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In light of the media industry’s growing focus on audience engagement, this article explores how online and offline forms of engagement unfold within journalism, based on a comparative case study of two American public media newsrooms. This study addresses gaps in the literature by (1) examining what engagement means for public media and (2) applying the concept of reciprocal journalism to evaluate the nature of reciprocity (direct, indirect, or sustained) in the give-and-take between journalists and their communities. Drawing on direct observation and in-depth interviews, this article shows how this emerging focus on engagement is driven by public media journalists’ desire to make their relationship with the public more enduring and mutually beneficial. We find that such journalists privilege offline modes of engagement (e.g., listening sessions and partnerships with local organizations) in hopes of building trust and strengthening ties with their community, more so than digital modes of engagement (e.g., social media) that are more directly tied to news publishing. Moreover, this case study reveals that public media organizations, in and through their engagement efforts, are distinguishing between the communities they cover in their reporting and the audiences they reach with their reporting.
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Journalism Practice
ISSN: 1751-2786 (Print) 1751-2794 (Online) Journal homepage:
Audience Engagement, Reciprocity, and the
Pursuit of Community Connectedness in Public
Media Journalism
Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Jacob L. Nelson & Seth C. Lewis
To cite this article: Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Jacob L. Nelson & Seth C. Lewis (2018): Audience
Engagement, Reciprocity, and the Pursuit of Community Connectedness in Public Media
Journalism, Journalism Practice
To link to this article:
Published online: 14 Nov 2018.
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Audience Engagement, Reciprocity, and the Pursuit of
Community Connectedness in Public Media Journalism
Valerie Belair-Gagnon
, Jacob L. Nelson
and Seth C. Lewis
Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis,
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA;
School of Journalism & Communication, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA
In light of the media industrys growing focus on audience
engagement, this article explores how online and oine forms of
engagement unfold within journalism, based on a comparative
case study of two American public media newsrooms. This study
addresses gaps in the literature by (1) examining what
engagement means for public media and (2) applying the
concept of reciprocal journalism to evaluate the nature of
reciprocity (direct, indirect, or sustained) in the give-and-take
between journalists and their communities. Drawing on direct
observation and in-depth interviews, this article shows how this
emerging focus on engagement is driven by public media
journalistsdesire to make their relationship with the public more
enduring and mutually benecial. We nd that such journalists
privilege oine modes of engagement (e.g., listening sessions and
partnerships with local organizations) in hopes of building trust
and strengthening ties with their community, more so than digital
modes of engagement (e.g., social media) that are more directly
tied to news publishing. Moreover, this case study reveals that
public media organizations, in and through their engagement
eorts, are distinguishing between the communities they cover in
their reporting and the audiences they reach with their reporting.
Public media; engagement;
reciprocity; journalism;
audience; qualitative method
Audience engagementrefers broadly to exchanges between journalists and audiences.
Journalism scholars and practitioners often use the term to describe interactions between
news producers and the people they attempt to reach with their coverage. In the context
of digital media, scholars have dened engagement as forms of participatory culture and
online interactivity that go beyond usersconsumption of news. For example, journalists
draw on a variety of tools and platforms to interact with audiences, using things such
as online quizzes, commenting spaces, question-and-answer forums, social media, and
audience analytics (Ksiazek, Peer, and Lessard 2016; Usher 2016; Nelson 2018a). Engage-
ment also refers to in-person encounters coordinated by news organizations, such as
events, open houses, and face-to-face interactions (cf. Larson 2015). Engagement thus
involves audiences actively contributing to dierent stages of the news production
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Valerie Belair-Gagnon @journoscholar
process, sometimes in unrelated and unexpected ways. Batsell (2015) argued that news
organizations pursue audience engagement because of market pressures, with the
hopes that doing so will help journalists gain audience attention and, consequently,
revenue. Thus, for journalism as well as the creative and cultural industries more
broadly, engaging the audience is seen as an essential precondition of for-prot media.
But what about nonprot news media? How might their conception of and approach to
audience engagement change according to their public mission? For such membership-
oriented news organizations that claim a distinctly public-interest orientation, the quest
for audience attention may dier to give higher priority to more personal, informal, and
higher-quality interactions with their audience, ones that are less oriented to attention
metrics, advertising or revenue generation. Public media thus might be more willing
and able to develop more mutually benecial interactions between audiences and
As such, this study asks: What does engagement look like in public media? In particular,
we consider the character of engagement as rendered in United States media markets,
ones that feature public broadcasters competing in the same ecosystem as commercially
driven journalism, as well as foundations and startups fostering engagement initiatives
that claim to sustain a future for established journalism (see Konieczna 2018). Under
such conditions, what vision for engagement is developed and enacted, and how might
that advance our understanding of engagement as both a scholarly construct and a prac-
tical form of media work at the intersection of producer and user?
Conceptual guidance for this question can be found in Lewis, Holton, and Coddingtons
(2014) notion of reciprocal journalism, or mutually benecial exchanges between journal-
ists and audiences, particularly in the context of publicly oriented journalism. In the ideal-
ized sense of reciprocal journalism, journalists act as community-builders who are
equipped to catalyze patterns of reciprocal exchangedirectly with readers, indirectly
with community members, and repeatedly over timethat, in turn, may contribute to
greater trust, connectedness, and social capital with the public broadly and audiences
specically (229). Accordingly, Lewis and colleagues suggest that reciprocal journalism
may be most evident in community or public media, but they do not oer evidence to
support this assertion.
Thus, addressing gaps in related literatures on engagement and reciprocity, this study
examines the role of reciprocal journalism through audience engagement activities in two
American public media contexts. Specically, it explores how public media journalists seek
to create meaningful engagement with audiences in and through news production. Using
a comparative approach that puts two case studies of similarly structured newsrooms into
conversation, we consider the public media journalism ideals of Minnesota Public Radio
(MPR News) and Milwaukee Public Radio (MilPR), where the authors conducted direct
observation and in-depth interviews with news producers and managers.
We nd that audience engagement unfolding within public media journalism is
focused on relationship-building, and is not necessarily connected to digital media or
even to news production. Instead, engagement is linked to a desire among public broad-
casters to build trust and strengthen ties with community members, as well as to sustain
their membership base and reach out to segments of the local public that have been
underrepresented by public media in a shifting information landscape. We also show
that while journalists within public media organizations emphasize a need to engage in
reciprocity with audiences, professional news judgment remains an important factor in
making sense of these interactions. These eorts show that public media news organiz-
ations wrestle with giving away their professional autonomy as a trade-oin developing
reciprocal relations with audiences. The result is a culture of connecting traditional journal-
ism with imagined public needs in digital and oine spaces by going old-school”—that
is, by seeking face-to-face interactions with news sources and the public.
