Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


MHEPS — Result In Brief

Project ID: 301060
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Slovakia

The work behind online debate in newspapers

A study in Slovakia has examined the journalistic work that goes into facilitating online discussions in newspapers. The findings are applicable for news organisations when considering the design of online discussion facilities with a view to their democratic value.
The work behind online debate in newspapers
Social media and online discussion have proven to be a double-edged sword in enabling more participatory forms of journalism. On one hand, they reflect an increasingly democratic and participatory web space, but on the other they promote incivility, propagate conspiracy theories and potentially contribute to deliberate online manipulation.

Slovakia represents an interesting place to study participatory journalism due to its metamorphosing post-communist media system and strong public demand for participatory journalism. With this in mind, the EU-funded project MHEPS (Media-hosted eParticipation in Slovakia) studied how two of Slovakia's opinion-leading daily newspapers do eParticipation. It followed journalists conducting, moderating and monitoring online discussions in order to reveal what participatory journalism looks like when performed in newsrooms.

By closely examining the work routines of online discussion administrators and journalists engaging in discussion beneath their own articles, the team was able to pose key questions such as: When and where should media organisations permit discussion? Is it possible to curate the quality of online discussion? Should journalists ignore, read or respond to comments?

The MHEPS team found that argumentation practices in online discussion often propagate conflict, dispute and controversy. This can be either advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on how discussion is deployed by a news organisation in its dialogue with an often critical public. It is therefore important to define goals with respect to online discussion based on an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

In Slovakia and elsewhere, the project team noted that authorities often limit argumentation by citing national interests, security threats and other crises and that non-participation is more a threat to today's democracies than too much aggressive participation. It proposed a redefined participatory role for media organisations and journalists that involves nurturing argumentation practices that help participants to derive conclusions and to test the resistance of arguments to critique.

Lastly, MHEPS called on sociologists to maintain neutrality regarding what kind of discussion is best for democracy or what argumentative trajectories are productive in addressing public problems. These findings on eParticipation, which ought to be supported by further sociolinguistic research, could help foster a healthier media ecosystem and, ultimately, democracy.

Related information


Journalism, online discussions, eParticipation, democracy, participatory journalism, MHEPS, media organisations
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