Social Media have changed the traditional relationship between journalism and its audience. But what effects exactly do the participatory features of digital media have on practices and expectations among both journalists and audience members? In this project, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) [German Research Foundation], we conducted case studies based on in-depth interviews, standardised online surveys and content analyses in four newsrooms of information-oriented and debate-oriented news outlets (Germany’s most viewed newscast Tagesschau, national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, a highly popular political TV talk on public service broadcaster ARD, as well as weekly newspaper Der Freitag).
The case studies show that each outlet developed an individual answer to the challenges presented by the increasing opportunities of audiences to participate. The size of the newsroom, the rhythm of publication of offline services (daily vs. weekly), the integration or separation of online and offline departments, as well as the individual journalistic strategy and “media brand” are essential influencing factors in this process. A comparison of the mutual expectations shows that both journalists and audience members agree that traditional journalistic tasks are still important. However, journalists often overestimate affective motives of active audience members (e.g. “want to blow off steam”) while they underestimate the motive of expanding one’s knowledge through participation.
Nele Heise summarised the most important findings for epd medien, no. 6 of 6 February 2015 (in German). You can find the article here.
The development of the project, publications, survey instruments and further information were documented on the project’s weblog: http://jpub20.hans-bredow-institut.de/.
Between 51 and 87 per cent of the audience of the respective medium participated at least once. A much smaller group, the “core”, participates often and intensely in the comment sections of the respective website or on the outlets’ social media profiles. This relatively small number of audience members causes a considerable workload for the newsrooms: Hundreds, sometimes thousands of comments have to be analysed and moderated every day.
The comments, however, are relevant to other readers and viewers who don’t actively participate, as well; they read the posts to get more information or learn about others’ points of view that are not presented in the journalists’ work.
In three of the four media outlets, the audience’s utterances hardly ever are included in the journalistic products. And most of the audience does not want this to change: The journalists state they want to provide relevant information, explain complex issues or criticise deficits – and that’s exactly what their audience expects of them. Most journalists do not regard dialogue- or participation-oriented tasks as part of their jobs, and most audience members expect nothing more.
However, the internet and social media very well change the journalists’ and audiences’ perception of the journalistic role. More active users value participatory features much higher; and journalists in novel roles – e.g., social media editors – do emphasise participation-oriented aspects of their role. Above that, in all the newsrooms it was regarded mandatory to be present in social networks and to provide comment sections and other participation opportunities on the outlets’ own websites. By this, journalists hope to strengthen audience loyalty. Furthermore, they hope to reach new readers and viewers if users “like”, “share” or “tweet” their contents.