Literature Review
Participation, Engagement, and Reciprocal Journalism
In the literature on participation in journalism, notions of who constitutes the audience
(e.g., Anderson 2011; Ahva 2017), what the audience is allowed (or encouraged) to do
(e.g., Robinson 2011; Lewis 2012), and how journalists negotiate interactions with the audi-
ence (e.g., Holton, Lewis, and Coddington 2016; Neilson 2018) are common themes. The
story of digital capabilities facilitating the potential for audience inclusion in news pro-
duction (Loosen and Schmidt 2012), particularly amid a decade-long diusion of social
media that has reshaped the nature of media production and distribution (Hermida
2016), is one of the most well-developed lines of journalism studies research (for over-
views, see Peters and Witschge 2015; Wall 2015). In recent years, the notion of audience
engagement has become a convenient organizing term, in journalism as well as in the
media and cultural industries broadly (Napoli 2011; Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013). Scho-
lars have used this concept of audience engagement to make sense of the various tools
and techniques connected with motivating and measuring forms of audience involvement
in media workranging from liking and sharing stories online to more purposefully con-
tributing time and content creation (Lawrence, Radclie, and Schmidt 2017; Neilson 2018).
However, perhaps because engagement is widely deployed as a buzzword and rarely
dened or measured in detail, it has also been questioned as an elusive construct
(Nelson 2018a). And, as Lawrence and colleagues (2017) show in their study of engage-
ment initiatives by newsrooms in ve countries, engagement may be idealized in demo-
cratic terms of involving users in the creation of news, but in practical terms it primarily
means tweaking or repurposing content to gain greater audience reach, based on online
analytics(16). Engagement in this sense has primarily been studied in the context of for-
prot media, which, as with audience initiatives of decades past (Underwood 1995), tend
to approach engagement with a particular market orientation (Batsell 2015; cf. Ostertag
and Tuchman 2012; Hanusch 2017).
Moreover, research has yet to more clearly link the general notion of engagement with
the more particular notion of reciprocal journalism, described as a way of imagining how
journalists might develop more mutually benecial relationships with audiences(Lewis,
Holton, and Coddington 2014, 229; see also Coddington, Lewis, and Holton 2018). While
reciprocity can certainly be of the negative variety (e.g., revenge-seeking), positive recipro-
city, or the sharing of gifts, favors, or information for mutual well-being, has long been
recognized as a necessary ingredient the formation and perpetuation of community,
trust, and social capital (Gouldner 1960; Putnam 2000). Extending and applying sociologi-
cal and social-psychological theories of reciprocity to journalism, Lewis, Holton, and Cod-
dington (2014) hypothesized that reciprocal forms of journalism could be of three
overlapping types: direct exchanges between journalists and audiences (e.g., email, face-
to-face, one-to-one social media conversation); indirect exchanges that are more general-
ized, one-to-many, intended for community benet, and encouraging of future benet-
sharing (e.g., pay it forwardforms of goodwill); and sustained exchanges that have an
enduring dimension, building relationships over time and laying the groundwork for
future interactions.
Thus far, research has found empirical support for the reciprocal journalism hypothesis:
that if journalists will more deliberately seek to develop mutually benecial relationships
with audiences, members of the public will reciprocate more positively (Borger, van Hoof,
and Sanders 2016; Harte, Williams, and Turner 2017; Reader 2018)though journalists are
not necessarily so inclined (Groshek and Tandoc 2017; Russell 2017). However, there are
several issues in research on reciprocal journalism that may be addressed with this
study. First, the literature has focused mostly on digital interactions. Given that reciprocal
journalism may be online or oinefacilitated by technologies but neither limited to nor
created by them (Lewis, Holton, and Coddington 2014)research is only beginning to
determine how reciprocal journalism might be initiated and maintained face-to-face
(Harte, Williams, and Turner 2017). Second, reciprocal journalism is presumed to be
more evident in such settings because community media are presumed to have a
closer-to-the-ground understanding of (and even personal familiarity with) their audiences
(Lewis, Holton, and Coddington 2014). Research is beginning to oer support for this
notion (Harte, Williams, and Turner 2017). But, with the exception of Reader (2018), the
context of public media and their public orientation have yet to be explored fully as
environments in which a reciprocal approach to audience engagement may or may not
be present. In all, there remains much to learn about the community-building potential
of reciprocal journalism.
Public Media and their Relationships with Audiences
Public broadcasting was established in the United Kingdom in the early 1920s. It became
known as the Reithian
model, and was established on principles of content quality, inde-
pendence from the state and market, impartiality in news production, non-commercialism,
serving national culture, minority interests, language and identity, as well as promoting
universality (Belair-Gagnon 2013,2015). This public media approach looks slightly
dierent in the U.S. media context, and not merely because of the American news indus-
trys commercial orientation (Usher, Riley, and Porter 2012, 32). In contrast to their counter-
parts in other countries, U.S. public media news organizations generate most of their
funding from membersdues and programming fees, with increasingly little federal gov-
ernment support. The operational logic of these news organizations is to engage their
designated community and its constitutive members in meaningful ways (Stavitsky and
Huntsberger 2010), similarly to community journalism that relies on connectedness
(with people within the local) and embeddedness (with local) (Lewis, Holton, and Codding-
ton 2014, 232).
Globally in recent decades, public media broadcasters have developed both digital and
oine engagement practices to meet the needs of audiences and a wider public
(Lowe 2010). In a study of strategy documents published between 2002 and 2004 by
the British BBC, Norwegian NRK, Swedish SVT, and American PBS, Enli (2008)
concluded that:
participation is included in the broadcastersself-legitimating rhetoric: the institutions seem to
have found a powerful rhetorical tool in the coupling of the classic ideal of serving the public
as active citizens, and prospects of a digital, convergent media environment. (116)
In this sense, Enli argued, [t]he positive connotations of participation, in contrast to
passive viewing, are employed rhetorically to renew the appeal of public service broad-
casting(Ibid). In the decade since those early efforts at multi-platform participation, the
broad diffusion of social mediaand its role as a pivotal platform for news distribution
and discovery (Hermida 2016)has accelerated both the opportunities for and challenges
of audience engagement on the part of public service providers, as with media organiz-
ations generally. While social media have facilitated greater forms of journalistaudience
interaction, those interactionsfor most journalists, most of the timehave proven com-
plicated and even counterproductive amid the growing degree of harassment and hosti-
lity expressed online (Nelson 2018b). Nevertheless, recent research on European public
service media suggests that engagement via social media is a key priorityeven if such
engagement is less about actual audience participation in news production and more
about driving trafc to ones website or otherwise reaching younger and hard-to-reach
audiences with content natively created for social platforms (Sehl, Cornia, and Nielsen
2018). Similar practices have been noted in the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere (cf.
