1
The ‘ecology of
participation’: A study of
audience engagement on
alternative journalism
websites
Renee Barnes
Universit...
2
What is alternative journalism?
• Atton and Hamilton (2008) define ‘alternative
journalism’ as being informed by a criti...
3
Why does alternative
journalism matter?
• The changing role of the audience, highlighted in what
is variously referred t...
4
• ‘The increasing presence of non-
professional or citizen journalists is
suggestive of a different type of
journalism t...
5
Audience participation in
online news media
• A citizen or group of citizens ‘playing an active role in
the process of c...
6
Online comments
• Audience comments are the most popular form of
participation (Singer et al. 2011; Hermida & Thurman
20...
7
• The dominant perception of audience input amongst
BBC journalists was as another source – not as a form
of collaborati...
8
A space for fan studies
• ‘News acts as a command center for many projects of
identity and personal security that are de...
9
Case study: New Matilda
10
Case study: Mumbrella
11
Case study: Baristanet
12
Case study: Homicide Watch
DC
13
Methodology
• Online surveys were placed on each case study
website and distributed through social media for two
weeks ...
14
Results
1. Low levels of active contributions,
in particular comments following
news stories.
2. A high ‘value’ given t...
15
Low levels of active
contributions
TABLE 1: How often have you made comments on stories on the site?
Answer Options Res...
16
I am a little shy of making a comment, but I do find that
among the comments by others, I often find some
helpful (and ...
17
High ‘value’ given to
comments
• When asked how often they read other
people’s comments on stories, 45.6 per
cent (n= 5...
18
A story is more than just the article, it's people's
reactions to it (254).
I observe the comments and value them, but
...
19
Value given to the ability to
comment
I almost never do [leave a comment], but good to
know the option is there (395).
...
20
A role for emotion
• A story must move me on an emotional level
and then I feel the urge to comment after
deciding I ha...
21
Not just for active contributors
I enjoy to read the comments to feel part of the
conversation even if I don’t take par...
22
Discussion
• Low levels of active contributions
• Audience members value reading others’
comments and the ability to co...
23
An ecology of participation
• Active contribution
• Engaged listening
• Distribution
24
• renee.barnes@usc.edu.au
• @renbarau
24
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The 'ecology of participation': an investigation of audience engagement on alternative journalism websites

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Presentation given at the IAMCR conference 2013 in Dublin.

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The 'ecology of participation': an investigation of audience engagement on alternative journalism websites

