Today (October 7) has been designated as “National News Engagement Day” (NNED)
by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).
Many journalists and journalism organizations have joined AEJMC in promoting NNED. NBC’s Brian Williams offered commentary on why it’s important (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxS9H1GDkM0&feature=youtu.be). The Society of Professional Journalists (@SPJ_tweets) called for participation. The E. W. Scripps company asked Twitter followers how they would participate. The New York Times even announced a week of free access to NYT Now in honor of the day.
Then there were hundreds of students in journalism schools across the country participating in rallies, seminars, and “events” to show their engagements with news (@newsengagement).
Last week I wrote a blog post exploring the meaning of “engagement” from the point of view of media organizations and governments (http://227media.net/engagement-means-more-than-feedback-or-posts/). National News Engagement Day offers a change to look at “engagement” from the other end.
What does it mean for readers, viewers and users to be “engaged” with news?
Many of the activities happening today around the country focus on getting people to read, watch, or listen to news. Others encourage people to link to news sites online. These are wonderful efforts to connect people—particularly young people—with news. They lend themselves to ready metrics that give us a measure of “engagement.”
The spark plug for National News Engagement Day has been Dr. Paula Poindexter, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and last year’s president of AEJMC. She has said she is concerned that young people are not engaging in news. She cites metrics that show low levels of use by young people for news—especially among legacy media. NNED is designed give us a chance to get young people “engaged” by generating some excitement and buzz about news.
This “engagement” is great. It is designed to make people aware of news outlets and to get people to use those outlets.
The deeper issue about “engagement” is more troubling. Activities, promotions, and contact on News Engagement Day are wonderful for getting the numbers of users up. But getting them to come back the day after NNED and the day after that and the day after that requires something more than the excitement of a promoted awareness.
Engagement means making news a part of the basic “equipment” we use to construct meaning in our world every day. It means connecting “news” to our everyday activities as part of our way of defining and understanding those activities and our lives.
Heidegger has called the articulation of our understanding of the world “discourse.” He has demonstrated that discourse reflects our existential engagement with the world of meaning that defines our lives.
Engagement with news will happen when news is connected with the network of entities that define our lives. Too often “news” has become separated from our understanding of the fabric that defines our lives.
Even more importantly, understanding reflects the connections that define the authentic “possibilities” that we see for our lives. If the discourse and engagement we have with news no longer confronts us with our own possibilities—or if we not longer understand how “news” makes such possibilities open to us—we lose the connection that makes news relevant and meaningful for us.
So, this is National News Engagement Day and I am proud to be a participant in this day.
But the urgent need for “engagement” and “understanding” and “discourse” will still be there tomorrow when the balloons have come down. The work ahead is to offer a meaningful connection between the young reader or viewer and “news” too often seen as ritualized and severed from real engagement.