Benson, Powers, and Neff 2017). Scholars have shown how these practices can be inu-
enced as much by the incentives created by platform companies and by social media
teams imitating what they see as best practices(Sehl et al. 2018, 31) as by institutional
and organizational forces, such as normative notions about news judgment (Ferrucci
2017). As with research on audience engagement in for-prot media, research in the non-
prot realm has shown how engagement may be the result of organizationally bounded
normative beliefs, values, and structures (e.g., Konieczna and Powers 2017). Or, as in
Ushers(2013) study of Al Jazeera English, a lack of clear organizational incentives and
obvious norms may signicantly shape how journalists approach audience dimensions
such as digital metrics.
Nevertheless, in the literature, the overall question of audience engagement, particu-
larly as characterized in the social media era (Lawrence, Radclie, and Schmidt 2017;
Nelson 2018a), has carried with it an implicit orientation toward for-prot media.
Less clear is what engagement looks like from the perspective of public media in
light of their deliberately public orientation. More to the point, the literature has yet
to clarify how public service journalists perceive their audience relative to the larger
publicand whether such distinctions, if any, might play a part in the strategies under-
taken to reach certain groups of people in certain ways. Such an approach connects
with a broader interest in digital media research to understand the imagined audi-
ence(Marwick and boyd 2011; Litt and Hargittai 2016; Kim, Lewis, and Watson
2018), dened as the mental conceptualization of the people with whom we are
communicating(Litt 2012, 331). How do journalists develop such an image of
their audience, and what kind of practical and normative implications does that
imagination entail?
In all, the potential for more engaged, reciprocal relationships between audiences and
journalists in public media, including but not limited to digital interaction, leads us to pose
the following two research questions: (1) What digital and oine modes of community-
building do public news organizations use to engage with their audiences? And (2)
what do these modes of engagement reveal about the role of reciprocity within public
news media?
This article uses direct observation of news production, including editorial meetings, as
well as 26 interviews, 16 at MPR News and 10 at MilPR (see Sample of Informants in
Table 1). These two public media organizations are generally representative of public
media journalism in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. They also speak to the broader
set of challenges facing member-supported public broadcasting.
During eldwork, the rst and second authors asked what motivated the producers,
reporters, and on-air talent to pursue audience engagement; how they conceptualized
and evaluated engagement; what they expected of engagement; and how they saw
engagement playing into the organizations broader goals. The rst and second authors
also asked these journalists to describe their audiences as well as their own relationships
with them. All interviews have been anonymized. In each case, we had full cooperation
from the management of the public media and access to the newsroom, meetings, and
documents. Because data collection included observation in addition to in-depth inter-
views, the authors were able to condently rule out the inuence of social desirability
eects from their ndings.
Many newsroom ethnographers have used multiple sites for comparative studies in the
past (e.g., Gans 1979; Anderson 2013; Petre 2015). Some of these studies involved two or
more researchers who perhaps collected data from the same site at dierent periods of
time, or from dierent sites at the same time (see, e.g., Tamelin and Broersma 2013;
Table 1. Sample of informants.
Code Job title Gender News organization
J1 Editor Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J2 Editor Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J3 Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J4 Digital Producer Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J5 Producer Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J6 Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J7 Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J8 (email exchange) Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J9 (email exchange) Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J10 Fellow Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J11 Digital Manager Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J12 Manager Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J13 Director Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J14 Digital Editor Male Minnesota Public Radio News
J15 Editor Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J16 Journalist Female Minnesota Public Radio News
J17 General Manager Male Milwaukee Public Radio
J18 Journalist Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J19 Managing Editor Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J20 News Director Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J21 Marketing Specialist Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J22 Journalist Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J23 Journalist Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J24 Journalist Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J25 Director, Corporate Sponsorship Sales Female Milwaukee Public Radio
J26 Corporate Sponsorship Sales Representative Female Milwaukee Public Radio
Usher 2016; Ferrucci et al. 2017). George Marcus and Doug Holmes refer to these types of
studies as para-ethnography,which they dene as a collaboration between researchers
or other sorts of experts with shared, discovered, and negotiated critical sensibilitiesin
the research design, observation and analysis processes (2008, 136). The rst and
second authors adopted this collaborative, para-ethnographic approach in their
eldwork. Although the authors collected data on their own from each of the two sites,
they both drew on the same questions for their interviews and pursued the same oppor-
tunities for newsroom observations (e.g., editorial meetings). Furthermore, taking a cue
from Ferrucci et al. (2017), the authors concluded the data collection process when data
became redundant.
One advantage of this para-ethnographic approach to multiple site research is that it
allowed the researchers to draw comparisons between the journalists within each news-
room to better understand how the practices and assumptions they observed diered or
overlapped. The process by which this comparison was pursued involved the rst and
second authors reexively going through their own and the others interviews and obser-
vational eld notes, and then discussing their thoughts in an attempt to corroborate the
validity of their research ndings. The authors then developed these initial ndings into
thematic codes based on the research questions and the concept of reciprocity, which
allowed for an open exploration of reciprocity in engagement from the perspective of
media workers (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane 2006; Saldana 2015).
In other words, the authors used both data-driven codes that captured the richness of a
phenomenon (i.e., online and oine reciprocal engagement) (Boyatzis 1998) and deduc-
tive theory-driven codes (Crabtree and Miller 1999) in an iterative and reexive process
(Fereday and Muir-Cochrane 2006). Deductive theory-driven codes are an attempt at cap-
turing intervieweesunderstandings about the way things should be, or the expectations
and assumptions that underlie attitudes and presumably shape behavior. In short, the
authors involved in the data collection consistently considered how journalists valued
certain types of engagement over others and why. The authors then clustered the value
themes that emerged under succinct phrases that expressed their meaning.
In May 2017, the rst author spent one week assessing audience engagement at the MPR
News newsroom located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Founded in 1967, MPR News is part of
American Public Media Group, a nonprot 501(c)(3) company. MPR News has a radio
channel and a website, Its content is available on multiple platforms, including
Google Newsstand, iTunes, and NPR One. MPR News has 75 employees dedicated to
local news production, which is the focus of this study.
In October 2017, the second author spent a week gathering data from MilPR, the
agship National Public Radio station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The station includes 31
employees spread throughout the seventh oor of the Chase Tower in downtown Milwau-
kee. MilPR broadcasts locally produced news and music, as well as national and inter-
national programming from NPR, APM, and BBC. Like MPR, MilPRs content is available
on its radio channel and on its website, MilPRs original content includes pro-
grams such as its local news magazine program Lake Eect and the music program Its
Alright Ma, Its Only Music.
This section discusses the digital and oine modes of audience engagement pursued by
public media news organizations, and explores what these approaches reveal about the
role of reciprocity in public media news production. The rst part focuses on the digital
means of audience engagement these news organizations are deploying, and the
second focuses on oine eorts. The section concludes by describing how
journalists at the two organizations value oine audience engagement over digital, and
explores the implications of this distinction for their relationship with and expectations
of the public.
