Audience Identifies Types of Reporters, News Consumers

By Morris, John L. | Newspaper Research Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Audience Identifies Types of Reporters, News Consumers


Morris, John L., Newspaper Research Journal


Millions of people are communicating around the globe on the Internet, and traditional newspapers and broadcasters are offering online news services. The following literature review explores some of the ways that the world's first interactive mass medium is affecting the practice of traditional journalism. The primary research that follows the literature review identifies four types of reporters and four types of news consumers in the Denver Metro Area regarding attitudes toward audience interaction in journalism. The results of this study justify continued research in citizen-based reporting and audience analysis.

Literature Review

Civic journalists and Internet journalists have a lot in common--both groups place a high value on interaction. Civic journalists, also known as public journalists, interact with readers and other citizens through focus groups, resource panels, town meetings and community conversations, whereas online journalists interact with citizens through e-mail messages, list-serve postings, interactive web pages and hypertext links. Both believe including average citizens in public discussions is good for democracy. (2)

Research published in 2001 by Dickson, Brandon and Topping shows that AEJMC Newspaper Division members and U.S. daily newspaper editors agree on the importance of the outcomes of civic journalism. (3) The educators and editors agree that civic journalism reduces a media organization's objectivity, is a good means for media to improve credibility and increases reader interest in news media. The editors, however, were significantly more likely than were the educators to support the goals of civic journalism: listening/initiating dialogue about community problems and developing solutions to community problems. Involvement in civic journalism was the most important factor in predicting attitudes toward the outcomes and goals of civic journalism.

Dickson, Brandon and Topping suggest this difference in level of support is related to what Gade et al. called "semantic baggage," which, in effect, establishes more than one public journalism. (4) Lambeth and Craig, (5) Parisi, (6) Voakes (7) and Kurpius (8) reached similar conclusions. Dickson, Brandon and Topping further suggest the sticking point in the civic journalism debate is not the less activist (listening/initiating dialogue) level of civic journalism, but the more activist level: solving community problems. They conclude that reducing the semantic baggage of civic journalism would advance the general mission of the news media. (9)

Four scholarly books on civic journalism published in the past three years make clear that this movement has drawn attention to the actions or interactive processes of journalism over the static products of journalism. (10) Glasser even cautions civic journalists about adopting a "strictly procedural role" in The Idea of Public Journalism, (11) and Corrigan catalogs numerous civic journalism processes in The Public Journalism Movement in America, (12) such as teamworking, alternative framing, exchanging civic capital, acting as civic catalysts, civic mapping, collaborating, conducting community conversations, connecting with the community, deliberating, engaging the public, participating, conducting focus groups, mobilizing, public living, public listening, telling stories and working through problems. Other books that analyze the processes of civic journalism are Assessing Public Journalism by Lambeth et al., and What are Journalists For? by Rosen.

This emphasis on process has led many critics to connect civic journalism with activism and, consequently, a loss of objectivity. Scholars of the writing process and social psychology maintain that all human communication is interactive, however, and some theorists argue the more interactive the communication, the more effective it is. (13) In other words, human communication is based on symbolic interaction.

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