Why teach dialogue-based journalism?

The WHY of dialogue in Journalism

Why should journalists be in dialogue with their audiences, instead of just publishing journalistic messages to them via the news media? And why do three institutions of journalism education from different countries in Europe teach their students the importance of being engaged with the public. How can journalism benefit from creating a dialogue with the audiences for whom they work? And why should you as a journalism educator or journalistic professional benefit from the methods of audience engagement presented on this website?

The answer to these questions is embedded into and relevant for the challenges contemporary journalism is facing: news avoiders, distrust in the media and other institutions, questions of representation, inclusiveness and diversity, a mismatch between media and audience agendas, polarisation in society and also growing competition and shrinking budgets. Reinvigorating the dialogue between journalist and their audiences will surely not solve all these problems but it is seen as one of the possible ways to address the challenges.

The age which is characterized by the mass communication model is dwindling and gradually evolving towards an age characterized by a network communication model that fits the challenges of the 21th century (e.g. Peters & Broersma, 2017; Hermans & Drok, 2018). Because the growing possibilities to disseminate information through many platforms and different actors, news media have lost their monopoly position as primary disseminators of news and thereby the exclusive power to decide what is news (Van der Haak, Parks, and Castells 2012). They share their gatekeeper’s function with many competitors in the public realm. Their audience has more possibilities to gather and select information on their own terms. Research shows that people still want to be informed about important issues in society, but there is also a need for relevance, context and diversity (Costera Meijer, 2021; Swart, Peters & Broersma, 2017). Furthermore, people seem to appreciate it when news also includes possible answers to problems and when news is helpful to find answers to questions they have (Hermans and Gyldensted, 2019). To take into account how journalism can stay relevant for their public it would be meaningful for journalists to rethink the principles of their professional function that used to focus on a detached observer function (see Weaver and Willnat, 2012) into a more open and committed function (Bro, 2007; Weaver and Willnat, 2012). This approach is reflected in the so called mobiliser role of journalism, which is aimed at pro-actively encouraging the audience to participate in the public domain and which is to act as an agent of empowerment by actively inviting people into civic activity and public conversation (Hanitzsch and Vos, 2016; Bro, 2018; Hermans & Drok, 2018).

Trust

An important issue that journalism has to cope with is trust. Especially, the younger generation who grow up in a more individualised society, trust is not taken for granted and needs to be earned (Usher, 2015; Peters & Broersma, 2012). In addition, journalism has to cope with troubling developments in society such as the rise of social divides and turmoil, spreading of misinformation, and upcoming polarization. Research shows that in these circumstances citizens’ trust in journalism is no longer guaranteed. As far back as in 2013, for instance, the Eurobarometer reported that on average about 40 per cent of European citizens tend to trust the press, whereas almost 55 per cent did not (Eurobarometer 80, 2013). There is growing evidence that this crisis of trust is perpetuating. For a number of years the Reuters Institute has been measuring the level of public trust in the media. In 2018 it reported a relatively stable level of trust of 44% of the people claiming the generally trust the news media (Reuters Digital News Report, 2018). In 2020 a fall in trust was reported to a level of 38% was reported, a four percentage points drop from 2019 (Reuters Digital News Report, 2020). In 2021 ‘in the wake of the corona crises’ public trust in the media bounced back to the level of 2018, 44%. Large differences can be seen between countries, though, with Finland showing the highest level of trust (65%) compared to for instance 29% in the United States (Reuters Digital News Report, 2021).  Turning to the countries participating in the dialogue project it shows that on trust in the media is above average (Danmark: 59%; Germany: 53%; The Netherlands: 59%). On the other hand this means that there are still quite a number of people (11% in Denmark) who either don’t trust the news media at all or who do neither agree nor disagree (30% in Denmark) when asked about their general trust in the media. In the context of the essential role of news media in public debate and democracy this lack of trust is a point of concern for many journalists.

News avoidance

Studies on why people tend to avoid news indicate that there are many reasons but often it is not because they are not interested (Newman et al., 2019).  Findings of longitudinal international studies of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, show that important motives for avoiding news are related to the dominant focus on the negative and the lack of value. People indicate to avoid news because it negatively influences their mood (Kalogeropoulos, 2017), they question reliability and avoid the news because it gives them a feeling of powerlessness (Newman et al., 2019; Woodstock, 2014).  Furthermore, research shows people do not think news is relevant for their daily lives (Costera Meijer, 2007; Edgerly, 2018), or has value to them (Edgerly, 2021). An important lesson to be drawn from this is that it makes sense to critically examine the content of the news when looking at the relationship between journalism and the public.

We argue that well-functioning journalistic services contribute to a well-functioning democracy – but journalism needs to rethink their practices according to the needs of today’s society. The responsibility to provide citizens with accurate news is more than telling them all that goes wrong (Gyldensted, 2014; Haagerup, 2017).

Citizen participation in the news process

Journalism should reconnect with citizens in society and therefore needs to improve its relationship with the audience. The idea to include citizen participation in the news process is not new and was already argued for in several initiatives such as civic journalism or public journalism, participatory journalism, grassroots journalism, collaborative journalism, networked journalism and interactive journalism (Borger et al., 2013). One of the concepts that could help to establish a better relationship is a more reciprocally oriented exchange. This “builds upon and yet departs from traditional notions of audience engagement and participation, capturing the range of dynamics through which journalists and audiences may exchange mutual benefit” (Lewis, Holton, and Coddington 2016, p. 230).

Including the public agenda into the news process is also a constituting element of constructive journalism a public oriented approach that came up in the 21th century within the field of professional journalism (e.g. Haagerup, 2017; Gyldensted, 2015). It critically questions the misrepresentation of society and the negativity bias in news which had already been disputed for decades (e.g. Galtung & Ruge, 1965).