Digital Forms of Audience Engagement
Digital audience engagement plays an important role within both MPR News and MilPRs
public media mission, their spatial organization, and their employeesdaily journalistic
practices. This engagement is baked into the news production processes and the physical
structures of each newsroom. Journalists at both news organizations described digital
approaches to audience engagement that included interactions on social media platforms
(e.g., Twitter feeds, Facebook Live, Snapchat moments) in addition to some means that are
slightly less common. For instance, both news organizations used the services and plat-
form provided by the audience engagement company Hearken to solicit questions from
their audiences about what they would like to see covered within their communities. Hear-
kensoerings appeal to news organizations that believe their audiences would like to
have a larger role in the news production process (Nelson 2018a), a philosophy that has
been embraced by those within both MPR and MilPR. MPR also invited its audience to con-
tribute information through other crowdsourcing initiatives, such as the Public Insight
Network (PIN), which encourages users to share their expertise with journalists. The posi-
tioning of these digital engagement practices in the news production process speaks to a
general assumption within each newsroom that qualityjournalism stems from explicit
attempts by journalists to build audience trust and harness information and insights
directly from the public.
During interviews, journalists explained that they utilized digital forms of audience
engagement for reasons that included informing the public, attracting public attention,
and seeking input throughout the news gathering process. For example, one journalist
at MPR described how the news organizations interactives (e.g., a quiz about the U.S.
Civil War) could attract audience attention to topics they might otherwise be uninterested
in: It all kind of comes back to engaging [audiences] and keeping them on our website, so
that they can look at other content on our website(J4). Similarly, at MilPR, a journalist who
reported on education explained that digital interactions helped maintain daily communi-
cation with groups of locally engaged publics: On a daily basis Im tweeting with [parents],
or sharing [news] with them, or they are sharing it out and people are tweeting back at me.
That is the most I do in terms of interacting with [online] audience(J22).
These interactions are examples of what Lewis et al. refer to as direct reciprocitythe
sense of connectedness best achieved through unilateral, or non-negotiated, forms of
reciprocal exchanges, as individuals give without expecting anything in return but none-
theless are likely to receive something of value in return(Lewis, Holton, and Coddington
2014, 22). For example, direct reciprocity occurs when journalists reply to community
members on Twitter or repost their comments so that they become part of a larger
conversation. It is closely related to the most obvious, tangible goals driving the news
production process: informing their audience and supporting their organization.
Describing direct reciprocity via Twitter, an MPR News journalist said: It can be a
source of information for what is going on in the community. I remember when there
was a tornado we were nding out about that just by watching Twitter.Another jour-
nalist working at the same organization echoed this sentiment while describing the appeal
of Facebook Live:
It is impromptu, it is unscripted, it is just the update in the eld. And that is good too, when-
ever we can build that into our reporting process, it is a nice opportunity sometimes for
engagement, because we can say, Hey, this is what stood out for me about this event that
I covered, what questions do you have about it?And maybe that will inform how their
report is shaped. So you get this opportunity to bring the audience along with you,
through that reporting process. (J3)
As this quote indicates, these attempts at audience engagement are examples of direct
reciprocity for two reasons. First, they are obvious and deliberate pursuits of connected-
ness with the community these journalists are attempting to cover. Second, there are
no expectations of anything in return. Rather, journalists engage in these online conversa-
tions with the hope that they benet their readers and perhaps improve the quality of
their coverage.
Other examples of direct reciprocity in digital interactions included MPRs use of the
Public Insight Network (PIN) and MilPRs use of the Hearken platform. Hearken, which pro-
vides tools for facilitating back-and-forth between journalists and users online, was MilPRs
most obvious attempt at direct reciprocity because it was the most explicit way that its
journalists sought to learn what their audiences wanted from the news. Just before
data collection began, MilPR expanded its use of Hearken to encompass all of its original
programming. Describing the appeal of Hearken, one of MilPRs journalists expressed that,
before having [the platform] in the newsroom, we had no direct way for people to suggest
their ideas to us. Some people would look online and nd our email or our listener
comment line, but we had very little feedback in terms of what stories people wanted to
hear. (J20)
For MilPR, Hearken was seen not only as a way to pursue direct reciprocity with audience
members who had suggested questions to MilPR, but also as a mechanism for reaching
other audiences as well. As one MilPR journalist explained, When youre including a ques-
tion-asker who cares about it and theyre explaining why they care about it, I think that
kind of helps maybe the listener realize, Oh, yeah, I care about that same thing, too’” (J19).
What appeared to make the use of Hearken an example of direct reciprocity rather than
just another mechanism for journalists to transact something from their audiences (in this
case, story ideas instead of or in addition to money) was the general attitude with which
the people in MilPRs newsroom approached it. These journalists saw the use of Hearken
less as a way to get something from audiences and more as a much-needed way to give
audiences a voice in the journalistic conversation. This spoke to a larger theme that
became evident through the interviews, which was that public media journalists increas-
ingly see themselves as moving away from the more traditional model of news production
as a lecture to a model with a much higher emphasis on conversation. As one MilPR repor-
ter explained, It is a shift in what the goal is It is less about telling stories I feel really
concerned with just listening to people. I feel like thats my main job. The actual storytell-
ing part is really secondary to that(J18).
Perhaps because of this increasing focus on nding opportunities simply to listen to
their audiences, many of the journalists interviewed explained how the most signicant
means of digital audience engagement were not explicitly tied to the production of a
news story. For instance, J13 said that they used the PIN so that MPR News could nd
people who could describe abuses within Minnesotas prison system. According to J13,
MPR News did not begin by explicitly seeking out sources for this particular story.
Instead, the news organization took a more open-ended approach. The engagement
editor tasked with investigating simply asked members of the community who had
signed up with PIN, What do you know of prison life?The journalist tapped a variety
of resources and collected about 50 responses, many of which covered elements of
prison life that reporters at rst had not thought to examine.
When you think about what do you know of prison life, that could run the gamut of anything.
By taking that broader approach where youre not looking for validation or a story idea, or
youre not looking for just one person to quote in a story yielded some really interesting
leads that didnt necessarily have to do with what the reporter was originally seeking It
wasnt high tech. It was a paper thing where people told their stories, and then they gave
them back to the reporter who entered them back into a database. The idea was the approach
mattered more than the tools that you use to do it. Out of that came a much dierent story,
because there was a critical mass of people saying somewhat the same thing. (J13)
The resulting story received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists and
ultimately led to state prison reforms. It also increased the prominence of PIN, demonstrat-
ing one way that sustained reciprocity could become self-perpetuating. As J13 explained,
Now, all those people are in PIN that you could ask other questions of when they get out
of prison, theyre there to talk about other aspects of life that dont have anything to do
with crime or corrections.In short, although this approach to news production yielded
benets associated with a traditional perspective of journalisms goals (e.g., award-
winning stories, a larger database of sources), it originated from a wholly dierent set
of values of what public media journalism should aspire to accomplish namely to
improve the relationship between news providers and their community.
