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).