In the news, a constructive approach reports on events including solution-oriented, future-oriented and action-oriented perspectives instead of a conflict frame in which problems and contradictions are central  (Hermans & Drok, 2018: Gyldensted, 2015: Haagerup, 2017 ). Within Constructive journalism, attention is given to a more far-reaching responsibility of journalism, journalists should not only take responsible for the quality of the news process and product, but should also be aware of the impact news can have on individuals and society as a whole (Costera Meijer, 2013; Gyldensted, 2015; Haagerup, 2017; Hermans & Gyldensted, 2019). An important principle in the constructive approach is that journalists can contribute to the empowerment and engagement of  the public by  producing news that can stimulate citizen’s consciousness and self-sustainability. One of the ways to achieve this is to  incorporate a dialogue based interaction with them.

The principles of constructive journalism are an attempt to develop innovations that tries to meet the current needs for relevant journalism

By focusing on communities, journalists have more abilities to facilitate a dialogue and stimulate an open public debate. This in an attempt to contribute to empowerment and engagement of citizens and to stimulate involvement and understanding in society. A constructive approach is an addition to the traditional ways of practicing journalism, not a total reform. The constructive approach to journalism underlines traditional standards of reporting but questions them when they result in an unreal and one-sided picture of the world.

In this project we treat the fostering of dialogue as one of the important tenets to engage the audience. The most important step in teaching this is creating the right mindset: getting used to and accepting the journalistic role of taking the audience into account by 1) listening to and communicating with the audience to get inspiration for journalistic productions and 2) facilitate and stimulate the democratic debate in and between different layers of society.

Academic Literature

Alexander, J. C., Breese, E. B., & Luengo, M. (2016). The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Democratic Culture, Professional Codes, Digital Future (Reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Borger, M., Van Hoof, A., Costera Meijer, I., & Sanders, J. (2013). Constructing participatory journalism as a scholarly object. Digital Journalism, 1(1), 117–134. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2012.740267

Broersma, M. J., & Peters, C. (2012). Rethinking Journalism: Trust and participation in a transformed news landscape. Taylor & Francis.

Costera Meijer I (2007) The paradox of popularity: How young people experience the news. Journalism Studies 8(1): 96–116.

Costera Meijer, Irene. 2013. “Valuable Journalism: A Search for Quality from the Vantage Point of the User.” Journalism 14 (6): 754–770.

Costera Meijer, I. (2021). What is Valuable Journalism? Three Key Experiences and Their Challenges for Journalism Scholars and Practitioners*. Digital Journalism, 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2021.1919537

Deuze, M. (2005). What is journalism? Journalism, 6(4), 442–464. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884905056815

Edgerly, S. 2021. “The Head and Heart of News Avoidance: How Attitudes about the News Media Relate to Levels of News Consumption.” Journalism. DOI: 10.1177/14648849211012922

Galtung, J., & Ruge, M. H. (1965). The Structure of Foreign News. Journal of Peace Research, 2(1), 64–90. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234336500200104

Gyldensted, C. (2015). From Mirrors to Movers. Van Haren Publishing.

Haagerup, U. (2014). Constructive News. Van Haren Publishing.

Hanitzsch, Thomas, and Tim Vos. 2016. “Journalism Beyond Democracy: A New Look into Journalistic Roles in Political and Everyday Life.” Journalism. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884916673386.

Hermans, L., & Drok, N. (2018). Placing Constructive Journalism in Context. Journalism Practice, 12(6), 679–694. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1470900

Hermans, L., & Gyldensted, C. (2018). Elements of constructive journalism: Characteristics, practical application and audience valuation. Journalism, 20(4), 535–551. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884918770537

Kalogeropoulos, A. 2017. News Avoidance. In Reuters Digital News Report, 40–41. Accessed 21 October 2020. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Digital20News20Report20201720web_0.pdf.

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2021). The Elements of Journalism, Revised and Updated 4th Edition (Revised edition). Penguin Random House.

Lewis, S. C., Holton, A. E., & Coddington, M. (2013). Reciprocal Journalism. Journalism Practice, 8(2), 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2013.859840

Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Kalogeropoulos, A., & Kleis Nielsen, R. (2019, april). Reuters digital news report (2019). Reuters Institute.

Peters, C., & Broersma, M. (2017). Rethinking Journalism Again. Taylor & Francis.

Swart, J., Peters, C., & Broersma, M. (2017). Repositioning news and public connection in everyday life: A user-oriented perspective on inclusiveness, engagement, relevance, and constructiveness. Media, culture & society, 39(6), 902-918.

Usher, N. (2017). Re-Thinking Trust in the News. Journalism Studies, 19(4), 564–578. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670x.2017.1375391

Van der Haak, Bregje, Michael Parks, and Manuel Castells. 2012. “The Future of Journalism: Networked Journalism.” International Journal of Communication 6: 2923–2938. http://ijoc.org/ index.php/ijoc/article/view/1750/832.

Weaver, David H, and Lars Willnat. 2012. The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. London: Routledge

Woodstock, L. 2014. “The News-Democracy Narrative and the Unexpected Benefits of Limited News Consumption: The Case of News Resisters.” Journalism 15 (7): 834–849.

Practical Sources:

https://constructiveinstitute.org/how/

https://www.eur.nl/en/eshcc/research/research-project-mijke-slot/podcasts (For instance episodes 1, 3, 4, 10, 13 and 14)

https://www.eur.nl/en/eshcc/research/research-project-mijke-slot/podcasts

https://wearehearken.com

https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/what-we-mean-when-we-talk-about-engagement-a4816f22902f

https://www.thecitizensagenda.org/download