Oine Forms of Audience Engagement
While online tools such as Hearken, PIN, and social media platforms provide digital means
of pursuing audience engagement (by allowing journalists to converse with or solicit ques-
tions from their audiences), journalists at both organizations noted a variety of ways that
they engage in oine community-building as well. Oine forms of community-building
included open houses for members, radio shows in the local communities (e.g., at the Min-
nesota State Fair, or the MilwaukeesLake Eect program broadcasting from communities
rather than from the studio), and partnerships with community organizations (e.g., MilPRs
partnership with community groups for its series covering people aected by gun vio-
lence, and MPR News opening an oce in North Minneapolis). Journalists at both news
organizations appeared to perceive of oine modes of community-building as the
ultimate form of audience engagement. While they certainly valued digital tools as useful
for maintaining connections with audiences as they go about their daily news routines,
journalists nevertheless emphasized oine interactions when they talked about establish-
ing what they perceived as truly meaningful connections between themselves, their listen-
ers, and the public more broadly.
In fact, some journalists explicitly compared digital forms of audience engagement
unfavorably in relation to oine forms. One MilPR reporter suggested that online com-
munication was less reciprocal than oine interactions. She said that the reporting she
does in the community provides the most important opportunity for doing more mean-
ingful engagement. Online communication, on the other hand, tends to feel less
genuine and more promotional:
Weve sent out an email to our listeners, weve done a Facebook post, that kind of stu, but
were talking more about, Lets go to this juice bar and hang out for a couple hours and see
what people come through and see if they have questions.Were thinking [about] what
spaces we can actually go to [to] spend time there. (J19)
Consequently, although digital means of direct reciprocity played an important role in
both newsrooms, what seemed even more signicant to the journalists in our sample were
the oine attempts at direct reciprocity. These attempts, which primarily included in-
person events and listening sessions, were examples of direct reciprocity because of the
eort extended to make them happen and the expectations among the journalists orga-
nizing them for what they might yield. Even though journalists needed to invest much
time and energy to organize these oine attempts at engagement, they appeared com-
pletely comfortable with the idea that these initiatives would not result in any sort of tra-
ditional marker of organizational success (e.g., more revenue in the form of subscribers or
donations). At some point, the journalists explained, they might go back and produce a
story about these events or pursue stories based on what they learned at them, but
that would be a bonus rather than the primary aim. As a MilPR journalist described,
these live events were intended instead to simply bring groups of people together to
pick their brains,and for us to have people come tell us what it is that we are
This is not to say that these attempts at direct reciprocity are made without any hope
for newsroom rewards. Journalists at both news organizations saw direct reciprocity as a
solution to two of journalisms pressing problems: declines in trust and revenue. By pursu-
ing direct reciprocity oine via listening sessions, as well as online via PIN and Hearken,
the journalists at MPR and MilPR sought to increase audience trust, which they hoped
would lead to more revenue in the form of more memberships and/or advertising (spon-
sorships). That journalists deploy direct reciprocity as a means of solving these problems
speaks to a belief that many of them share: taking a more collaborative and communica-
tive approach to news production improves the quality of the news they produce, which in
turn increases the likelihood that it will be appreciated by the public they hope to reach.
In addition to pursuing oine audience engagement in ways they hoped would lead to
direct reciprocity, both newsrooms used similar engagement approaches in hopes of
achieving indirect reciprocity as well. These indirect forms of reciprocitywhen the
beneciary returns the favor not to the giver, but to another member of the social
network(Lewis, Holton, and Coddington 2014, 234)were presented as instances
where journalists were trying to make a dierencein the community without any sense
of reporting a story (J16). Like the listening sessions,these activities often involved low-
tech approachesnamely, a number of journalists in a room conversing with community
members. The distinction between these events and those described previously are that
these were intended to include community members who were understood not to be
regular audience members of these two news organizations. They are also explicitly
intended to be community-building exercises, meaning that the journalists would fore-
close ahead of time the possibility of using what they learned for future reporting. For
example, with the Public Insight Network (PIN), MPR News organized an event with
women from various backgrounds to learn from each other about things that they had
personally done to better understand their nancial situation and feel more secure, and
then also share some of their anxieties or struggles that they had had(J13). The
manager said [we] did not put [these conversations] on the radio [or] website. It was a
safe space for people to share(J13). For the journalists, the manager added, it reinforces
this idea of making it our mission to identify and meet information needs, but not necess-
arily making it our mission just to create a story and get the most clicks on it(J13).
MilPR journalists described how these attempts at indirect reciprocity played into how
they evaluated the success of their work. During interviews and meetings, it was clear that
these journalists were evaluating the impact of their work less by the consequences of the
stories they produced than by the consequences of the connections they built and main-
tained with their community. By listening to underreported community members in a
more compassionate way, journalists felt that they were making a positive impact in
the community even if that didnt necessarily mean a positive impact on their
bottom line, or on their specic audience. Another reporter at MilPR made a similar obser-
vation when she discussed how she and her colleagues sometimes used these attempts at
oine audience engagement to help people who may not be the audience for the journal-
ism they eventually produce. She mentioned one person who had noticeably benetted
from the stations series of workshops intended to help people who were aected by
gun violence, in part by giving them the opportunity to share their stories with other
By going through that process, it almost helped her heal a little bit and realize that this was not
something she had to keep inside and keep to herself. The outpouring from the audience, sup-
porting her, helped her open up. It was denitely, for me What stood out from that was how
youre impacting the people who are actually in the stories rather than the people who are
hearing the stories. (J19)
This speaks to a development that is unfolding among public media journalists pursu-
ing indirect reciprocity: the growing awareness that the people they are reporting on are
not necessarily the audiences they are reporting for.
