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News organizations that want journalists to engage with their audience may be setting them up for abuse

Women journalists who engage with their audience often experience harassment and ugly comments. Justin Paget/Stone/Getty Images

News organizations that want journalists to engage with their audience may be setting them up for abuse

Women journalists who engage with their audience often experience harassment and ugly comments. Justin Paget/Stone/Getty Images

News organizations that want journalists to engage with their audience may be setting them up for abuse

Women journalists who engage with their audience often experience harassment and ugly comments. Justin Paget/Stone/Getty Images

News organizations that want journalists to engage with their audience may be setting them up for abuse

Women journalists who engage with their audience often experience harassment and ugly comments. Justin Paget/Stone/Getty Images

It is difficult for news organizations and journalism scholars to determine the value of audience engagement – not because engagement itself is not worth pursuing, but because the term is so loosely defined and inconsistently implemented.
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Jacob L. Nelson, Arizona State University

News organizations are trying to do a better job connecting with their audiences, in hopes of overcoming the profession’s credibility problems and ensuring its long-term survival.

To do this, a growing number of newsrooms have for years embraced what’s called “audience engagement,” a loosely defined term that typically refers to efforts to increase the communication between journalists and the people they hope to reach.

These efforts take many forms, and vary from online – for example, the use of social media to interact with readers about a story after it’s been published – to offline – for example, meetings between journalists and community members to discuss a story currently being produced.

At its best, engagement shows audiences that journalists are real people, with the training and skills necessary to provide accurate information that is trustworthy. It also offers people an opportunity to contribute their ideas about how their communities should be covered, allowing news consumers a larger role in shaping their own stories.

This outcome is especially important for communities of color, who have long been ignored or misrepresented by newsrooms that have historically comprised mostly white, middle-class editors and reporters.

But not all efforts have produced the intended results.

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