As a former journalist turned researcher of the news industry, I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship between people who publish the news and those who engage with it. Now in my work as a doctoral candidate at Northwestern, I’ve seen that the news business’ ongoing period of financial uncertainty has encouraged all of us to better understand the relationship between the journalism we produce and the people we attempt to reach with it. This relationship has a long history as detailed in academic journals and news industry presses, and I’ve tried to make sense of it for us by creating the three resources below.
Our Membership Puzzle Project research team has found myriad examples of journalists being deeply involved with their audiences to benefit their journalism and overall operations. These interactions include membership initiatives, novel approaches to co-reporting, and events/live journalism. Our partner site De Correspondent in the Netherlands looks to its members to help with technical proofreading, while reporters from American investigative site ProPublica solicit advice and stories from members to complement their own reporting.
As a researcher, I’m interested in what these and other examples say about journalism’s approach to the news audience more generally. Academics have historically been fascinated by journalism’s relationship with the public. However, the insights academics uncover often don’t reach the journalists that would benefit from them. Our literature review is one attempt to change that.
1. A detailed literature review if you want to go deep
In this literature review you’ll find an overview of academic work focused on journalists' relationships with news audiences. This work uses a variety of methods to examine how journalists previously tended to ignore audience members, as well as more recent attempts at collaborative news production processes.
Like the conversation it’s intended to contextualize, this literature review is far from complete. (Please share your feedback in the comments and on Twitter.) The current review looks at the remarkable work that scholars have done over the past 50 years to investigate these important dynamics. This context will be useful to anyone in journalism invested in where the industry is going who wants to know more about where it’s been.
2. A library with relevant reading
In addition to this literature review, we’ve assembled a library with books, academic articles, reports, and blog posts that explore the relationship between journalists and audience members. We encourage you to submit additions.
3. Pressed for time? This short curriculum with must read pieces is for you
To make the volume of readings less intimidating, we’ve put together an introductory “curriculum” to offer a crash course. Spending even a few hours will boost your understanding of the historic and current context for these topics.
Though the literature review and library include writings that cover a variety of topics, this curriculum focuses on just three: news production, audience measurement, and audience engagement. We built the curriculum around these three topics because a solid introduction to each will give a more sophisticated and nuanced grasp of the shifting dynamic between producers and consumers of journalism. The larger “story” this curriculum tells is one where individual audience members are gaining power and the costs of neglecting them are on the rise.
- After Broadcast News by Bruce A. Williams and Michael X. Delli Carpini: Persuasively argues that what journalism looks like and how it is produced is not fixed but changes depending on social, political, and economic circumstances.
- Deciding What’s News by Herbert Gans; Making News by Gaye Tuchman; Making Local News by Phyllis Kaniss. These three books — classics in the field — offer clear, compelling portraits of the news industry when it could afford to dismiss audience members or keep them at a distance.
Reciprocal Journalism by Seth C. Lewis, Avery E. Holton, and Mark Coddington. What does a more collaborative relationship between news producers and consumers accomplish? According to these journalism scholars, it creates a news environment where both sides benefit. “News organizations can help build stronger communities by considering the community’s expectations as inextricably bound with their own,” the authors conclude.
Practicing Engagement by Regina G. Lawrence, Damian Radcliffe, and Thomas R. Schmidt. This article describes what engagement actually looks like within newsrooms, and why news organizations decide to pursue it. The short answer? It varies. The authors find that while some sites experiment with tools for more substantive audience contributions (like using Hearken to solicit audience questions), most “engagement” is centered around users’ reactions to published content (such as responding to comments via Facebook and Twitter).
Engaged Journalism by Jake Batsell. Drawing on interviews with a variety of news organizations, Batsell makes a case for audience engagement as a strategy for news publishers and describes some best practices for pursuing and sustaining it.
- For a practitioner’s take on audience engagement, check out this manifesto by engagement strategist Joy Mayer (as well as everything else she’s written on the subject).
Editorial Analytics: How News Media are Developing and Using Audience Data and Metrics by Frederica Cherubini and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. This report similarly offers a comprehensive overview of the increasing role of audience metrics in newsrooms. “Journalists today not only need analytics to navigate an ever-more competitive battle for attention,” the authors write. “Many journalists also want analytics, as an earlier period of scepticism seems to have given way to interest in how data and metrics can help newsrooms reach their target audiences and do better journalism.”
Audience Evolution: new technologies and the transformation of media audiences by Philip M. Napoli. Napoli provides an insightful overview of the interplay between audience measurement and media production. He also includes one of the most thoughtful explorations of the obstacles in the way of measuring audience engagement.
Interest piqued? Please see the larger library with more literature about membership in news. We’re also curious to hear what related articles, books, and blog posts have been useful to you. Please share your suggestions through this form and send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Goligoski, Jay Rosen, Gonzalo del Peon, Leon Postma, and Maaike Goslinga contributed to this post.