The Possibilities and Limits of “Open Journalism”: Journalist Engagement Below the Line at the Guardian 2006–2017
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Over the past two decades with the rise of digital media, newspapers across Western democracies have been increasingly adopting new forms of online participatory journalism. During this time, “below the line” comment spaces have grown to be one of the most popular forms of user-generated content. Comment spaces are thought to perform a multitude of functions. However, much has been made about their potential as spaces for public debate that could act as a new form of the public sphere where journalists can hear from, and directly engage with, their readers. Survey and interview research has suggested that some journalists do read, and sometimes engage in, comment sections. However, no study has systematically analysed how journalists actually engage in comment spaces; what factors shape such engagement; and how this has evolved over time. In this chapter, we begin to fill in these gaps by investigating how Guardian journalists behave below the line. Our research, which draws upon a multi-method approach and longitudinal research dataset, included a manual content analysis of all comments made (2006–2017) by 26 journalists (n = 5448) and 18 semi-structured interviews conducted in two phases (13 in 2012 and 5 repeated in 2017–2018). Our chapter sheds light on how journalists behave below the line and what this might mean for journalism practice in the digital age.
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