Valuing One Form of Engagement Over the Other
Taken together, our observations and interviews indicate that journalists within public
media are explicitly trying to build more reciprocal relationships with their communities
(the public at large), even at the expense of their audience members (those reading, listen-
ing, clicking, etc.). In an oine form of sustained reciprocity, similar to the digital variety,
examples are presented as unique and show how these are focused on maintaining trust
with the community in the long term rather than on producing news in the short term. For
example, in 2017, MPR News opened an oce in North Minneapolis as part of a larger
eort to foster trust with communities that the organization considers under-reported
or reported narrowly. At that time, a journalist whose salary was funded by a nonprot
foundation and who spent two days a week in that oce said:
I am gonna go talk to people. Its very on the ground, it is on-the-ground type engagement for
me, that is the way I see it. Going in, asking people, What is the most important story? What
should the rest of Minnesota know about the community that youre living in?Just being a
listener, really. I go out, talk to people, listen, if I get a story idea, I pass them on. I give it to
someone else and, ultimately, somebody else is going to make that decision. (J10)
In the newsroom, this project was pitched as a way of getting to know the community,
reaching a diverse audience,and listening.For these newsworkers, journalism grows
out of engagement.Similarly, in Milwaukee, journalists sought to foster trust within
pockets of the community that they feel had been left out. As J20 put it, we are,
just making sure that we are telling stories that are important for the community to hear and
that are accurate and arent just cooked up based on things that we think are important, but
were actually hearing what people have to say in the community.
Our results show how two public media organizations practiced and valued digital and
oine forms of audience engagement. We found that both news organizations used
digital forms of audience engagement to inform the public, attract audience attention,
and seek input in news production processall processes that relate more to direct reci-
procity. These digital forms of engagement were central to both newsrooms. For instance,
not only did editorial employees describe using social media to follow and converse with
audience members, but at MPR News the digital team is located in the middle of the news-
room, reecting their centrality to the organization. Our results also revealed that these
same media workers placed more value in oine forms of audience engagement (e.g.,
open houses and community partnerships) than they did in digital forms. These oine var-
ieties of audience engagement seemed designed to pursue sustained reciprocity, reect-
ing the organizationsdesire to build trust with their audiences and the public on a long-
term basis.
There are a number of important implications that stem from these ndings. First, these
results suggest that many within journalism have implicitly determined that the early
promise of the internet to grant everyone a voice and make public connection easier
has not exactly been fullleda theme that is evident in many contemporary accounts
of social media and society (e.g., Belair-Gagnon 2015; Tufekci 2017). Instead, at a
moment when audiencestrust in journalism is at a low, public media appear to be
under the impression that in-person, face-to-face conversations oer the likeliest means
of overcoming a crisis of condence. The journalists we spoke with who advocated for
and described the benets of live events within their communities suggested that what
made these initiatives successfulwas that they gave community members the opportu-
nity to share their own stories with journalists and gain a larger sense of agency in their
own narratives. Those we spoke with also indicated that these events cultivated a more
genuine connection between journalists and the public than was otherwise possible
through online audience engagement. In short, while online engagement is helpful and
often utilized, journalists we interviewed perceived oine engagement as more meaning-
ful. Or, to borrow language used by others who have written about audience engagement,
online engagement was perceived as transactional,whereas oine engagement was
perceived as relational(DeVigal 2017).
More importantly, these ndings reveal that news organizations, at least in local public
media, are increasingly making explicit distinctions between the communities they cover
in their reporting and the audiences they reach with their reporting. This is a new and impor-
tant discovery for the broader study of the imagined audienceconcept (Litt 2012), with
particular meanings for how journalists think about and act toward their envisioned audi-
ence (cf. Coddington, Lewis, and Holton 2018). As our results show, one of the reasons that
the journalists we observed valued oine engagement more than online engagement is
that they felt that oine approaches allowed for more opportunities to reach people who
were not already public media audience members. Complicating this distinction is the fact
that these same journalists did not feel compelled to use these oine engagement tech-
niques as a means of producing news stories. For instance, the listening sessions described
by the journalists at MilPR explicitly were not pursued with the intention of leading to any
sort of publishable content. This suggests that journalists within locally oriented public
media organizations see themselves as accountable not just to the audiences that
support them, but also to the community members they feel have been previously mar-
ginalized by more traditional means of news production. This dual accountability leads
to goals that, while not mutually exclusive, are equally daunting: produce news for one
segment of the public while earning the trust of another.
Reciprocity in Public Media Journalism
To interpret this give-and-take between journalists and their communities, we drew on the
concept of reciprocity within journalism, focusing on the three types outlined by Lewis,
Holton, and Coddington (2014): direct, indirect, and sustained. This framework revealed
that these journalists were focused more on engaging in sustained reciprocity, which
led them to favor oine interactions with audiences and the public. They believed that
these interactions would help them to develop rich, long-term interactions, particularly
with local and diverse communities they may not be presently reaching online or on
the radio. In all, there was a willingness to focus on improving public trust in the long
run, even if journalists were aware that such activities might not lead to material
benetse.g., through greater numbers of donating membersthe way that shorter-
term initiatives focused on existing or likely audiences might.
This growing awareness among the journalists we interviewed, that the audiences they
report to and the community members they report about are not necessarily the same,
complicated their interpretation of reciprocity, because it put them in a position of decid-
ing with whom they should seek reciprocal relationships. Until now, most journalists have
assumed that by informing the audience, they are serving the public. However, our
ndings indicate that the emergent emphasis on reciprocity in public media suggests
that the public and the audience are dierentand sometimes even mutually exclusive.
For example, if journalists hold a listening event to build stronger ties with certain commu-
nity memberssuch as those of lower socioeconomic status or those in troubled neigh-
borhoods who more frequently appear in news stories relative to how often they actually
consume such newsand the journalists decide not to use the material from that event for
any sort of publishable story for their audience, this would suggest that reciprocity is being
extended towards the publicat the expense of the audience.
This potential dilemma facing news organizations demonstrates the novel issues that
are becoming apparent as more and more people within journalism adopt the idea that
news producers need to improve the quality of their relationship with stakeholders
beyond the newsroomto incorporate, as it were, an ethic of participation(Lewis
2012). Audience engagement is a concept that has grown all but ubiquitous in journalistic
discourse, and it is nearly always portrayed as a normatively positive development for the
profession. Yet, as this study has demonstrated, pursuing engagement presents chal-
lenges for journalists in terms of establishing best practices and addressing ethical conun-
drums. When journalists determine that how they engage with people is as important as
the news they produce for them, they inadvertently put themselves in the position of
determining which voices get heard, under what circumstances, and on whose terms.
How they choose to handle this situation has consequences for the future of journalism
as an occupation and the market models that support it.
