Journalists Should Engage With Their Readers View From Slovakia

What happens when journalists participate in the discussion in the often-frightening comments below their articles? This is one of the questions that I tried to answer in my book, Discussions the News. The uneasy alliance between participatory journalists, and the critical public, which was published earlier this year.

Journalists are not known for engaging with readers in traditional newspaper culture. As a researcher, I was excited to witness a new attempt to establish a conversational relationship between journalists, readers, and staff at Dennik N, a Slovak daily.

The newspaper’s headquarters is in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was founded by SME’s senior editors, Slovakia’s second-most popular daily. They walked out of the paper in protest after a corrupt financial group bought a 50% share of the newspaper. Half of the newsroom followed them to a new venture that was initially online only. They launched a five-day print edition in January 2015.

Participation And Editorial Autonomy Journalists

Dennik N uses a subscription-based model of business to counter the rise in media oligarchs throughout Central Europe. This approach is a condition of editorial independence. It is a promising strategy in Slovakia where the internet penetration rate is 85% and press freedom is free.

Readers in this country of more than 5 million are above-average news users. A 2015 survey I conducted found that 72% of respondents participated in news dissemination via social media and newspaper websites. According to the 2016 Digital News Report Slovakia is the most popular EU country for commenting on news websites.

Dennik N wanted to counter the dependence on institutions or private shareholders that could conflict with its audience by building strong relationships with them. Participation is a natural extension to this philosophy, as it encourages subscribers to subscribe and makes the media more independent. The newspaper encouraged journalists to not only read comments but also to respond to them. They did, in varying degrees.

Journalists Respond To Journalism

Analyzing these exchanges and speaking to journalists, I found that certain comment types were significantly under- or over-selected by journalists for reply. Comments about journalism were prefer by them. It was more common for readers to comment on editorial choices (mistakes, headlines, bias accusations) than the article’s theme.

Journalists responded to their questions using a variety of arguments. They used a variety of argumentative forms to respond to journalists requests. These are, as Andrew Abbott explains in The System of Professions (his book), strategies of professional legitimisation.

The screenshot shows a reporter thanking a reader who pointed out a typo, before explaining that the report was publish two minutes after President Obama’s official statement arrived. This is a reference to the time pressure online newspapers face when reporting on breaking news. It shows that they can sometimes compromise orthographic precision in order to speed things up.

This is known as a process argument. It gives the author insight into the production conditions for an article. This logic suggests that people who have a better understanding about a process might be better able to understand the results.

The authority argument is the second type of justification. Journalists would avoid voicing their opinions on their own articles and instead refer to more credible sources. To support the facts and interpretations in an article, they might cite more detail from one source, link to a scientific article or statistical data base, or cite a poll. Slovak journalists used discussion in both process and authority arguments as accountability instruments, almost like readers’ editors or ombudsmen.

Polemic Conversations

Sometimes they chose a different path. Sometimes, they took a different path. They used or dropped polemical gauntlets, and they got into arguments. Three of the most frequent commentators had different backgrounds: One was an economist who wrote mainly on economic issues, while another was a reporter covering foreign news on controversial topics like gay rights or the refugee crisis. The third was a journalist who was responsible for long-form reporting and interviews.

Some commenters responded to criticism by telling others they were wrong or calling their statement laughable. This could cause a flurry of discussion. However, they felt that this type of response was appropriate for online discussions. This is true for many media types: heated debates, which are well-known to radio and television reporters, can make for excellent viewing and listening.