From Abstract News Users to Living Citizens: Assessing Audience Engagement Through a Professional Lens

Constanza Gajardo*, Irene Costera Meijer, David Domingo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Journalists’ increasing focus on news users is often seen as diverting the news agenda away from the core issues that are important to democracy. Hence, the practices of connecting journalists to the audience tend to be assessed as detrimental to the democratic function of journalism: informing citizens and facilitating public opinion. However, this normative link between practice and ideals has rarely been empirically addressed when studying audience engagement. In this article we use a case study (BiobioChile) to provide a more precise understanding of the democratic relevance that everyday engagement with the audience—through and beyond metrics—entails for journalism. First, our analysis suggests that audiences can be integrated into journalism’s democratic framework by moving beyond the dilemma of informed citizenship versus news user’s metrics to include what we propose to call living citizens: empirical concrete living beings grounded in journalistic practice. Second, we distinguish three audience oriented roles—observer, listener and connector—aimed both at maximizing the attention of news users, and at making sense of their needs as living citizens. These roles cover verifiable routines and values, thereby enabling a better assessment of the fulfilment of the democratic ideals of journalism.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournalism Practice
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Audience engagement
  • case study
  • democratic role of journalism
  • engaged journalism‌
  • journalistic roles
  • normative theory


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