With 24/7 news at our fingertips, our attention spans have become just a sliver of what they used to be. With tools like social media being a primary form of sharing news and ideas, discussion and immediate feedback has become a big part of this new culture.
Taking elements from these techniques, many journalists strive to incite interaction with an audience — also new to the digitalized news culture.
“An engaged journalist’s role in the 21st century is not only to inform but to bring readers directly into the conversation through digitally powered techniques such as real-time coverage, alternative story forms, crowdsourcing, beat blogging, user-generated content, and comment forums,” says Jake Batsell in his article ‘On Convening a Community‘.
A prominent example Batsell describes is New York Times “Belief Blog” writer, Dan Gilgoff’s article written in the wake of the Aurora shooting spree. In his article, he asked the question, “Where was God in Aurora?” to which he received thousands of comments — meaningful, insightful, impassioned debate, as readers argued about the notion of divine sovereignty versus human free will.
Gilgoff ends his article stating,
“In the world of digital journalism, your voice matters more than ever. With the proliferation of reader comments, social media and instantaneous metrics on what our audiences are clicking and how they’re responding, your choices and opinions are shaping our coverage more than ever. Some of our best content from the last year was more about conversations happening around the news than about the news itself. We choose to do certain stories and skip others partly based on whether you’re engaged in those stories or not. Use your power wisely.”
This is what journalism is meant to be about: inciting passion, thoughts and perspectives your readers may not have had otherwise.
In addition to spurring discussion, is it the duty of journalists to moderate these discussions and provide a safe place for people to speak their minds? Jonathan Stray believe so.
“Americans are more polarized than they’ve been in decades, and we fight online about everything from catcalls to tax rates. Perhaps there is a need for a safe place to talk, to know the other, with real human moderators gently tending the discussion and discouraging the trolls. When everyone can talk, the public sphere needs fewer authorities and more moderators. To me, seems a natural role for journalism.”
The optimistic side of me believe this to be true, and ideal. While there will always be “internet trolls” and inevitable online feuds, journalists can try to offer objective reasoning to both sides of a story and use this feedback to generate a larger-scale idea of what you’re talking about and in a general sense, broaden your horizons as a writer.