1. John Reith was the founding General Manager of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
We would like to thank Andrea Wenzel, Nikki Usher, Colin Agur, the editors and reviewers for their
helpful suggestions.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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This chapter examines the safety risks faced by Zimbabwean journalists as they conduct their day-to-day professional work in online spaces. Given that journalists in Africa are increasingly utilising and adopting social media tools for news production and distribution, it is timely to examine the drawbacks of using these digital technologies. The chapter contributes to the growing scholarship that unpacks how different social actors such as government officials and the public are using digital tools to silence and discipline journalists. It analyses the nature of online harassment and the coping strategies employed by journalists as they navigate the difficult terrain. This study uses the concepts of reciprocal journalism and audience engagement to demonstrate the experiences of Zimbabwean journalists with online harassment. Data is drawn from interviews with 18 participants that include 15 journalists and 3 digital security trainers. Findings demonstrate that online harassment is a huge problem in a politically polarised context such as Zimbabwe. This has undermined the efforts of journalists to engage with audiences in online spaces.KeywordsZimbabweOnline harassmentFemale journalistsSurveillance The Herald Chronicle
This paper examines journalistic metadiscourse on verification and professional identity in the UAE. Using in-depth interviews with journalists from various UAE institutions, the study interprets journalism as a culture of practice where journalistic roles and practices are discursively constructed as a “part of a wider framework of meaning” within the parameters and conditions where news are produced and circulated. Drawing on the hierarchy-of-influences model, the paper analyzes the epistemological, institutional and professional factors shaping journalists’ construction of journalism as a field of practice and professional identity. It also examines how journalists in the UAE interpret the notion of verification and apply it in their work, especially in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. The paper argues that journalists’ professional identity in the UAE is marked by an exclusionary boundary discourse legitimizing the social role of journalists within a loyalist press model that is increasingly challenged by a fast changing communicational ecosystem at the regional and global levels.
Purpose In competitive environments, explicitly seeking institutional changes to adopt a new technology, rather than exploiting current resources, can harm more than help organizations’ efforts to achieve their performance goals. However, institutionally embedded organizations often respond to the introduction of industry disruptive technology in counterproductive ways. This paper aims to study the paradox of embedded agency in competitive environments and explore the diffusion of new occupations associated with data analytics. Design/methodology/approach This study uses the context of the Major League Baseball where the digital platform, PITCHf/x, implemented during 2006 and 2007 seasons facilitated the professional baseball clubs to create occupations for data analytics. Findings This study found that long-term low performance of organizations resulted in creating occupations for a new technology and deploying professionals to them and the public media’s negative tenor mediated the relationship between the signal of institutional inefficiency and such a boundary work in a competitive environment. Originality/value This research enriches our understanding of the early disperse of a new occupation in the times of the emergence of digital platform by exploring the temporal attributes of organizational performance and the role of public media as the antecedents to embedded agency.
The news product ecosystem has quickly grown to encompass a range of offerings, including interactive editorial products, mobile applications, newsletters, podcasts, games, immersive storytelling and artificial intelligence applications, social media strategies and tools to support journalism functions. Product practices more commonly associated with software development have become necessary in creating and launching digital properties, but these approaches need to integrate the special case of journalism, reflecting the speed of news, particular ethics, responsibilities to the audience and role in democracy. This commentary considers three areas that unite design and product related to media: shifting professional roles, emerging product culture and the relationship between product and engagement.
As digital technologies have made their way into news production, allowing news organizations to measure audience behaviors and engagement in real-time, click-based and editorial goals, have become increasingly intertwined. Ongoing developments in algorithmic technologies allow editors to bring their audience into the newsroom using specialized tools such as Chartbeat or Google Analytics. This article examines how these technologies have affected the composition of the audience and their power to influence news-making processes inside two Chileannewsrooms. Drawing on several months of newsroom ethnography, we identify how the pursuit of“clickable news” impacts editorial processes and journalistic priorities by changing the datafied audience opinion power behind news production. Shifts in opinion power, loss of control, and increased platform dependency may contribute to a concentrated media landscape. Our findings show that opinion power has shifted to a datafied version of the audience, raising new questions about platform dependency and editorial autonomy in media organizations. These results carry significant implications for understanding the chase for traffic in current multiplatform newsrooms and how this phenomenon impacts news production.
This study analyzes and compares how the digital semantic infrastructure of U.S. based digital news varies according to certain characteristics of the media outlet, including the community it serves, the content management system (CMS) it uses, and its institutional affiliation (or lack thereof). Through a multi-stage analysis of the actual markup found on news outlets’ online text articles, we reveal how multiple factors may be limiting the discoverability and reach of online media organizations focused on serving specific communities. Conceptually, we identify markup and metadata as aspects of the semantic infrastructure underpinning platforms’ mechanisms of distributing online news. Given the significant role that these platforms play in shaping the broader visibility of news content, we further contend that this markup therefore constitutes a kind of infrastructure of visibility by which news sources and voices are rendered accessible—or, conversely—invisible in the wider platform economy of journalism. We accomplish our analysis by first identifying key forms of digital markup whose structured data is designed to make online news articles more readily discoverable by search engines and social media platforms. We then analyze 2,226 digital news stories gathered from the main pages of 742 national, local, Black, and other identity-based news organizations in mid-2021, and analyze each for the presence of specific tags reflecting the, OpenGraph, and Twitter metadata structures. We then evaluate the relationship between audience focus and the robustness of this digital semantic infrastructure. While we find only a weak relationship between the markup and the community served, additional analysis revealed a much stronger association between these metadata tags and content management system (CMS), in which 80% of the attributes appearing on an article were the same for a given CMS, regardless of publisher, market, or audience focus. Based on this finding, we identify the organizational characteristics that may influence the specific CMS used for digital publishing, and, therefore, the robustness of the digital semantic infrastructure deployed by the organization. Finally, we reflect on the potential implications of the highly disparate tag use we observe, particularly with respect to the broader visibility of online news designed to serve particular US communities.
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.
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The article examines how Brazilian women journalists claim gender-related issues influence the risks they experience in their professional routines and private life. Data was collected through 31 semi-structured interviews with female professionals who experienced episodes of violence during the course of their work between 2019 and 2020. Our investigation emphasizes (a) the connections between the political context and increasing hostility toward women journalists; (b) the impact of aggressions on production routines, family lifestyles, and emotional setbacks; and (c) how the lack of organizational support from news companies is associated with resilience and protection strategies. The results reveal that harassment and violence include physical threats and remarks about appearance, age, and sex life. Avoiding specific assignments or sources is among the journalists' resistance strategies. Women journalists also describe implications on family routines and even dating practices to escape work-related abuse. Some interviewees claimed that news organizations are not prepared to support victims and that there is a government-sponsored "hate machine." To extend beyond a descriptive account, the article discusses a set of factors characterizing the Brazilian media system that promote a thriving hostile environment, such as the male-led structure of news organizations and dependence on government funding.
As an emerging audience engagement channel for news organizations, news chatbots can interact with and attract audiences in a conversational manner. The present study applies the comparative digital journalism frameworks and examines how society-level factors—such as media systems and information communication technology’s development—explain chatbot implementation on social media platforms. We surveyed 365 news organizations across 38 countries or regions and inspected their Facebook Messenger accounts with a mixed-methods approach. We found that less than half of the surveyed news organizations implemented Messenger, and only 67 Messengers were responsive—i.e. able to produce at least one response. We used the walkthrough method to interact with the Messengers with 22 pre-defined search queries on information seeking and navigation related to COVID-19. Then we used qualitative content analysis to examine the contents generated by the Messengers. Some Messengers are out of service or could only provide limited services (e.g. generating templated responses or closed-ended options). The Messengers in different news organizations demonstrated great variations in their capacity to understand the queries and interact with the audiences and reparative strategies to handle search failure. We proposed a three-category typology of news chatbots and offered practical and constructive suggestions for news organizations.
