The challenge of metrics. Examples of audience engagement with varying degrees of emotional and technical intensity

The challenge of metrics. Examples of audience engagement with varying degrees of emotional and technical intensity

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Audience engagement has become a key concept in contemporary discussions on how news companies relate to the public and create sustainable business models. These discussions are irrevocably tied to practices of monitoring, harvesting and analyzing audience behaviours with metrics, which is increasingly becoming the new currency of the media economy...

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... Figure 1, which offers a heuristic overview of some common practices of engagement with the news, we can clearly see this challenge. The figure illustrates various kinds of audience engagement with news along two axes, technicality and emotionality, which also vary in terms of intensity. ...

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... However, in the face of these possibilities offered by technology that empower audiences (Piller, Ihl, & Vossen, 2011), media professionals face the dilemma of whether they should follow their own professional criteria or, on the contrary, follow the interests and tastes of users (Andrejevic, 2008). In short, should they take on the challenge of guaranteeing their value proposition based on their original principles (Manovich, 2018;Vaz-Alvarez, 2021) or should they welcome the opinions and criteria of outsiders and unqualified people (Carlsson & Nilsson, 2016;Sixto-García, López-García, & Toural-Bran, 2020;Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, & Peters, 2020;Steemers, 2019;te Walvaart, Dhoest, & van den Bulck, 2019). Taking audiences' opinions and ideas into account beyond consumption has two main risks: the first has to do with the fact that users are not necessarily experts in the topic as they do not follow the narrative structure of media contents; the second is that audience reaction cannot be planned because it is unpredictable (Domingo et al., 2008;Engelke, 2020). ...
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In recent times researchers and industry have paid special attention to the concept of engagement and the academic literature on this topic is abundant. Although audience loyalty and engagement are the cornerstone of the media business, not all companies have developed strategies to further engage the audience. Taking audiences' opinions and ideas into account beyond consumption has two main risks: the first has to do with the fact that users are not necessarily experts in the topic as they do not follow the narrative structure of media contents; and the second is that audience reaction cannot be planned because it is unpredictable. A third dilemma arises, namely should such actions be considered part of a global strategy on the part of the company or simply as a marketing action to reach new audiences and retain existing ones? Therefore, some reflection is needed in order to analyze to what extent strategies aimed at increasing engagement contribute to extending the value of media brands and content properties. With this dilemma in mind and after a review of the most recent literature, we developed a questionnaire to find out how professionals and managers of media companies from different sectors define and measure engagement. At the end of the study, we conclude that for companies whose core business is linked to the digital environment, proximity with the audiences is greater than that of the traditional media or those companies, such as audiovisual producers, whose business is directed at other companies rather than, fundamentally, at the public.
... Because algorithms feed on 'surface' behavioural data (Fisher and Mehozay, 2019), the institutional perspective runs the risk of reducing or misrepresenting the sociocultural practices of users. This gap is intriguing enough to prompt Groot Kormelink and Costera Meijer (2018; see also Steensen et al, 2020) to investigate the misfits between clicking on news (a use) and interest in news (a practice). As they explain: ...
... Despite the lack of a clear definition of reader engagement, authors agree that engagement is a multidimensional phenomenon (Steensen et al., 2020) related to the level of attention and involvement (emotional, cognitive and behavioral) with media (Attfield et al., 2011;Ksiazek et al., 2016;Mersey et al., 2010). Furthermore, to measure reader engagement a range of engagement metrics are available on the literature Ksiazek et al., 2016;Lehmann et al., 2012;Peterson & Carrabis, 2008). ...
... While some argue that the use of audience metrics directs editorial decision making based on market logics (Cohen 2015), most at least agree that market logics driven by audience metrics often conflict with editorial goals, professional norms, or democratic values (Carlson 2018;Moyo, Mare, and Matsilele 2019;Nelson and Tandoc 2019), all of which have consequences for equity. Accordingly, the analysis of audience data has been dubbed "the new currency of the media economy" (Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020). Maldistribution in this context thus occurs through the unequal distribution of the ability to collect, process, analyze and economically benefit from audience data. ...
