Abstract

This entry analyzes the meaning and impact of interactive journalism on journalistic content, as well as the main research perspectives and relevant findings. The concept of interactive journalism highlights the potential for the democratization of journalism by allowing the audience to play an active role in the process of newsmaking within the realm of professional journalism. Findings suggest both positive and negative implications of interactive journalism. The majority of users are not interested in producing content; and mainstream media attempt to control participation while adopting a market‐driven rather than a civic‐oriented approach to user‐generated content (UGC). Yet, recent evidence suggests that digital start‐ups, hyperlocal news media, and specific social groups are collaborating in the direction of a more pluralistic news agenda aiming to elevate public debate and deal with society's problems.
Interactive Journalism
LIA-PASCHALIA SPYRIDOU and DIMITRA L. MILIONI
Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus
Many terms have been coined to describe the idea of collaborative action in
newsmaking: interactive journalism,participatory journalism,networked journalism,
conversational journalism,open journalism,andreciprocal journalism.eseconcepts
may vary slightly, but they agree on the premise that collaborative journalism allows
the audience to play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing,
and disseminating news and information. However, it is important to draw a dis-
tinction between interactive/participatory and citizen journalism. e former refers
to interactivity opportunities and user contributions taking place within the realm
of professional journalism, while the latter refers to journalistic acts materialized in
citizen-operated media.
e concept of interactive journalism draws attention to the shortcomings of estab-
lished journalism by reinforcing transparency, media accountability, connectedness,
and trust, elements that are strongly tied to normative aspects of professional journal-
ism. For most of the past 125 years in elective democracies, journalists have reported
the news in a self-proclaimed service to popular sovereignty and self-governance. Pro-
fessional journalism developed on the “we write, you read dogma,” suggesting that
journalists would report the news and citizens would (passively) consume the reports.
e release of the World Wide Web in 1991 marked the birth of online journalism,
which could utilize the three key characteristics of the networked environment: hyper-
textuality, multimediality, and interactivity. Interactivity was broadly dened as the use
of web tools to enhance citizen participation in the news.
e idea of audience involvement in the production of journalism was initially con-
nected to the tenets of public journalism, a movement which began in the early 1990s
and lost momentum a decade later. It sought to revitalize public life and civic engage-
ment by encouraging the press to promote and improve opportunities for public debate
and discussion. Widespread concerns about journalism’s inability or unwillingness to
act as a watchdog, to determine truth from lies, and to present a range of informed opin-
ions on important events became even more prominent inthe mid-1990s when the Web
anditsspecictraitswerewidelydiscussednotmerelyastechnologicalfeatures,butalso
asameanstotransformjournalismfromaone-way,top-downlecturetoamoreconver-
sational process and help journalists reclaim their eroded Fourth Estate role. According
to Nip (2006), this interactive process would facilitate the idea of public journalism by:
(a) allowing journalists to listen to the stories and ideas of citizens, (b) promoting alter-
native framing in reporting the news, (c) motivating ordinary people to get involved in
public discussions of important issues, and (d) facilitating the collaboration of citizens
and journalists toward possible solutions to society’s problems.
e International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies. Tim P. Vos and Folker Hanusch (General Editors),
Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou, Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh and Annika Sehl (Associate Editors).
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118841570.iejs0133
2INTER ACTI VE JOUR NALI SM
e rst wave of academic research on interactive journalism was limited to
a feature-based tradition, which explored the use of interactive features by news
organizations. It was argued that dierent technological tools allowed for various
typesofusercontributions.esecontributionscanhavedierentimplicationson
meaning making, content diusion, and conversation opportunities, thus creating
the need to distinguish among dierent forms and levels of interactivity (Jensen,
1998). Several studies described the available repertoire of interactive tools (such
as polls, content rating, commenting spaces, tools to submit text, audio and video,
discussion forums, user blogs, and tools for the creation of collaborative content,
for instance, questions for interviews or information in the case of ongoing stories)
and identied the most prevalent ones embraced by the news media. e general
assumption of this techno-driven approach has been that an innovative approach
to online journalism implies utilizing the interactive assets of technology. Relevant
research concluded though that most news organizations incorporated few tools of
low interactive value and that the promise of online interactive journalism to improve
political communication remained largely untapped. A subsequent strand of research
took a constructivist approach to researching interactive journalism. is shi in
the analytical lens allows to problematize interactivity as a concept that interplays
with other processes (for instance, sta size, technical resources) and social factors
(professional culture, work organization) in the shaping of interactive news projects.
e relevant literature suggests that journalists have generally resisted audience
involvement in the production of content and prefer to control user participation
within carefully bounded parameters, designating users as “active recipients” rather
than “active participants” in the news (Hermida, 2011). Furthermore, a tension
between the promise and the reality of interaction arises when journalists oer citizens
opportunities to engage but fail to do something with these responses. Also, critical
remarks have been made about the market-driven rather than civic-oriented rationale
behind mainstream media’s experiments with user-generated content.
