Audience Engagement, Reciprocity, and the Pursuit of Community Connectedness in Public Media Journalism

Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Jacob L. Nelson, Seth C Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


In light of the media industry’s growing focus on audience engagement, this article explores how online and offline forms of engagement unfold within journalism, based on a comparative case study of two American public media newsrooms. This study addresses gaps in the literature by (1) examining what engagement means for public media and (2) applying the concept of reciprocal journalism to evaluate the nature of reciprocity (direct, indirect, or sustained) in the give-and-take between journalists and their communities. Drawing on direct observation and in-depth interviews, this article shows how this emerging focus on engagement is driven by public media journalists’ desire to make their relationship with the public more enduring and mutually beneficial. We find that such journalists privilege offline modes of engagement (e.g., listening sessions and partnerships with local organizations) in hopes of building trust and strengthening ties with their community, more so than digital modes of engagement (e.g., social media) that are more directly tied to news publishing. Moreover, this case study reveals that public media organizations, in and through their engagement efforts, are distinguishing between the communities they cover in their reporting and the audiences they reach with their reporting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)558-575
Number of pages18
JournalJournalism Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 28 2019


  • Public media
  • audience
  • engagement
  • journalism
  • qualitative method
  • reciprocity


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