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 European countries 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 as a journalism educator or journalistic professional would you 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 at that growing competition and shrinking budgets. Reinvigorating the dialogue between journalists and their audiences will surely not solve all these problems but surely it is one of the possible ways to address the challenges.

This day and age is characterised by the mass communication model dwindling and gradually evolving towards an age characterised by a network communication model that fits the challenges of the 21st century (e.g. Peters & Broersma, 2017; Hermans & Drok, 2018). Because of the growing possibilities to disseminate information through many platforms and different key players, 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 role as gatekeepers 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 includes possible answers to problems and when news is helpful to find answers to the questions they may have (Hermans and Gyldensted, 2019). To take into account how journalism can stay relevant for the public it would be meaningful for journalists to rethink the principles of their professional function, which used to focus on a detached observer function (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).


An important issue that journalism has to cope with is trust. Especially with the young generation who is growing up in a more individualised society, trust is not taken for granted and must 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 increasing polarisation. Research shows that in these circumstances citizens’ trust in journalism is no longer guaranteed. As far back as in 2013, the Eurobarometer reported that on average about 40 per cent of European citizens tended 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 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 they generally trust the news media (Reuters Digital News Report, 2018). In 2020 a fall in trust was reported to a level of 38%, 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 for instance to 29% in the United States (Reuters Digital News Report, 2021). As for the countries participating in the dialogue project 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  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 lack of interest is not one of them (Newman et al., 2019). Findings of longitudinal international studies from Reuters Institute in Oxford, show that important motives for avoiding news are related to the dominant focus on the negative and the lack of values. People indicate that they avoid news because it influences their mood in a negative way (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 finds that people do not consider news relevant for their daily lives (Costera Meijer, 2007; Edgerly, 2018), nor has it any 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 its practices according to the needs of today’s society. The responsibility to provide citizens with accurate news implies 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 of including citizen participation in the news process is not new and has already been 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 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 21st 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 level of responsibility. Journalists should not only be responsible for the quality of the news process and product, but should also be aware of the impact news may 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 citizens´ 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 intend to meet the current needs for relevant journalism

By focusing on communities, journalists can 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 a journalistic commitment to take 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 all walks of life.

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