The Elusive Engagement Metric

Jacob L. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Many journalism professionals and researchers have recently argued that newsrooms adopt “audience engagement” as one of their chief pursuits. Yet those who hope to make audience engagement both normative and measurable face enormous barriers to success. Their efforts therefore present an opportunity to learn how journalism is changing, as well as who within the field have the power to change it. This study investigates one such effort with an ethnographic case study of Hearken, a company that offers audience engagement services to news outlets worldwide. Due to news industry confusion surrounding how audience engagement should be defined and measured, Hearken is unable to quantify the benefit of its offerings. Instead, Hearken’s pitch to newsrooms relies primarily on appeals to intuition. Drawing on Giddens’ structuration theory, it concludes that the gut feelings of individual agents can prove more powerful than the structures constraining them, at least during periods of institutional uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-544
Number of pages17
JournalDigital Journalism
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 21 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • audience engagement
  • case study
  • ethnography
  • news production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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