Talking back, but is anyone listening? Journalism and comment fields

T.S. Graham*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


    Over the past decade, particularly with the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies, we have seen an increase in the popularity of social media such as forums, weblogs and wikis and social media applications and services such as Facebook and YouTube along with the proliferation of open publishing initiatives and social news websites. This vibrant upsurge of participatory values and practices can be understood as a sign of a general cultural trend whereby audiences increasingly become active media producers. This participatory culture challenges the top-down model of journalism by allowing anyone to post and upload content without formal editorial moderation or filtering processes, while the boundaries between professional journalists and their audience begin to blur as audiences actively increase their control and involvement over their news consumption, becoming both consumers and creators of media content. Citizens are no longer passive receivers but rather are actively engaged in (re)creating, challenging, questioning, correcting, and personalizing news media.

    As a means of combating revenue loss and reconnecting with their audiences, mainstream news media throughout Western democracies have begun tapping into this digital media culture by increasingly adopting participatory forms of journalism. However, these new forms have yet to be study in any great detail. The empirical research that does exist focuses mostly on gauging the opinions, motives and perceptions of editors/journalists, mapping the current trends and forms, and ethnographic studies on newsroom practices. What is needed to take this body of research further is an analysis of the content. This chapter moves in this direction by addressing the question of whether user-generated content within mainstream news media today is improving the quality journalism, i.e. enhancing the public sphere.

    One of the most popular forms of user-generated content within mainstream news media is comment fields attached to news articles. Such spaces provide citizens the opportunity to react, debate, and comment on articles (or blogs) written by journalists. The focus of this chapter is on how people are engaging in these spaces. The aim is two fold. First, it is to see to what extent such spaces are facilitating deliberative communicative practices crucial to the public sphere. Are comment fields opening up spaces for citizen deliberation? Second, it is to see whether this type of user-generated content is improving the quality of journalism. Are citizens bringing new ideas, perspectives, facts, and sources to journalistic content?

    In order to address these questions, postings from comment fields were examined and assessed within the British online newspaper the Guardian. The sample consisted of 3,169 postings (comments) taken from all those articles/blogs (by Guardian journalists) on the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen during a two week period in December 2009. A case study design with normative and descriptive characteristics was utilized. A content analysis was employed as the primary instrument for examination. The coding scheme focused first on gauging the type and level of interaction. Are participants engaging with the content, journalist, or fellow participants, and are such spaces hosting critical-reciprocal exchange between participants? Second, the analysis identified the purpose of the postings; i.e. are participants providing an opinion/argument, posing a question, providing information, calling for action, and/or degrading or acknowledging another? Finally, the analysis focused on the level to which such spaces bring new and alternative opinions, arguments, facts, and sources to the article, to journalism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRethinking Journalism
    Subtitle of host publicationTrust and Participation in a Transformed News Landscape
    EditorsM.J. Broersma, C.J. Peters
    Place of PublicationLondon
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Print)978-0-415-69701-9
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    • Public Sphere
    • Reader Comments
    • Social Media
    • Journalism
    • Internet
    • User-Generated Content
    • Journalism Practice
    • journalism studies
    • E-Democracy
    • News Reporting
    • News Coverage
    • News media
    • audience studies
    • Comment Fields
    • Environmental News
    • Digital Media
    • media studies
    • Online Communities
    • Civic Engagement
    • civic education
    • Online Debate
    • Online Deliberation
    • Online Activism

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