News as Conversation

My new book, Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences (Columbia University Press, February 2015) examines the changing relationship between journalists and the audiences they serve. I’m eager to hear your reactions to the book. For Tuesday’s class, please read Chapter 2: News As Conversation (the PDF is on Blackboard under “assignments”). By noon on Monday, Feb. 9, post a reaction of 100 to 200 words as a comment on this post addressing the following question: How (if at all) did the chapter change the way you think about the role the audience plays in the journalistic process? In your response, cite specific examples from your own reading of the chapter, as well as your own observations and experience. It’s not acceptable to piggy-back on your classmates’ answers without reading the chapter yourself. This assignment is worth 10 class participation points.

15 thoughts on “News as Conversation

  1. In the reading I found that while I already knew about the changing environment in media and journalism, there are aspects I wasn’t 100% knowledgable on or didn’t recognize the degree to which the environment had changed. There were a couple things that stood out to me. In terms of the audience, the first is that “an increasingly digital focus would erode the quality of print newspaper”. This resonates with me because times are changing and if the audience wants breaking news when it’s breaking, having the story show up in the paper the next day isn’t making the cut. The audience demands the news at the time it happens, so journalists must adapt. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the story on the discovery of the skeleton entangled in the roots of an uplifted tree. Instead of creating the inserted pyramid like we’ve been taught and writing a story, people and journalists alike were live-tweeting the event and what was happening as it happened in real time. Viewers of digital media stayed up to date with current events through these mediums and didn’t have to wait until the next day to receive their news. The audience desires news now and journalists must deliver.

  2. The chapter taught me a lot about the audience in the journalistic process. The audience is essentially who pays for the operation of any station; without viewers there would not be funds. I definitely think analytical tools have helped journalists gage the trending topics on news sites and social media. I also agree with the chapter when it says that journalists have to engage with the audience and enter the conversation. At NBC, they comment back to viewers on Facebook and answer their messages which the viewers enjoyed and made them return to the site. Engaged viewers do stay loyal because they feel welcome and if the news site shapes its content around the readers, they will see that the content is relevant to their lives. I agree with Colleen Stone saying that reporters get to know their community better by engaging with the audience. The members of the community know it well considering they live there. Some viewers or readers are experts on topics that journalists have about a day to research, so their help is beneficial. Getting the audience involved definitely improves the journalistic quality of articles and packages and building an audience through the community helps the journalist gain a following.

  3. People want to read the news that’s related to their lives, and journalists couldn’t possibly know what’s relating to people’s lives if they aren’t engaging with them. I liked the part where it talked about engagement as more than just a Facebook like or a Twitter retweet, and that to truly engage with an audience you must talk to them – because that’s absolutely true. It is a journalist’s job to spark conversation and to seek new knowledge from the audience. “This is what media is now, a constantly evolving interaction between reporters working for mainstream companies; journalists and writers compiling and interpreting news for online outlets; and thousands of individuals participating on their own in the gathering and assembling and disseminating of information.” This quote stuck out to me the most in the reading, because it sums up exactly how journalism has evolved. Journalism cannot survive without audience engagement anymore. Real-time news engagement is possible now with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., and journalists should use these outlets to enter the conversation and learn about who their audience is and what they want to know. Creating Twitter lists and creating target Facebook groups are some great examples I read in the chapter that can support this engagement. Readers will remain loyal if they find that the content they are reading is relevant to their lives. Journalists will gain more respect from their audience by engaging and giving them a voice, and will in turn create better works of journalism.

  4. This chapter did change the way I think about the role the audience plays in the journalistic process, by making me more aware of how the audience does play an important part and that journalist use the audience too. Gilgoff states, “ In the world of digital journalism, your voice matter more than ever (78).” I think this quote shows how digital journalism uses the audience more than ever in the journalistic process, especially with the tools of Twitter and Facebook. This chapter also made me realizes how the audience’s engagement does matter and influences how journalism works today. For example, Gillmor states, “ Another important element of news as conversation is bringing users’ own “acts of journalism” into the flow (63).” Finally, this chapter showed me how much the audience’s engagement influences the goal of journalists. Gilgoff helped me see this view by saying, “ Our whole mission is meeting the audience. For the moment they are caring about that, we want to meet them. We can shed light on what everybody’s thinking about today. I think that’s the primary goal of journalism (45).”

