Nabeelah Shabbir, © Yara van der Velden, The Correspondent.
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Shrinking editorial staffs, the number of subscribers on the decline and, above all, a growing distrust of journalism in times of fake news… altogether this means that many journalistic organisations are in dire straits. Nabeelah Shabbir, the conversation editor at De Correspondent’s English-language sister site and a researcher at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, thinks the solution is simple. Public participation is the cure.

The audience must be better involved in the entire news process; whether it concerns journalistic research, the creation and verification of content or the distribution of the news, that’s what Nabeelah Shabbir is certain about. Shabbir should know: she collaborated as a researcher in the recent Reuters report ‘What if the Scale Breaks? Rebooting Audience Engagement When Journalism is Under Fire‘, in which the involvement of the public in the news was extensively researched. In the study, Nabeelah explains that a solution to the lack of trust is not unthinkable. This requires innovation though. “Innovation and journalism have gone hand in hand for years. It is interesting to see that in recent years it has made a change towards sustainable public involvement.”

According to Shabbir, the solution to make the mistrust disappear is simple. “Involving the audience in creating the news is unavoidable. The public wants to be heard and to be part of the news process. This can be done in different ways. In the Reuters study, a number of media platforms have emerged in which public participation has been applied and where it works. The Rappler” and “The Quint” are examples of this. These outlets, respectively Filipino and Indian, are more than just a news website. They use social media to spread the news and have their publications fact-checked by their public on a recurring basis. This creates reciprocity, a news movement that flows in two directions. “This is a win-win-win situation: the public feels more involved, the news is better disseminated and confidence increases.”

Better cooperation with the audience does not have to go hand in hand with substantial financial investments, according to the report. “It is often assumed that innovation means hiring an expensive web developer. However, I believe that innovation must be mission-driven. Instead of focusing on the latest piece of technology – de shiny things – we need to focus on meaningful innovation through creativity. This can be done with very few resources, as The Quint proves. Even in parts of India where the Internet is almost non-existent, the public is reached by, for example, sharing videos in low resolution.”

Also at The Correspondent, where Shabbir recently started as a conversation editor, the public should play a more important role. “We need to build bridges between the journalist and the subscriber, only then will we be able to provide good journalism that actually reaches readers.

Nabeelah Shabbir will explain the research in more detail on Thursday 21 November at the LocHal in Tilburg during the sold-out (un)Conference: Beyond Media. Follow the event live via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also read: ‘Cybernetic news’: the automated newsroom is the future of journalism