Reciprocal Journalism: A Concept of Mutual Exchange Between Journalists and Audiences

Seth C Lewis, Avery E Holton, Mark Coddington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-241
JournalJournalism Practice
StatePublished - 2014


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