The ‘ecology of participation’: A study of audience engagement on alternative and independent journalism websites

TitleThe ‘ecology of participation’: A study of audience engagement on alternative and independent journalism websites
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Barnes, R.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of the Sunshine Coast
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeJRE T1b
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE T1b
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleHybridization of Media, Twitter and Political Implications Theme II: Innovations in Journalism
Submission ID6200

This paper investigates how audience members are using alternative and independent journalism websites. Applying Atton and Hamilton’s (2008) concept of ‘alternative journalism’ specifically to developments within the online medium, this study analyses ‘alternative journalism’s’ historical practice of audience engagement and participation, along with the contemporary tensions and its relationship with mainstream journalism. While ‘alternative journalism’ has always been a fluid concept, based on the mainstream journalism of the time that it is challenging, this is particularly evident now in the age of online journalism. This area of journalism has grown exponentially as the ease and affordability of publishing and distributing content on the web has enabled more alternatives to mainstream journalism and as such attention must be paid to its audience. Based on case studies of four alternative and independent journalism sites, two based in Australia and two based in the United States, this paper will examine how and why the audience uses these sites. Traditionally research into journalism and in particular alternative and independent journalism has focused on the civic role of journalism. However, to consider the individual audience member’s engagement with the site, an approach similar to that which has typically been associated with fan studies is more useful. Using this fan theory, the paper will focus on the role of personal satisfaction and emotional engagement, along with identity and community development as central factors in considering how and why audience members use alternative and independent journalism websites. Overall, this study finds that the majority of audience members are not actively contributing on the case study websites. What the study does uncover is an expectation of avenues for active contribution – even if these avenues are not used. It also shows audience members, whether active participants or not, can place a high ‘value’ on the contributions of other audience members. Ultimately it argues that a new definition of participation must be considered for these websites, which does not privilege participation that involves active contributions, but is inclusive of audience members who ‘internalise’ their participation.

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