  5. In an era where digital journalism is becoming a more accepted part of our daily news diet, a plethora of publications are continuing to find way to connect with their readers in more meaningful ways. They have figured out that engaging with their audience could turn an otherwise mundane new topics into a deeply personal narrative. I thought it was interesting how news outlets are not only allowing the journalists themselves to keep audience-generated comments verified, but also introducing experts into the mix to comment on areas of their expertise. The idea that the audience also gives journalists a different spin or flavor on a classic news topic was an intuitive, yet not entirely explored area for me in the past. However, when Karen Workman told Drake, who was replacing her, not to “Cheapen it,” she was talking about how quality of content was better than quantity and integrating an audience is not always as easy as you may think. A pile of idle blogs with no commentary will not engage an audience. Andy Carvin also spoke to this point. He said that with platforms such as Twitter that put out news so quickly that we might benefit by “slowing down the news cycle,” and giving more readers time to digest and marinate on the information they are reading. Only then, can we as journalists expect to get meaningful responses and truly embrace one of our many roles as journalists by steering the generated conversation and being mediators. This is truly how we can connect our audience to one another, which is the name of the game.

  6. This chapter explains how much the audience should contribute to the news. News is not just a one-way street. Journalists can produce news stories, but knowledge comes from other points of view as well. We involve the audience in our news stories to gain more knowledge about the community and the world around us. For example, as Gilgoff, the religion editor for stated, “it allows you to kind of give the keys to someone else, as opposed to calling them to get a quote” (Pg. 44). Bloggers and journalists are taking readers comments and integrating them into their stories so that all sides of an issue can be represented. This makes for a wider audience. People want to be heard! Another point that I second is that journalists must be approachable. Show the audience that you are a real person rather than a news producing “robot” (Pg. 72). This can be done by simply letting the audience comment on the stories that are being produced. Better yet, create a comment forum. The interactive forum that the Washington Post created where the audience was given multiple-choice questions rather than allowing a free-for-all was genius.

  7. Prior to reading this chapter, I believed that ubiquitous technology and social media was just a trivial layer of journalism. However, it is clear that reader engagement has propelled the shift in digital journalism. In modern journalism, journalists can open up a conversation that is largely driven by the audience rather than construct their own conclusions. This type of engagement calls for added depth and insight in terms of coverage, as well as a more personal touch. Engagement is beneficial to journalists, as it helps them notice numerous angles that they otherwise would not have noted. In the case of Belief Blog’s Where Was God discussion, intelligent comments and reader interaction moved the conversation forward. Similarly, social media can help raise the quality of dialogue. The rise of reader engagement has led to experimentation with new, more accessible story formats, such as the New Haven Independent’s skeleton story, which allowed readers to consume news in their own manner. Aside from driving pages views and analytics, the real benefit to reader engagement is that it helps build a community and loyalty for a news outlet.

  8. Though much of what this chapter explored was not new information to me, as we have been discussing this idea of engaged readership in class, there was one question that kept popping into my head. . That is how news organizations draw the line between having enough engagement without letting reader’s takeover. While active readers are the key to successful modern journalism I think allowing readers too much power can quickly turn into a “if you give a mouse a cookie” scenario. I found columnist Steve Kelley’s citing nasty reader discourse as a reason for quitting his career quite poignant. I often find comment sections to be a portal of unfriendly disagreements instead of a place for respectful conversation. Though I do know that this is not always the case, I think it is critical for news organizations to maintain a level of news delivering control. While the ultimate goal is to keep people informed and engaged, they must not lose authority for the sake of getting readers more involved.