... Despite this, news professionals voiced a responsibility to use audience data, not only in the service of profit, but to address issues of misrepresentation and to improve access to accurate and independent information for audiences across various socio-political, economic, and technological conditions to mitigate inequity. This suggests, that while audience data can be considered a "currency of the media economy" (Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020) and that economic interest can stand in conflict with professional norms and values (Carlson 2018;Moyo, Mare, and Matsilele 2019;Nelson and Tandoc 2019), economic logics embedded in data practices not necessarily override news professional's commitment to information equity. Instead, findings indicate that audience data practices have the potential to make the interests of traditionally marginalized audiences visible to mitigate misrepresentation. ...
Article
Datafication is embedded in cultural, economic, and political power structures which reinforce social inequities. Instead of simply providing news professionals with insights on user behavior, datafication may facilitate maldistribution, misrecognition and misrepresentation. Applying justice theory on audience data practices based on n = 31 interviews with news professionals working for global and national news organizations (including BBC World, The Guardian, Al-Jazeera English, and The New York Times), this study examines their experiences and perceptions of how audience data practices mitigate and/or reinforce inequity in journalism. Findings show that maldistribution, misrecognition, and misrepresentation are manifest in journalistic audience data practices, as inequities are reinforced when data is transformed into economic capital. At the same time, news professionals who possess cultural and economic resources can both mitigate inequity and use data for greater recognition and representation. The article thus contributes to the literature by (1) conceptualizing audience data as a cultural, economic and political good, (2) connecting data practices to both the reproduction and mitigation of social inequity, and finally, (3) examining these processes on a global scale.
... Finally, interviewees described using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to practice audience engagement, which they suggested was an essential step toward making the news they produce more publicly trusted and economically sustainable. Although engagement has many different implementations and definitions (Nelson 2021b;Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020), the form that journalists described pursuing within social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook typically involved back-and-forth interactions between themselves and other social media users. "It gives us an opportunity for people to easily reach out to me and say what they think of my story or leave a suggestion or a criticism to my story or something I hadn't thought about," said Renata Cl o, a reporter with The Arizona Republic. ...
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Journalists increasingly use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to pursue audience engagement. In doing so, journalists have learned these platforms carry personal and professional risks—namely accusations of political bias that can lead to termination from their jobs, as well as trolling, doxing, and threats of physical violence. This is especially true for women journalists and journalists of color. This study examines the extent to which newsroom managers help—or hinder—their journalists when it comes to navigating the risks and challenges of audience engagement via social media platforms. It draws on interviews with 37 reporters, editors, publishers, freelancers, and social media/audience engagement managers from throughout the U.S. about their experiences with and thoughts about their newsroom’s social media policies. Findings reveal that although journalists are encouraged to be “active,” “personable,” and “authentic” social media users, their newsroom social media policies offer little guidance or support for when journalists subsequently face personal, aggressive attacks. I conclude that these tensions are a consequence of the extent to which social media has upended the ways that journalists approach their work, as well as their relationship with the public.
... Deploying technical tools to measure engagement is far easier than other, more granular strategies (e.g., community building). The metrics-based code of engagement is based on a reductionist view of engagement that magnifies behavioural and technical interactions and overlooks the emotional, spatiotemporal, and normative dimensions of engagement (Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020). For instance, there is a crucial difference between triggering audience emotions to make them spread the news on social networks driven by anger or fury, and fostering the audience's emotions on social issues and public life. ...
Article
This essay argues that there are overlooked yet important journalistic beliefs, norms, rules and practices regarding, aesthetics, automation, distribution, engagement, identity, and proximity that could be a part of formalized codes of ethics. There are four reasons why these should be formalized. First, making the implicit normative dimensions explicit allow for a shared understanding of journalism, cutting across institutional borders. Second, it promotes a more unified and homogenized understanding of journalism across the institution based on those shared explicit norms (normative isomorphism). Third, it reduces the fuzziness of these codes and sharpens their functions as boundary objects, simplifying the negotiation between journalists and audiences. Fourth, and finally, these implicit codes might be an untapped resource that could make journalism better connect with citizens and increase its legitimacy. The paper offers two main contributions to journalism studies. First, it shows that elements of journalistic practice and culture that seem disparate in fact play similar institutional roles, forming boundary objects as sites of tension where codes are negotiated by different actors. Second, systematizing these informal codes into the style of traditional codes of ethics renders them more visible and could help journalism scholars understand the uneven formation and evolution of journalistic norms.
