Are new media really detrimental to civic engagement? While many have argued that the Internet has led to a sense of detachment among local communities, this study contends that new media actually reinforce local community engagement. Specifically, this study analyzes hyperlocal media through a case study of the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Through the application of literature on the public sphere, civic engagement, uses and gratifications theory, communicative ecologies, and the knowledge city, this study embraces an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the effects of multiple new media technologies on community life. A content analysis of hyperlocal blogs, list-servs, Twitter, and Facebook groups found that hyperlocal media were more likely than mainstream media to provide information on neighborhood-specific politics, crime, events, and real estate, and also spurred more conversation. Survey results found a positive correlation between hyperlocal media use and community engagement. Those who contributed to or interacted with hyperlocal media were more likely to display offline community engagement than those who merely followed such media. However, a social network analysis of Twitter users found online engagement within that medium was less vibrant: The ties among Twitter users were predominantly “following” relationships and exhibited few instances of direct communication or interaction. Taken as individual sources, then, hyperlocal media do not provide all a community’s communication and information needs. Rather, each medium fulfills a specific role, and in the aggregate, these technologies do meet the needs of a niche audience.
About the Author
As a student in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture & Technology Master of Arts program, Kara A. Hadge focused her coursework primarily in areas related to media and politics. Her divergences from this path into subjects such as knowledge management, social network analysis, and architectural history proved to be anything but tangential: All were instrumental in informing an interdisciplinary approach to this project. Prior to matriculating at Georgetown, Kara received her B.A. in English and art history from Wellesley College.
Contact Kara at kara.hadge[at]gmail.com.