Taking the Audience Seriously? The Normative Construction of Engaged Journalism

Jacob L. Nelson, Thomas R. Schmidt


Journalism researchers and publishers worldwide have begun focusing their attention on understanding and encouraging “engagement.” As more newsrooms took up engagement, the issues of journalists have begun to shift from whether to encourage more audience interaction in news to how much audience interaction is desirable, and what kind of engagement should be pursued in the first place. This study explores the ways in which two distinct conceptualizations of interactions between journalists and the audience evolved (“audience engagement” and “engaged journalism”) and the normative ideals underlying each by performing a qualitative analysis of articles written by journalism practitioners, funders, and researchers within public-facing outlets. The goal is to understand (1) the ways in which journalism as a field conceptualizes the risks and benefits of engagement and (2) the normative assumptions inherent within these conceptualizations. We conclude that the evolution of engagement offers scholars a template by which they can study the interlinked construction of cognitive roles and occupational norms to better understand the motivations, goals, and underlying assumptions of new types of journalism.


audience engagement, engaged journalism, news production, metajournalism, normative ideals

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