  1. 1. 1 The ‘ecology of participation’: A study of audience engagement on alternative journalism websites Renee Barnes University of the Sunshine Coast @renbarau renee.barnes@usc.edu.au
  2. 2. 2 What is alternative journalism? • Atton and Hamilton (2008) define ‘alternative journalism’ as being informed by a critique of either or all of the following: commercialisation and professionalisation of media organisations; dominant journalism practices; and dominant media coverage of particular issues or topics.
  3. 3. 3 Why does alternative journalism matter? • The changing role of the audience, highlighted in what is variously referred to as ‘citizen journalism’, ‘participatory journalism’, ‘user generated content’ or ‘pro-am journalism’, is a challenge for the practices of mainstream journalism (Deuze 2006; Bruns 2011). • The internet has enabled the greatest expansion of alternative journalism through user-driven programmes that enable easy and cheap content development and distribution (Deuze 2006; Atton & Hamilton 2008).
  4. 4. 4 • ‘The increasing presence of non- professional or citizen journalists is suggestive of a different type of journalism that may be able to disrupt and change institutionalised journalism in particular circumstances.’ (Fenton and Witschge 2011, p. 160) • The concept of ‘alternative journalism’ offers a method for interrogating changing journalism practices.
  5. 5. 5 Audience participation in online news media • A citizen or group of citizens ‘playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information’ (Bowman & Willis 2003, p. 9). • Encompasses people inside and outside the newsroom communicating to and with each other in an ongoing process of creating a news website and building a multifaceted community.(Singer et al. 2011)
  6. 6. 6 Online comments • Audience comments are the most popular form of participation (Singer et al. 2011; Hermida & Thurman 2007; Singer & Ashman 2009; Williams, Wardle & Wahl-Jorgensen 2010). • Hermida (2011) argues this is because it is the most offered avenue of participation and provides the least challenge to a journalist’s agency and authority.
  7. 7. 7 • The dominant perception of audience input amongst BBC journalists was as another source – not as a form of collaborative news journalism (Williams, Wardle & Wahl-Jorgensen 2010). • As a result many journalists and academics question the value of online comments as contributions to public discourse because of their low quality, uncertain origins and propensity for aggression and vulgarity (Reich 2011; Shepard 2011; Singer & Ashman 2009; Bird 2010).
  8. 8. 8 A space for fan studies • ‘News acts as a command center for many projects of identity and personal security that are deeply emotional, and not at all coldly “rational,” and yet that allow us to place ourselves in our house, neighbourhood, nation, and world’ (Gray 2007, p. 78). • Overall, fan theory places an emphasis on the ‘emotional investment’ given by fans to the object of their fandom. This suggests value in considering the role emotion and affect plays in an individual’s engagement with a text (Grossberg 1992)
  9. 9. 9 Case study: New Matilda
  10. 10. 10 Case study: Mumbrella
  11. 11. 11 Case study: Baristanet
  12. 12. 12 Case study: Homicide Watch DC
  13. 13. 13 Methodology • Online surveys were placed on each case study website and distributed through social media for two weeks between February and November 2011, providing a self-selected sample of 1261. • As Couldry (2010) notes ‘the heterogeneous, fast- changing space of online [media] means it is impossible to achieve a “sample” in the statistical sense’ (p. 140).
  14. 14. 14 Results 1. Low levels of active contributions, in particular comments following news stories. 2. A high ‘value’ given to the ability to comment and to readers’ comments on the website. 3. The role emotion plays in audience engagement with the websites.
  15. 15. 15 Low levels of active contributions TABLE 1: How often have you made comments on stories on the site? Answer Options Response Percent Response Count (n) Never 60.00% 756 Rarely (1-3 times) 19.80% 250 Sometimes (3-10 times) 14.70% 186 Often (10-30 times) 3.60% 45 Regularly (at least each week) 1.90% 24 answered question 1261 skipped question 10
  16. 16. 16 I am a little shy of making a comment, but I do find that among the comments by others, I often find some helpful (and some trivial as well) comments (133). [I] also the fear that I may not be able to communicate a point across as well as the article intends to (147). Where I have personal experience that seems relevant - the same motivation that would make me chip in with a group of friends [or] I take exception to something or I feel I can uniquely elucidate a point with an anecdote (8). I like to read what others are thinking but to a certain extent I like to know that others are reading what I am thinking. I like to feel that I am contributing to the industry, that I am a voice within it (30).
  17. 17. 17 High ‘value’ given to comments • When asked how often they read other people’s comments on stories, 45.6 per cent (n= 554) regularly or often read the comments and 35 per cent (n= 424) sometimes read the comments.
  18. 18. 18 A story is more than just the article, it's people's reactions to it (254). I observe the comments and value them, but rarely consider making a comment (269). Not so much because it helps me to make a comment, but more because I know the comments that are made by others often enhances the story (60). I think it's definitely a good feature but I've never been motivated to leave a comment myself. I do often find the discussion that follows stories almost as interesting as the story itself (19).
  19. 19. 19 Value given to the ability to comment I almost never do [leave a comment], but good to know the option is there (395). Yes. I submit photos & make comments infrequently, but it's nice to know I CAN do this (30). I tend to lurk in all online communities, it takes a lot to get me to comment, but I like to know that I can. (80) I enjoy observing only, but I like the idea that I CAN leave a comment (20).
  20. 20. 20 A role for emotion • A story must move me on an emotional level and then I feel the urge to comment after deciding I have a new angle to add to the debate (75). • When the emotions are stirred - for either the right or wrong reasons (51). • [I provide a comment on] things that I have experience with, or that bring up a particular emotional response (25). • The sadness of it all...to express my sympathy to the love[d] ones of the victims... (12).
  21. 21. 21 Not just for active contributors I enjoy to read the comments to feel part of the conversation even if I don’t take part (345). Sometimes the comments just annoy me, Other times they make me laugh it is just always interesting to see what sort of discussion a story provokes (190). The pain that families are going through, I feel the pain (16).
  22. 22. 22 Discussion • Low levels of active contributions • Audience members value reading others’ comments and the ability to comment, even if they don’t take up the opportunity. • Emotion was found to be a driving factor for participation across all four case studies. • Pleasure, humour, grief and personal attachment motivated many to participate on the sites. • Emotion was a significant factor of engagement for those who were not leaving active contributions
  23. 23. 23 An ecology of participation • Active contribution • Engaged listening • Distribution
  24. 24. 24 • renee.barnes@usc.edu.au • @renbarau 24

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