Practicing Engagement: Participatory journalism in the Web 2.0 era

Written by: Regina G. Lawrence, Damian Radcliffe & Thomas R. Schmidt

Journalism Practice (Journal): Available via:

This new journal article examines findings from interviews with a variety of outlets, from legacy organizations like The Guardian (United Kingdom), Der Standard (Germany), and the Dallas Morning News (United States) to newer online add-ons of legacy outlets, like Kurier Online (Austria), and from multiplatform broadcasters such as the BBC to family-run newspapers like The Seattle Times.

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In recent years, the rapid expansion of Web 2.0 tools has opened new possibilities for audience participation in news, while “engagement” has become a media industry buzzword.

In this study, we explore approaches to engagement emerging in the field based on in-depth interviews with editors at a range of news outlets from several countries, and we map these approaches onto the literature on participatory journalism and related innovations in journalism practice.

Our findings suggest variation in approaches to engagement that can be arrayed along several related dimensions, encompassing how news outlets measure and practice it (e.g. with the use of quantitative audience metrics methods), whether they think about audiences as more passive or more active users, the stages at which they incorporate audience data or input into the news product, and how skeptically or optimistically they view the audience.

Overall, while some outlets are experimenting with tools for more substantive audience contributions to news content, we find few outlets approaching engagement as a way to involve users in the creation of news, with most in our sample focusing mostly on engaging users in back-end reaction and response to the outlet’s content.

We identify technological, economic, professional, and organizational factors that shape and constrain how news outlets practice “engagement.”

KEYWORDS: engagement, journalism, media economics, metrics, newsrooms, norms and routines, participatory journalism