  9. This chapter reaffirmed some of things I already knew about print journalism. It also reminded why I don’t want to be a journalist. Technology has added to the way journalism is reported but it has taken jobs away. You mentioned the hundred of people laid off because of Michigan paper cutting down how many days they print the newspaper. There was nothing they could’ve done to prevent that because technology is changing the industry. I enjoyed your thoughts on covering events live. I like watching live coverage because it feels like I’m there without actually being there.

  10. This chapter definitely shed new light on issues I’ve often heard about in journalism classes previously. I remember the “Where was God in Aurura?” CNN coverage, and I followed the audience participation, as well. It became evident to me then that news is no longer about writing your story and putting it out there. A writer must poll sources before the story on their beat, then wait for reactions from his/her audience, as well. My favorite quote in this chapter says,”But by asking questions that respect readers’ intelligence, journalists can raise the quality of the dialogue surrounding their stories.” I think many times writers don’t think people who comment in the comment section are very knowledgeable, and a lot of comments sections are seen as inane or ridiculous. But this chapter taught me that comment sections are integral in creating the kind of interactive, multimedia journalism of the future.

  11. When asked why I want to be a journalist, I often respond “because journalism gets people talking”. As a news journalist, my role is to expose injustice, to tell untold stories, to give a voice to those who don’t have one, and generally to use my voice as a platform for change. As an entertainment journalist, my role is to amuse, entertain, and tempt readers to keep reading. Both forms of journalism require the medium to be interactive and give the reader the ability to share their thoughts. In this chapter, my beliefs were confirmed. Comment sections are one of the most important journalistic tools. I believe it’s important to not only have them available but also utilize them. One can read comments for inspiration for new stories, to gauge the audience’s reaction, to spark a follow-up article, or to connect with readers directly. Such a tool is irreplaceable for a journalist. I wonder how journalism would’ve been different in the age of print if comments were somehow possible. Would content have shifted? Would newspapers change tone? It’s impossible to say but it’s amazing that we now have this ability.

  12. Before reading this chapter, I was under the impression that the number of likes, favorites, retweets, followers, etc. was the best measure of engagement. Andy Carvin’s take on engagement changed my mind on this, pointing out that talking to and listening to the audience is the best way of engaging. It’s almost like social media is coming full circle, where now we are trying to return to the roots. Carvin thinks we should “slow down the news cycle” and report with “greater mindfulness.” From the perspective of readers, Paul Bass defines an engaged user as someone who comments on stories, emails reporters and submits photos. I think sometimes, as readers, we get in a rut where we just see stories and like or favorite or retweet them. However, readers will get more out of stories and even get more insight by joining the conversation.

  13. As a long time user of social media (I joined twitter in April 2009) I found that the article didn’t necessarily bring up any new topics for me, but instead changed how I perceived things I had long thought I knew. I have always avoided comments sections because I thought comments sections were a playground for “trolls,” but this article helped me see that the future of journalism may lie in the comments section. The fact that the “Where Was God in Aurora?” article got so many comments that it elicited a series of spin off articles from differing points of view really shows the power of a good (and constructive) comment section and the where the future of engaged journalism is headed. It goes beyond simply allowing for feedback and moves toward engagement with your audience, which, as mentioned in the chapter, is a step away from the old journalist habit of simply getting a singular quote. I learned that know more than ever before it is important for journalists to seek out their audience and write articles that they think will elicit engagement, because those are the articles people care about.

  14. In your book, you write, “As Gilgoff’s original post gained traction, ‘it was not only a conversation,it was a unique conversation that CNN provoked and was starting
    to own.'” This reminded me of our previous discussion about Twitter, and how journalists can use Twitter not only to curate crowd-sourced content, but also to engage their audience. Your chapter also made me think of audience-engagement in terms of a Return on Investment–journalists control the overarching topic of conversation, but audiences, who invest both money and time into reading the news, can offer new insights, opinions, sources, and spur conversation on a new topic.

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