New publication — Reciprocal journalism: A concept of mutual exchange between journalists and audiences

I’m excited to announce the publication of this new piece, “Reciprocal journalism: A concept of mutual exchange between journalists and audiences,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Journalism Practice (a non-paywalled PDF is available here). The article will appear in 2014 as part of a special issue on “community journalism midst media revolution,” guest-edited by Sue Robinson (see her terrific introduction to the issue).

I was lucky to work with two fantastic co-authors in Avery Holton of the University of Utah and Mark Coddington of the University of Texas (all three of us were/are Ph.D. students in the School of Journalism at UT-Austin). We worked together in developing the “reciprocal journalism” concept last spring, drawing on theorizing about reciprocity from social psychology to imagine a way for understanding the evolving relationship between journalists and audiences. While a lot of what is classified as participatory journalism primarily works in the service of the news organization, we see reciprocal journalism as a concept for visualizing a process of mutual benefit between journalists and their communities of readers and followers—whether one-on-one in some instances or more indirectly and sustained over time. Now that we have begun to develop the contours of this concept, the next step is to test it in practice: To what extent does reciprocity—or the perception of reciprocity—factor into the way journalists perceive their relationships with audiences? How are such beliefs about reciprocity connected to certain kinds of news work practices or forms of participatory journalism? and so on. We hope to begin answering those questions via a survey of U.S. journalists that we’re launching soon.

Below is the citation information and abstract. If you can’t access the paywalled PDF, just email me for a copy: sclewis@umn.edu.

Lewis, Seth C., Holton, Avery E., & Coddington, Mark (2013). Reciprocal Journalism: A Concept of Mutual Exchange Between Journalists and Audiences. Journalism Practice, 1-13. doi:10.1080/17512786.2013.859840 (pre-print version)

Abstract

Reciprocity, a defining feature of social life, has long been considered a key component in the formation and perpetuation of vibrant communities. In recent years, scholars have applied the concept to understanding the social dynamics of online communities and social media. Yet, the function of and potential for reciprocity in (digital) journalism has yet to be examined. Drawing on a structural theory of reciprocity, this essay introduces the idea of reciprocal journalism: a way of imagining how journalists might develop more mutually beneficial relationships with audiences across three forms of exchange—direct, indirect, and sustained types of reciprocity. The perspective of reciprocal journalism highlights the shortcomings of most contemporary approaches to audience engagement and participatory journalism. It situates journalists as community-builders who, particularly in online spaces, might more readily catalyze patterns of reciprocal exchange—directly with readers, indirectly among community members, and repeatedly over time—that, in turn, may contribute to the development of greater trust, connectedness, and social capital. For scholars, reciprocal journalism provides a new analytical framework for evaluating the journalist–audience relationship, suggesting a set of diagnostic questions for studying the exchange of benefits as journalists and audiences increasingly engage one another in networked environments. We introduce this concept in the context of community journalism but also discuss its relevance for journalism broadly.