Dilemmas in dialogue-based journalism


Working with dialogue-based journalism and having a closer relationship with the public brings out new dilemmas. Some of them are intellectual questions about the role of the journalist and journalism. Others are more concrete and related to the daily work and others again address the guiding principles for quality and independence.

It is worth discussing the dilemmas no matter what type they are. The dialogical approach to journalism uncovers a lot of grey areas and a lot of important things to consider.

We asked our students which dilemmas or difficult situations they have met while working with dialogue-based projects. They came up with the list below. We have arranged their questions in three categories and recommend that you discuss the dilemmas with the students to make the students reflect on them, the challenges and balances. We have also added some suggestions for answering the dilemmas.

Dilemmas based on students experiences with involving the public in the journalistic process

The role of the journalist and journalism

  • What do we do to tackle different meanings or perceptions of constructive journalism? (Check the website.)
  • When do you become a social worker in stead of a journalist? The line between a social worker and a journalist? (You need to empathise with people in the community to be able to see the story form their perspective, but you should always be able to empathise with other perspectives, too. Try not to identify with one point of view.)
  • The line between activism and journalism? (Activism is promoting one viewpoint or solution to a problem. A journalist should include multiple viewpoints and critically investigate different possible solutions.)

Dilemmas in the daily work

  • When do you stop moderation? When do you tune out and stop being the journalist?
  • How do you keep the professional distance? (Remain critical, ask for argumentation, ask the fact-checking questions “how do you know?” and “which evidence supports the statement you just made?” and ask you fellow journalists’ opinion.)

Dilemmas connected to the guiding principles for quality and independence

  • Should we only talk to the people who want to be engaged? What about the people who don’t want to? (The people who don’t want to be engaged can be viewed in two different ways: try to persuade them with the argumentation of what’s in it for them and their community or leave them alone because you don’t want to annoy them.)
  • What do you do when the engaged people are the same kind of people (echo-chamber)? (Always search for a diversity of perspectives; actively search for people with different backgrounds and from different layers of society.)
  • How do you know that the input from the audience is correct? (As a journalist you should always try to verify important information that a source provides you. Either by asking critical questions or by checking with other sources.)
  • How much should we give the audience the lead in a production? And when? (The short answer is that in the end the journalist is responsible.)

The teachers made a list with dilemmas regarding engaging the public in the journalistic proces. It overlaps and to a certain extend twist the students’ list.

Dilemmas in involving the public in the journalistic process. Teacher's list

  • How do we make sure that the community sees us as journalist – not as members of the community? (It is important to explain that what the source says will be made public and that it is possible that other people will react.)
  • How can we listen to the community/audience/market without letting the market define? (Discuss about the question whether what the audience wants is also what it needs.)
  • How close can we move to the users without giving up the core value of journalism – serving the public not the individual? (Find out if individual troubles are felt by other people as well. Or do other groups have different points of view?)
  • Where is the balance between being a journalist and being a friend? (Be transparent about your intentions.)
  • What is the difference between being constructive and being positive? (Don’t leave out uneasy information; also describe the problems; make sure your reporting is balanced.)