While the rst wave of new media theorizations used the concept of interactivity to
capture changing audience–media relationships, Web 2.0 aordances emphasized not
merely content production, but also increased civic engagement and self-expression,
shiing academic reections to the concept of participation as a framework to under-
stand user engagement in newsmaking. Henry Jenkins’s (2006) emphasis on conver-
gence culture, together with Axel Bruns’s (2008) labeling of (some) new media users
as “producers,” are key moments in this theoretical reconguration. However, while
the idea of convergence culture provoked a celebratory tone regarding users’ contri-
butions in the newsmaking process, the notion of participation broached the idea of
power and how it is allocated between professionals and citizens. Critical scholars made
a case for normalization eects based on the limited potential of change within hierar-
chical communication structures where powerful players (journalists, media owners,
interest groups, politicians, and advertisers) exerted signicant inuence and structure
participation. Following this line of thought, Carpentier’s (2011) AIP model suggests
three levels of user participation: access–interaction–participation. Here, a distinction
is drawn between participation through the media and participation in the media. In
therstcase,themediaoperatesasaspherethatallowscitizenstoparticipateinpublic
INTER ACTI VE JOUR NALI SM 3
debates and voice their views. In the second case, the notion of co-decision is central
and participation is extended to professional and managerial decisions.
Voices claiming a more inclusive denition of participation appeared stressing
the notion of power sharing as a constitutive element of participation. Zelizer (2013)
criticized utopian and dystopian dichotomies as emphasizing normative outcomes
of full participation versus weak interaction, hence oen leading to exclusionary
and elitist discussions that could undermine the capacity of journalism scholars
to speak reliably about the world of journalism practice. Elaborating further on
the notion of participation within journalism, Loosen and Schmidt (2012) argued
that journalism is a social system comprising two crucial actors: professionals and
the audience. Within that system, participation is perceived as “inclusion” which
depends on the performance of the professionals (namely professional work routines
and values that allow participation) and “inclusion expectations” formed through a
combination of situated motivations and previous experiences that shape the degree of
participation.
is conceptual transition from interactivity to participation marked the second
wave of research, which focused mainly on the “people formerly known as the
audience.” Scholarly work falling under this research strand includes issues pertaining
to the level of participation, the motivations behind participation, contextual factors
aecting participation, and the type of content produced, especially in relation to
deliberation, counter-framing, and civility in commenting spaces. Findings point to
the reluctant audience paradigm delineating that people are generally not interested in
creating user-generated content (UGC). Larsson (2011) developed a typology of ve
visitor types, characterized by the dierent ways they use and appreciate interactive
features. In particular, with the exception of the prosumer (referring to a type of
visitor who regularly contributes, chats, and comments on the news site), most visitors
engage in low eort participation, such as polls and sharing to social networks, and
rarely choose to contribute self-authored news texts, blog posts, or pictures from news
events. Socialization motivations have proven an important predictor for participatory
journalism, while recent research has shown that important drivers for participation in
thenewsaremotivationstoinformthepublicdiscourseandcounteractthejournalistic
narratives, especially in countries of low media trust.
e tendency of citizens to contribute in the newsmaking process is also aected by
contextual factors. Systematic creators of news tend to be those persons who already
possess substantial competence about society and political life and have an increased
sense of ecacy. Registration rules imposing named (as opposed to anonymous) par-
ticipation tend to inuence content creation positively and so does the upper quality of
debates in online newspapers. Finally, news values such as controversy and negativity
aect participation levels in a positive manner.
While audience-centered approaches have provided important insights to the study
of participatory journalism, the need to add a production perspective has also been
highlighted. Studies suggest mixed ndings. In some cases, debates are deliberative in
nature and users complement the diversity of viewpoints. Other studies report negative
critiques of user comments related to their oen-oensive nature, lack of substantive
content, and inability to oer opportunities for cross-cutting political exchanges.
