Conceptualizing the Active Audience: Rhetoric and Practice in “Engaged Journalism”

Thomas R. Schmidt, Jacob L. Nelson, Regina G. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


A constellation of journalistic tools, platforms, companies and nonprofit funding has recently emerged, promoting the idea that allowing the audience to contribute to the news agenda is a promising strategy to increase trust in journalism, create new revenue streams and foster community-building. Despite a growing body of research, however, two main issues remain currently unexplored: (1) the extent to which engaged journalism as a practice aligns with engaged journalism as a theoretical construct, and (2) the extent to which the audience assumptions underlying the pursuit of engaged journalism align with actual audience expectations and desires. This paper begins to address both of these issues by comparing how advocates of engaged journalism conceptualize the public’s interest in participating in journalism with observations of actual instances of that participation. We find that there is indeed a gap between engaged journalism theory and practice, which we attribute to a distinction between what engaged journalists believe audiences want from news and how those audiences actually behave. At the same time, we also find that institutional rigidity in newsrooms that leads to some reluctance with regard to making news production more collaborative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Engaged journalism
  • ethnography
  • Hearken
  • participatory journalism
  • public journalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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