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Training Journalists for Audience Engagement in a 'Post-Truth' Environment

Up next in this Future of Journalism 2017 session are Klaus Meier and Daniela Kraus, presenting their 'post-truth' research project. They begin by noting that audience engagement is becoming a key factor in journalism, and instituted a Learning Lab Audience Engagement that aimed to provide journalists with the tools to move journalism from a lecture to a conversation.

But audience engagement is still poorly defined: it relates to communication between journalists and their audiences; involves different and more interactive approaches to storytelling; draws on editorial analytics that track user activities and responses; personalised news that enables users to participate in the selection process; membership of users as recognised supporters of a media project; and agency for users to engage more fully, which shifts the journalist from observer to initiator of collaborative activities.

Daniela developed these ideas into a curriculum for a small-group workshop programme for journalistic practitioners; here, engagement was not only the programme topic, but also embedded as a practical activity amongst participants throughout the programme itself. Emerging from this was the realisation that engagement is no longer an option, but a necessity; however, the ideal and the reality of audience engagement continue to diverge considerably.

This is true both at a definitional level (which is narrower in practice than it should be); for the mindset with which audiences are being engaged (which remains strongly top-down); for the objectives of audience engagement (which are poorly defined, and diverge between editorial and management staff); and for the practice of audience engagement in newsrooms (where interest in audience engagement remains very unevenly distributed).

What does mean for the training of audience engagement? First, training only audience engagement editors perpetuates the siloisation of such specialist staff within the overall newsroom, and fails to give these practices sufficient weight. Second, there remains strong demand for skills training, but this also needs to be based on more analysis of successful cases and examples. Third, the personal skills of staff need to be better supported and harnessed.

Factors for successful audience engagement in journalism, then, are an acceptance of the need for such engagement in the first place; the development of a meaningful strategy for engagement; the preparation of management processes for it; the gathering of data and metrics on outcomes; the establishment of meaningful rules and guidelines for engagement; and the further training of journalists and others involved in the process.