For decades, news narratives centered the voices of elites over sources with lived experience, even when journalists said they did not intend to favor elites. A new technology platform, Hearken, invites audiences to influence reporting by building “gates” that allow people to move between the roles of news creator and news consumer. This affords an opportunity to assess whether audience participation influences journalists to include more diverse perspectives in reporting. In stories produced by public radio stations using the Hearken platform, sources with lived experience exceeded recent patterns of elite vs. non-elite sourcing in commercial and public media in the U.S.
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Building on research proposing reciprocal journalism as a concept underlying participatory practices and norms in journalism, this study examines how reciprocity might meaningfully be measured in a journalistic context. Using a survey of US journalists, this study adapts measures of reciprocal attitudes and behaviors to journalistic practices. It also develops measures of direct, indirect, and sustained reciprocity as applied to journalism, and explores the relationship between each of these reciprocal forms and one type of participatory behavior: interacting with audiences online. The results indicate that some measurements of positive reciprocity can be meaningfully translated to a journalistic environment and may help to predict forms of audience interaction. For future research, the findings point to the potential for forms of reciprocity to be explored as antecedents for other journalistic norms and practices.
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A number of news organizations have begun shifting commenting from their websites to Facebook, based on the implicit assumption that commenting on Facebook is an equivalent (or preferred) substitute. Using survey data from 317 online news commenters, and drawing on the concept of imagined audience, this article examines this assumption by comparing news commenters’ perceptions of imagined audiences for comments on news organizations’ websites and on Facebook. While news commenters had mostly different imagined audiences between the two platforms, they had similar evaluations of the personal dimensions of their audiences and the quality of news comments. News commenters on Facebook, for example, did not perceive their audiences to be any more reasonable, intelligent, or responsive—or any less aggressive—than did commenters on news organizations’ websites. Facebook commenters also did not perceive comments to be of any greater quality than did commenters on news organizations’ websites. Thus, it appears that at least in the context of aiming to elevate the quality and civility of civic discourse, news commenters do not perceive Facebook to be demonstrably better than news organizations’ websites. Implications for journalism, social media, and future research are discussed.
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Many journalism professionals and researchers have recently argued that newsrooms adopt “audience engagement” as one of their chief pursuits. Yet those who hope to make audience engagement both normative and measurable face enormous barriers to success. Their efforts therefore present an opportunity to learn how journalism is changing, as well as who within the field have the power to change it. This study investigates one such effort with an ethnographic case study of Hearken, a company that offers audience engagement services to news outlets worldwide. Due to news industry confusion surrounding how audience engagement should be defined and measured, Hearken is unable to quantify the benefit of its offerings. Instead, Hearken’s pitch to newsrooms relies primarily on appeals to intuition. Drawing on Giddens’ structuration theory, it concludes that the gut feelings of individual agents can prove more powerful than the structures constraining them, at least during periods of institutional uncertainty.
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In recent years, the rapid expansion of Web 2.0 tools has opened new possibilities for audience participation in news, while “engagement” has become a media industry buzzword. In this study, we explore approaches to engagement emerging in the field based on in-depth interviews with editors at a range of news outlets from several countries, and we map these approaches onto the literature on participatory journalism and related innovations in journalism practice. Our findings suggest variation in approaches to engagement that can be arrayed along several related dimensions, encompassing how news outlets measure and practice it (e.g. with the use of quantitative audience metrics methods), whether they think about audiences as more passive or more active users, the stages at which they incorporate audience data or input into the news product, and how skeptically or optimistically they view the audience. Overall, while some outlets are experimenting with tools for more substantive audience contributions to news content, we find few outlets approaching engagement as a way to involve users in the creation of news, with most in our sample focusing mostly on engaging users in back-end reaction and response to the outlet’s content. We identify technological, economic, professional, and organizational factors that shape and constrain how news outlets practice “engagement.”
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Non-profit news publishers, a small but growing piece of the news media environment, often explicitly attempt to build strong ties with their audiences. Many assume this approach differs from that of legacy newsrooms, which have historically kept the audience at arm’s length. In this article, I argue that this distinction has blurred. In-depth interviews with reporters and editors at a daily newspaper (The Chicago Tribune) and a local news non-profit (City Bureau) reveal that: (1) both organizations are pursuing a more collaborative relationship with their audiences; and (2) this pursuit is ill-suited for the traditional mass audience approach to news production. I conclude that journalists aspiring to work more closely with the audience find greater success when that audience is narrow to begin with.
This case study of Australian participatory-journalism project ABC Open analyzes the role of professional staff in the gatekeeping of user-generated content. Informed by the concept of ‘reciprocal journalism’ and applying the ‘network gatekeeping theory’ developed by Barzilai-Nahon, this study finds a user-generated content project that prioritizes rapport between user-generated content contributors and the initiative’s professional gatekeepers (‘producers’). Analysis suggests that the ‘collegial gatekeeping’ approach of ABC Open is resource- and labor-intensive, but succeeds by prioritizing quality over quantity in a long-term, non-profit initiative.
This study concerns Twitter use by 26 news entities with the largest online audiences in the United States. A quantitative content analysis compared interactive characteristics of posts on news organizations’ main Twitter accounts. Most of the tweets included hyperlinks to articles posted on the news organizations’ websites along with text about the articles and a photograph or other still image. Differences existed between news organizations in the use of such hyperlinks to their own websites, as well as socially and technically interactive functions of Twitter such as retweets, @mentions, hashtags, and multimedia. Tweets with interactive characteristics seemed intended mainly for the purpose of promoting news organizations’ programming or content.
A firsthand account and incisive analysis of modern protest, revealing internet-fueled social movements' greatest strengths and frequent challenges. To understand a thwarted Turkish coup, an anti-Wall Street encampment, and a packed Tahrir Square, we must first comprehend the power and the weaknesses of using new technologies to mobilize large numbers of people. An incisive observer, writer, and participant in today's social movements, Zeynep Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests-how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change. Tufekci speaks from direct experience, combining on-the-ground interviews with insightful analysis. She describes how the internet helped the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico, the necessity of remote Twitter users to organize medical supplies during Arab Spring, the refusal to use bullhorns in the Occupy Movement that started in New York, and the empowering effect of tear gas in Istanbul's Gezi Park. These details from life inside social movements complete a moving investigation of authority, technology, and culture-and offer essential insights into the future of governance.