The angry man in the viral video lambasted, excoriated, and all but castigated the news reporter for caring more about property than people, for simply swallowing the government line, for being part of the problem in their lives. 

And the crowd around him applauded.

The Dutch-headquartered European Journalism Center sees that public attitude as as big a threat to the future of news businesses as any shift in advertising revenue or technological disruption, according to Ben Whitelaw, the EJC’s point man on media engagement.

Ben Whitelaw of the European Journalism Center discusses the importance of listening to news readers.
Ben Whitelaw of the European Journalism Center discusses the importance of listening to news readers.

Whitelaw put the question directly to those sitting in the INIT auditorium in Amsterdam Friday at the INMA European News Media Conference

“When was the last time you met someone you’d never met before who had actually read, listened, or watched your journalism? When was the last time you met them, and talked to them, and understood what they’re about?” 

Only a small number of hand went up among the 180 in attendance. 

“We haven’t really developed ways to listen to our readers. Or to listen to our communities,” he told them. “We don’t have feedback channels where we can suck in that information and make decisions on what sort of content we should give them.”

The Web is supposed to be about about a two-way dialogue, but is used primarily as a broadcast channel, he noted. 

Little surprise, then, that the man in the video feels the reporter’s news organisation “does not work in a way that takes his views into account.”

To try to fix that and secure a future for European news organisations, the EJC five months ago launched a €1.7 million Engaged Journalism Accelerator. Whitelaw urged INMA-member media houses to take up the challenge. 

EJC defines engaged journalism as that which puts engagement with a clearly defined community (geographical or topical) at the center of its ownership, reporting, distribution, impact, and revenue.

“In doing so, we believe engaged journalism has the ability to restore trust in media, provides citizens with information they need, develop a sustainable revenue model and enhance plurality and diversity in a crucial part of society’s information ecosystem,” Whitelaw said.

“There are lots of opportunities for you if this is a kind of journalism you're interested in working on.”