Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

“Until our engagement journalism tactics confront the reality of discursive silos in which you believe this happened, I believe that happened, and we never end up with a shared set of facts…they will fail.”

I have a good prediction and a bad prediction for 2023. The first will make you feel all warm and fuzzy and yay democracy and all. But the second will probably erase those feelings and make you burrow back into that smelly blanket you haven’t washed since before Covid. Are we allowed to make predictions that we hope will fail?

First, as you may have heard, people don’t trust the news media. When I was a reporter, I had a T-shirt that said “Trust me. I’m a reporter.” That was in the 90s and early 2000s when we could wear such things cheekily, confident that our newspaper was making its shareholders a comfy 20% profit margin. Remember those days? Yeah. Those were fine days. Unless you identified as an immigrant or African American or disabled person or on the far right or a whole lot of other identities, and if you did, they really weren’t fine days for you, informationally, because your communities tended to be portrayed inaccurately or one-dimensionally or something other than how you saw your communities. Nonetheless, there is no getting around that trust has declined to 34% at last recording, and everyone is wringing their hands. What to do?!!

Good news! The journalism profession in the United States has figured it out! Rethink the journalist-audience relationship. Embrace “engagement” and “solutions journalism” and maybe, if they are really on the ball, “solidarity journalism.” As I write in my forthcoming book How Journalists Engage: A Theory of Trust Building, Identities, and Care, it is important to know — and if you are reading Nieman Lab, chances are you do — that many people have committed much time and money to an industry transformation away from traditional top-down, official-dominant, binary he-said-she-said reporting of the news.

Instead, a series of journalism-adjacent programs, organizations, foundations, think tanks and others have embarked on a massive, cohesive reporter retraining throughout the United States toward rethinking what journalism is and who it is for. These trainings began about 15 years ago, and my first prediction is that by the end of 2023, the majority of newsrooms in the country will have tried and (maybe, hopefully) adopted at least some part of these new strategies. These strategies run from the very easy (be transparent and explicit about the reporting process and ethical decision making with every story) to the very difficult (invite community members to collaborate in actual content production). For some examples of these various engagement projects aimed at building trust, check out Democracy SOS or Dimensions of Difference or The Trust Project.

And now for the bummer part: No one knows if it will work, and it is my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad second prediction that we will not know the answer by the end of 2023. And, if I may scrape at the secret buried deep in the very black bottom of my gut, the truth: This movement probably will not work in the end. The reason for this has to do with the parallel information worlds people in the United States have entered, closing the door on the way in and refusing to look at those “other” worlds of news and facts and dialogue. We believe these grand narratives that the press has done us wrong, we have plenty of evidence of those wrongs, and we are not interested in their present-day mea culpa. I and my co-authors Matt Carlson and Seth C. Lewis document some of this phenomenon in our 2021 News After Trump: Journalism’s Crisis of Relevance in a Changed Media Culture. Until our engagement journalism tactics confront this reality of discursive silos in which you believe this happened, I believe that happened, and we never end up with a shared set of facts, well…they will fail.

But wait! Before you throw your iPhone 14 Plus with its Mastodon or Post apps or whatever you are settling on, I do think there is a way around this. We can change! You and me! We can re-open our information worlds and look around outside. We can convince all the people in our networks to do that as well! I do think there are some very promising techniques being developed toward this end. Here I am thinking about Amanda Ripley’s Good Conflict: Why we get trapped and how we get out and Mónica Guzmán’s I Never Thought of It That Way: How to have fearlessly curious conversations in dangerously divided times. But it’s gonna take collective conversation therapy. And we gotta be willing to finally shed Twitter (what? I know. I haven’t left yet either…), throw Smelly Covid blankie aside, and head toward the kitchen table instead.

Sue Robinson is the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I have a good prediction and a bad prediction for 2023. The first will make you feel all warm and fuzzy and yay democracy and all. But the second will probably erase those feelings and make you burrow back into that smelly blanket you haven’t washed since before Covid. Are we allowed to make predictions that we hope will fail?

First, as you may have heard, people don’t trust the news media. When I was a reporter, I had a T-shirt that said “Trust me. I’m a reporter.” That was in the 90s and early 2000s when we could wear such things cheekily, confident that our newspaper was making its shareholders a comfy 20% profit margin. Remember those days? Yeah. Those were fine days. Unless you identified as an immigrant or African American or disabled person or on the far right or a whole lot of other identities, and if you did, they really weren’t fine days for you, informationally, because your communities tended to be portrayed inaccurately or one-dimensionally or something other than how you saw your communities. Nonetheless, there is no getting around that trust has declined to 34% at last recording, and everyone is wringing their hands. What to do?!!

Good news! The journalism profession in the United States has figured it out! Rethink the journalist-audience relationship. Embrace “engagement” and “solutions journalism” and maybe, if they are really on the ball, “solidarity journalism.” As I write in my forthcoming book How Journalists Engage: A Theory of Trust Building, Identities, and Care, it is important to know — and if you are reading Nieman Lab, chances are you do — that many people have committed much time and money to an industry transformation away from traditional top-down, official-dominant, binary he-said-she-said reporting of the news.

Instead, a series of journalism-adjacent programs, organizations, foundations, think tanks and others have embarked on a massive, cohesive reporter retraining throughout the United States toward rethinking what journalism is and who it is for. These trainings began about 15 years ago, and my first prediction is that by the end of 2023, the majority of newsrooms in the country will have tried and (maybe, hopefully) adopted at least some part of these new strategies. These strategies run from the very easy (be transparent and explicit about the reporting process and ethical decision making with every story) to the very difficult (invite community members to collaborate in actual content production). For some examples of these various engagement projects aimed at building trust, check out Democracy SOS or Dimensions of Difference or The Trust Project.

And now for the bummer part: No one knows if it will work, and it is my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad second prediction that we will not know the answer by the end of 2023. And, if I may scrape at the secret buried deep in the very black bottom of my gut, the truth: This movement probably will not work in the end. The reason for this has to do with the parallel information worlds people in the United States have entered, closing the door on the way in and refusing to look at those “other” worlds of news and facts and dialogue. We believe these grand narratives that the press has done us wrong, we have plenty of evidence of those wrongs, and we are not interested in their present-day mea culpa. I and my co-authors Matt Carlson and Seth C. Lewis document some of this phenomenon in our 2021 News After Trump: Journalism’s Crisis of Relevance in a Changed Media Culture. Until our engagement journalism tactics confront this reality of discursive silos in which you believe this happened, I believe that happened, and we never end up with a shared set of facts, well…they will fail.

But wait! Before you throw your iPhone 14 Plus with its Mastodon or Post apps or whatever you are settling on, I do think there is a way around this. We can change! You and me! We can re-open our information worlds and look around outside. We can convince all the people in our networks to do that as well! I do think there are some very promising techniques being developed toward this end. Here I am thinking about Amanda Ripley’s Good Conflict: Why we get trapped and how we get out and Mónica Guzmán’s I Never Thought of It That Way: How to have fearlessly curious conversations in dangerously divided times. But it’s gonna take collective conversation therapy. And we gotta be willing to finally shed Twitter (what? I know. I haven’t left yet either…), throw Smelly Covid blankie aside, and head toward the kitchen table instead.

Sue Robinson is the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media