Beyond comments: integrating audience into the newsroom’s heart

Jennifer Brandel proposes incorporating the audience to the editorial level and to the news production process as twist of citizen journalism

by Manuel M. Almeida

Although the journalism 3.0 or citizen journalism has an extensive experience –which comes from before the advent of Internet– the truth is that its convergence with the media, or to be exact with the editorial decisions and news production process in those media, remains negligible.

The information produced by citizens is channeled eminently through blogs, wikis, forums or social networks, including ‘microblogging’.

The experiences of citizen journalism integrated in the sector of mainstream journalism have occurred mainly within alternative projects, thanks to the pioneering initiative of journalists committed to the new means of social expression of communication.

Newly minted media appeared in the Net itself and in the mobile sector also experiment with some features that enrich the participation of readers in the information to a greater or lesser extent.

However, it is in the area of ​​’official’ journalism where the gap remains huge. And the more the media are linked to projects from the analog or traditional era, the greater the gap is.

This kind of online platforms have been integrating, like a dropper, tools such as blogs, comments, ratings news, forums, adapted social networks… But all of these features work either as parallel bids or as feedback for the news selected by the media staff and produced by payroll journalists.

In exceptional cases the public can participate in making decisions or take part in the process of news elaboration. In exceptional cases, the users have the ability to ‘order’ a given topic according to their interests or to become editor or contributor as part of the newsroom.

Paradoxically, much of the information and marketing efforts of these same media are engaged, through expensive reports and detailed metrics… to identify the audience interests! and manage effectively its information… and advertising offer.


If the media want to effectively answer to citizens, why do they not ask them?


This is the key to the interesting proposal that comes through Jennifer Brandel: integrate the readers into the newsroom through something as simple as asking them what they really want to read. And then allowing them to select and participate in the news production. Besides, of course, all the feedback –comment, vote, share …– they want, instead of limiting their relationship with the news just to this last facet.

I recommend reading her post on Medium and her keynote in the Hacks / Hackers Media Party 2015 in Buenos Aires, where she explains her idea in detail and provides some suggestive infographics.

Traditional journalism story cycle
Public-powered story cycle

The method, which has been running for some years now in various US media with a “significant” success, according to Brandel, is based on the concept of design thinking and we could synthesize as follows:


  • Ask readers what topics investigate or publish
  • Citizens vote to choose among the proposed topics
  • Participation of the person who asks, or a group of persons, in the process of news production together with journalists

Journalistic advantages:

  • Rupture of the editorial ‘tyranny’
  • Originality, differentiated content
  • Relevance (as themes are chosen by the readers community)
  • Popularity
  • Content’s economy
  • Continuous Feedback

Social advantages:

  • Integration and empowerment of the public
  • Loyalty
  • Engagement
  • Best room conversation against the usually tensed tone of comments
Journalists traditionally — Public powered journalists
Public traditionally — Public empowered
Comments — Questions

In short, what is involved is to place the reader’s participation early in the process, not at the end as is usual in media, thereby benefiting both the environment, as the user, now transformed itself into a genuine prosumer.

Undoubtedly, the system has serious drawbacks, as the volume of human and material resources required to manage it –Brandel and his team have their own tools, such as Hearken, specifically designed for this work– or the more than likely reluctance of media management to share information and editorial controls, but I think we are facing a proposal of interest that well worth taking into consideration in this quest for the Holy Grail that has become the definition of the new premises of journalism and its business adaptation to the digital era.

Via: The Fix

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