4INTER ACTI VE JOUR NALI SM
Approximately 20 years have passed since the notion of interactivity and participa-
tion became central concepts in journalism studies. e academic community seems
torn between those who argue that participatory journalism expands the journalistic
watchdog and renders the public sphere more pluralistic and representative, and
those who claim that professional journalists are reluctant to relinquish control while
promotion and business development gain prominence at the expense of a more civic
approach on user participation. Mixed ndings suggesting both positive and negative
implications of participatory journalism have shaped the third wave of research, which
explores more nuanced and specialized research questions. Following this line of work,
recent evidence has shown that participatory practices are conditioned by the outlets’
particular business models and approach to newsmaking. Elite media tend to have
a lower participation ethic compared to digital start-ups trying to establish a more
civic-oriented approach to newsmaking. Also, despite evidence supporting the reluc-
tant audience paradigm, the so-called “in-betweeners” (referring to citizens who are
not part of what is considered to be the typical audience, such as activists, freelancers,
academics, artists, and students) tend to engage in increased levels of participation
motivated by a need to make ignored issues known, inuence coverage, and contribute
to solving shared problems (Ahva, 2017). Finally, even legacy media, such as the
BBC, have started to facilitate training opportunities and pursue collaboration with
activists for high-value information and content in conict zones. Similar trends are
documented in the realm of hyperlocal journalism where professionals and engaged
citizens foster relationships of sustained reciprocity in the direction of telling stories
and enabling conversations about civic and political concerns.
SEE ALSO: Audience Engagement; Citizen Journalism; Hyperlocal Journalism; Public
or Civic Journalism; User-Generated Content
References
Ahva, L. (2017). How is participation practiced by “in-betweeners” of journalism? Journalism
Practice, 11(2–3), 142–159. doi:10.1080/17512786.2016.1209084
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and beyond: From production to produsage. New
Yo r k , NY : P e t e r L a n g .
Carpentier, N. (2011). Media and participation: A site of ideological-political struggle. Bristol, UK:
Intellect.
Hermida, A. (2011). Fluid spaces, uid journalism: Lessons in participatory journalism. In J.
Singer, A. Hermida, D. Domingo, A. Heinonen, S. Paulussen, T. Quandt, M. Vujnovic,
Participatory journalism: Guarding open gates at online newspapers (pp. 177–191). Malden,
MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York
University Press.
Jensen, J. (1998). “Interactivity”: Tracking a new concept in media and communication studies.
Nordicom Review, 19(1), 185–204. Retrieved from http://www.nordicom.gu.se/en/tidskrier/
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studies
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Larsson, A. O. (2011). Interactive to me—interactive to you? A study of use and appreciation
of interactivity on Swedish newspaper websites. New Media & Society, 13(7), 1180–1197.
doi:10.1177/1461444811401254
Loosen, W., & Schmidt, J.-H. (2012). (Re)discovering the audience: e relationship between
journalism and audience in networked digital media. Information, Communication & Society,
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Nip, J. (2006). Exploring the second phase of public journalism. Journalism Studies, 7(2),
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Zelizer, B. (2013). On the shelf life of democracy in journalism scholarship. Journalism, 14(4),
459–473. doi:10.1177/1464884912464179
Further reading
Batsell, J. (2015). Engaged journalism: Connecting with digitally empowered news audiences. New
Yo r k , NY : C o l u m b i a Un i v e r s i t y P r e s s .
Beckett, C., & Mansell, R. (2008). Crossing boundaries: New media and networked journalism.
Communication, Culture & Critique, 1(1), 92–104. doi:10.1111/j.1753-9137.2007.00010.x
Heinrich, A. (2011). Network journalism: Journalistic practice in interactive spheres. London, UK:
Routledge.
Karlsson, M., Bergström, A., Clerwall, C., & Fast, K. (2015). Participatory journalism—the
(r)evolution that wasn’t: Content and user behavior in Sweden 2007–2013. Journal of
Computer-Mediated Communication, 20(3), 295–311. doi:10.1111/jcc4.12115
Paterson, C., & Domingo, D. (2008). Making online news: e ethnography of new media produc-
tion. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Lia-Paschalia Spyridou is assistant professor at the Cyprus University of Technology.
Her work has appeared in, among others, Journalism,Journalism Studies,Journalism
Practice,European Journal of Communication,andInternational Communication
Gazette and she has published book chapters in edited volumes by Routledge, Springer,
and Wiley Blackwell. Her research interests lie in the eld of journalism studies,
participatory media, and political communication. Currently, her work focuses on
alternativebusinessmodelsaspotentialdriversofchangeinthejournalisticeldand
explores the possibilities of user agency within the networked public sphere(s).
Dimitra L. Milioni is assistant professor at the Cyprus University of Technology. Her
researchgenerallyfocusesontheimpactofonlinecommunicationtechnologiesonthe
public sphere. Her research work has been published in Media, Culture & Society,Con-
vergence,Javnost - e Public,andInternational Journal of Communication,amongother
journals. She is the coauthor of the monograph Alternative Media: A Heterogeneous
Place of Agency and Resistance to Power (in progress). Her research interests include
alternative and participatory media, protest and social movements, political communi-
cation,audienceparticipation,andtheimpactofalgorithmicprocessesonpubliclife.
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