or ignored. Without the connection to a respected neighborhood organization, there may be a credibility deficit whenever the blog delves into serious reporting or analysis. The personal nature of the blog also can make publicity more difficult. Your neighborhood organization’s website might not be willing to announce or promote such a blog. Web searches by the general public will net the blog only a few readers. Shop owners will not be as likely to post an announcement of its existence as readily as they would for items originating from a known entity or organization. It will ultimately be important to promote the blog by individually contacting people that you think might be interested, perhaps along with some potentially interested organizations. The hope is that some of these will also pass on the blog site to others.

Besides being a communication medium for the neighborhood as a whole, the blog may be used as an internal communication device for spreading news within the neighborhood organization about such things as meeting schedules and issues of interest. If such a website were to become the product of a group effort, be published regularly, and simultaneously carry features by different authors, most people would come to see it as an online journal or neighborhood organization newsletter or website.

Starting a blog is a relatively easy process. Not much is needed in the way of graphic or web skills. There are web entities that will allow one to plug text into a variety of templates and host the blog for free, paying its way by the fairly unobtrusive accompanying ads. Here’s a site that gives some ideas about the process as well as providing some potential blogging hosts:
http://www.wikihow.com/Start-a-Blog

To keep improving your blog, you shouldn’t have to resort to extensive market research. If you allow interaction and feedback, your readers probably won’t be shy about telling you how you might improve. Your web hosting service can probably also give you data on number of visits and length of visits to your site, which will also provide useful data on how well, in the most stark of terms, it’s being received.

 

Part Two of Neighborhood Communication Systems will appear in the Summer, 2010, edition of Neighborhood Life. It will include media such as electronic groups, radio and television, kiosks, bulletin boards and displays.

 

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