... What seems clear is regardless of whether they are news seekers or news avoiders, the patterns of news consumption among young audiences combine a wide array of media devices, sources, and services, "resulting in repertoires that operate across and within media devices" and platforms (Edgerly et al., 2018: 208). Engagement thus manifests beyond techno-behavioural encounters, extending to emotional, normative, and spatio-temporal dimensions (Steensen et al., 2020). Broadening the concept of engagement might be the key to making younger audiences consider news a worthwhile activity. ...
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While traditional media often fails to engage young audiences with news, YouTubers’ content gains popularity and attracts attention with specific stylistic practices. Based on dimensions of audience engagement and a worthwhileness approach, this article examines how young audiences engage with YouTubers’ formats and genres used in news media products. Findings of five focus group interviews with Estonian teenagers show that while specific dimensions of engagement may increase due to a more relatable format, interest in traditional news content remains limited regardless of repackaging to a YouTube-intrinsic production. This article contributes to audience studies by demonstrating to news organisations that trying to engage younger audiences through mere formatting while forgetting content might not be worthwhile. However, making news more entertaining and adopting the youth's interpretation of what news is could prime young audiences to consume news through social media.
... The proposed theory of audience engagement [31] states that a user's engagement is a multidimensional phenomenon with emotional and behavioral dimensions. The users interpret the news and invest their energies in relating to the knowledge given. ...
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Storytelling content is where the facts are conveyed by emotion and that make people more engaged and want to take action or change their surroundings. Stories fascinate people and can easily be remembered compared to the facts alone. The much hyped feature "stories" of Instagram, a trendy social media platform, has become a game-changer for influencer marketing. The present study extends reactance theory in the context of Instagram's millennial users. Previous researchers have tested the effectiveness of the stories feature of this particular social media platform. Therefore, in line with the earlier studies, we propose a sequential mediation model that investigates the effect of storytelling content (made by Instagram Influencers) on audience engagement using two sequential mediation mechanisms of relatability and trust. Data were obtained using a cross-sectional study design from 273 millennial users of Instagram. Our results justify the direct and indirect hypothesized relationship through Process Macros. We found that relatability and trust play a significant role in building a strong relationship between storytelling content and audience engagement. Ultimately, the research findings suggest that professionals should be more creative while making the content on Instagram to engage the millennial market. Moreover, this research has tried to fill the gap in the literature on Instagram "stories" as an advertising platform.
... However, "the news that most journalists consider important (for a well-functioning democracy)" may not garner enough likes and shares to be deemed important in newsrooms that rely on "clicks and pageviews" (Nelson 2021). That is why some scholars have warned against conceptualizing engagement purely in terms of measuring just metrics (Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020;Tandoc and Thomas 2015). ...
Article
Although the intersection of social media usage and journalism practice enjoys a prominent place in many scholarly inquiries throughout the field of journalism studies, a comprehensive understanding of this body of literature is lacking. This study attempts to alleviate this problem. Through a systematic analysis of more than 150 studies primarily focusing on how journalists utilize social media in newswork, this article first classifies social media usage into three broad categories: news construction, news dissemination, and branding. Next, this study introduces a typology that visualizes and explores three dimensions of social media use: motivation (self vs. organization), prevalence (sporadic vs. prevalent), and disruption (disruptive vs. normalization). Our findings illustrate potential future research areas.
... The subsequent commodification of media content and tracked user data is increasingly altering all aspects of the news process, from gathering sources to disseminating content across news titles and (social media) platforms (Belair-Gagnon, Zamith, and Holton 2020;Ferrer-Conill and Tandoc 2018;Hendrickx et al. 2021). Academia subsequently revisited agency in the light of the above-mentioned datafication (Livingstone 2019; Ytre-Arne and Das 2021) and linked it to (audience) engagement (Emirbayer and Mische 1998;Holton, B elair-Gagnon, and Royal 2021;Picone et al. 2019;Steensen, Ferrer-Conill, and Peters 2020). The renewed scholarly interest for the term warrants a reconceptualization equipped for the digital media era. ...
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This article proposes a conceptual framework for the concept audience agency, which plays a vital role in the current audience turn in journalism (research). It presents two types of audience agency, deliberate and incidental, and three levels at which they can manifest: the micro level of the individual, the meso level of organised groups and the macro level of collective audiences. While incidental, individual agency is much more commonplace, both media professionals and scholars increasingly aggregate and study–and risk to misinterpret–individuals’ behaviour at a deliberate audience level. Finally, future research avenues are suggested to advance knowledge and debate on audience agency within digital journalism, including studying the concept through editorial, commercial and/or democratic lenses.