This study examines organizational dynamics, technological affordances and professional challenges of engaged journalism practices by analyzing how Hearken, one of the most celebrated audience engagement companies and its tools and services are being implemented in 15 U.S. news organizations. This framework identifies Hearken and organizations like it as important “external actors” providing technological “actants” that are shaping how newsrooms report the news by providing ways for audiences to be brought into producing the news, particularly during the earlier phases of the reporting process. Ultimately, this study presents a partial update to the decades-long literature on participatory journalism by suggesting that engaged journalism practices actually create opportunities for meaningful audience involvement.
Abstract: This study was written with both scholarly and practical questions in mind. We examined the organizational culture of a sample of 15 news organizations across the United States to better understand how particular factors affect the process of using Hearken.
How do we make the case for investing in engagement? “Engagement” is an evolving set of practices within journalism, and its impact on attracting, developing, and satisfying audiences has yet to be fully and rigorously documented, particularly by the scholarly community. One entity that is making a strong case for the commercial, as well as the journalistic value of doing engagement work, is Hearken, whose landing page features in bold letters: “Does Hearken Work? Yes.”
This study explores emerging approaches to engagement based on in-depth interviews with editors, and we map these approaches onto the literature on participatory journalism. Our findings suggest engagement approaches vary along several dimensions, including whether audiences are seen as as more passive or more active and at what stages audience data or input in incorporated into the news product. We identify technological, economic, professional, and organizational factors that shape and constrain how news outlets practice “engagement.”