For my Masters of Arts in Journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism., I explored existing research in audience building, community engagement, and how relationships develop between individuals and institutions.
My graduate thesis research, an ethnography of The Dallas Morning News examining the efficacy of engagement journalism, was conducted under the direction of Dr. Tracy Everbach.
Engagement is more than crafting witty tweets or timing Facebook posts to beat an algorithm. It is a conversation with readers that is crucial to the advancement of journalism. It requires thoughtful messaging that examines what readers need to know, what they don’t know and what they have to share with the newsroom. Effective engagement requires putting the needs of readers first — including asking on which platforms they are already having a conversation.
The Dallas Morning News is a leader in using engagement journalism to increase and retain digital subscribers. This ethnography examined the efficacy of the engagement journalism work by the News in rebuilding trust and forming relationships with its audience. This research is exceptionally timely as more newsrooms are erecting paywalls to their content and asking their audiences to offer monetary support in exchange for greater access and engagement by journalists.
This work is examined through two mass communications theories: functionalism, which says a society can be viewed like an ecosystem as a "system in balance" consisting of complex sets of interrelated activities, each of which supports the others in maintaining the system as a whole; and the dual responsibility model, which says that companies should operate in the best interests of all in the community who depend on them, not only those who benefit financially.
Additionally, the work is considered from a human-interaction design standpoint to evaluate whether the News has created affordances that enable the journalists and the readers to communicate, and whether the journalists are effectively practicing service design when publishing news and information for the audience.