Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Singer, Jane B

Second Advisor

Berkowitz, Daniel A

First Committee Member

Ekdale, Brian

Second Committee Member

Hitlin, Steven

Third Committee Member

Shelton, Vanessa


Through the use of the interpretive lenses of sociology of news, identity, and community roles, this research aims to understand the approach to journalism by small-town weekly newspapers. The research explores how small-town weekly newspapers in rural America are faring in the current emergent media environment. Are these newspapers surviving the digital age or are they experiencing the similar hardships larger daily newspapers are facing, including revenue and circulation declines, and in some cases product elimination?

The research also investigates whether or not the small-town journalism approach is different than it is for larger daily newspapers by theoretically and conceptually examining the routine practices of news gathering used by news workers, the identity formations of weekly newspaper journalists, and the journalists’ and community members’ perceptions of the weekly newspaper’s role in the community. To accomplish this, the researcher has used quantitative and qualitative research techniques, including a large-scale survey directed at weekly newspaper publishers, a thematic content analysis of weekly newspaper content, and in-depth interviews with news workers and community members, to conduct an analysis of news production in small towns in Iowa.

Focusing on small-town weekly newspapers is crucial because the close, frequent and often personal interactions of small-town journalists with their audiences create the potential for a more direct effect on community members’ everyday lives. In addition to contributing to the understanding of small-town community news production, this research offers news industry leaders and practitioners insight into a different, more personally engaged, approach to journalism.

Public Abstract

This research aims to understand how news gets produced in small, rural communities in Iowa. Through the use of a state-wide Internet survey, an examination of weekly newspaper content in three weekly newspapers in southeast Iowa, and newsroom observations and interviews with journalists at three small weekly newspapers in southeast Iowa, this study explores how well weekly newspapers in Iowa are doing in the digital age, how the weekly newspaper journalists do their jobs, and what the communities think of their weekly newspapers.

This study reveals that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to journalism. The approach to journalism done in small, rural towns in Iowa is different than the journalism approach adopted by the journalists who work for the larger daily newspapers. Ultimately, this study reveals that Iowa’s weekly newspapers are surviving the digital age, despite a chaotic media environment, because the newspapers and news workers are aware of who they are, what their purposes are, and who their audiences are.


publicabstract, Community, Community Journalism, Identity, Journalism, Journalists, Sociology of News


x, 189 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-175).


Copyright 2015 Christina Carolyn Smith