The Portuguese news industry’s perspectives and roles on the making of active citizens: readers’ skills to comment on the news


  • Maria José Brites CECS, Univ. Minho, Univ. Lusófona do Porto
  • Marisa Torres da Silva NOVA FCSH, CIC.Digital


letters to the editor, online comments, portuguese online news media, journalism and democracy, media education, digital possibilities


This article investigates the news industry’s perceptions of letters to the editor and online comments in the context of the digital world and of the challenges journalists face. Using a sample of 11 semi-structured interviews with journalists and ombudsmen in Portugal, we analyse the news industry’s views on readers’ ability to comment on the news and on the industry’s possible contributions to creating critical and engaged publics. The interviewees express concern about harmful behaviours in online environments and point to differences in online and offline contexts of participation. The results, however, do not reveal a proactive attitude in the news industry as the news professionals focus on their daily work activities as a form of media education and argue that schools and the public, instead, should take the lead in these activities. To support their statements, the interviewees cite factors such as the possibilities of digital culture, the promotion of media education, the need to foster a reciprocal relation between learning and the existing forms of journalism newsroom culture. 


Andrews, B. & McDougall, J. (2012). Curation pedagogy for media studies: (further) towards the inexpert. Medijske studije media Studies, 3 (6): 152-166.

Barrios, M. M. (2015). Colombian cries: internal armed conflict and emotions in letters to the editor. Journalism – online first.

Barrios, M. M. (2013). Las cartas a los editores de la prensa en Colombia: escenario de solidaridad y acción ciudadana. Communication & Society / Comunicación y Sociedad, 26 (3): 130-160.

Brites, M. J. (2015). Jovens e culturas cívicas: por entre formas de consumo noticioso e de participação. Covilhã: Livros LabCom.

Brites, M.J. & Pinto, M. (2017). Is there a role for the news industry in improving news literacy?. Media Education Research Journal – MERJ, 7(2): 29-34.

Brites, M. J. (2015). Pesquisa participativa: novas vias de estudo da relação entre jornalismo e de- mocracia. Revista Estudos em Comunicação, 19 (Special Number: Advanced Methodologies in Communication Studies. Guest editors: Rita Figueiras and Verónica Policarpo): 107-132.

Buckingham, D. (2008). Children and media: a cultural approach. In K. Drotner & S. Livings- tone (eds), The international handbook of children, media and culture (pp. 219-237). Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: Sage.

Canter, L. (2013). The misconception of online comment threads. Content and control on local newspaper websites. Journalism Practice, 7 (5): 604-619.

Castells, M. (2008). The new public sphere: global civil society, communication networks, and global governance. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616 (1): 78-93.

Chung, D. S. (2007). Profits and perils: online news producers’ perceptions of interactivity and uses of interactive features. Convergence, 13 (1): 43-61.

Clark, L. S. (2013). Cultivating the media activist: how critical media literacy and critical service learning can reform journalism education. Journalism: 1-19.

Clark, L. S. & Monserrate, R. (2011). High school journalism and the making of young citizens. Journalism, 12 (4): 417-432.

Costera Meijer, I. & Bijleveld , H. P. (2016). Valuable journalism. Journalism Studies, 17 (7): 827-839.

Dahlgren, P. (2009). Media and political engagement: citizens, communication, and democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dewey, J. (2007). Democracia e educação (Democracy and education). Lisbon: Didáctica Edi- tora.

Diakopoulos, N. & Naaman, M. (2011). Towards quality discourse in online comments. Pro- ceedings of the ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work(pp. 133-142). China.

Domingo, D. (2015). Fostering and moderating citizen conversations. In L. Zion & D. Craig (eds.), Ethics for digital journalists. Emerging best practices (pp. 159-173). New York: Routledge.

Domingo, D.; Quandt, T.; Heinonen, A.; Paulussen, S.; Singer, J. B. & Vujnovic, M. (2008). Participatory journalism practices in the media and beyond. An international comparative study of initiatives in online newspapers. Journalism Practice, 2 (3): 326-342.

Frau-Meigs, D. (2017). Developing a critical mind against fake news. UNESCO Courier, 2017 (2): 12-15.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (2005/1987). Literacy: reading the word and the world. New York: Routledge.

Gregory, A. E. & Cahill, M. A. (2009). Constructing critical literacy: self-reflexive ways for curriculum and pedagogy. Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, 3 (2): 6-16.

Gregory, L. & Hutchins, B. (2004). Everyday editorial practices and the public sphere: analy- sing the letters to the editor page of a regional newspaper. Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, 112: 186-200.

Gans, H. (1979). Deciding What’s News. New York: Pantheon. Hall, S.; Critcher, C.; Jefferson, T.; Clarke, J. E. & Roberts, B. (1978). Policing the crisis: mugging, the state, and law and order. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Hallin, D. & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Henrich, N. & Holmes, B. (2013). Web news readers’ comments: towards developing a metho- dology for using on-line comments in social inquiry. Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 5 (1): 1-4.

Hermida, A. (2011). Mechanisms of participation. How audience options shape the conversation. In J. B. Singer, D. Domingo, A. Heinonen, A. Hermida, S. Paulussen, T. Quandt, Z. Reich & M. Vujnovic (eds.), Participatory journalism: guarding open gates at online newspapers (pp. 13-33). Malden, MA: Wiley- Blackwell.

Hobbs, R. (2010). Reflection on news literacy. What works and what doesn’t. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Is there a role for the news industry in improving news literacy? 45 (AEJMC) conference, Denver, Colorado, August 7 2010.

Höijer, B. (2008). Ontological assumptions and generalizations in qualitative (audience) research. European Journal of Communication, 23 (3): 275-294.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide. New York and London: New York University Press.

Jiménez, A. C. (2011). Las cartas al director como género periodístico. Zer, 16 (30): 189-202. Kleemans, M. (2016). Understanding news: the impact of media literacy education on teenagers’ news literacy. Journalism Education, 5 (1): 74-88. Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Blur: how to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury USA. Levine, P. (2014). The history of civics and news literacy education [Retrieved from]

Loader, B. D. (2007). Introduction: young citizens in the digital age: disaffected or displaced?. In B. D. Loader (edt.), Young citizens in the digital age: political engagement, young people and new media (pp. 1-17). New York: Routledge.

McCluskey, M. & Hmielowski, J. (2011). Opinion expression during social conflict: comparing online reader comments and letters to the editor. Journalism, 13 (3): 303-319.

Meyer, H. K. & Carey, M. C. (2014). In moderation. Examining how journalists’ attitudes towards online comments affect the creation of community. Journalism Practice, (2): 213-228.

McMane, A. (2016). Why – and how – news publishers worldwide help with news literacy. Jour- nalism Education, 5 (1): 17-18.

Mihailidis, P. (2012). Introduction: news literacy in the dawn of a hypermedia age. In P. Mihailidis (ed), News literacy: global perspectives for the newsroom and the classroom (pp. 1-17). New York, Washington DC, Bern, Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna and Oxford: Peter Lang.

Mihailidis, P. & Viotty, S. (2017). Spreadable spectacle in digital culture: civic expression, fake news, and the role of media literacies in “post-fact” society. American Behavioral Scientist, 61 (4): 441-454.

Millioni, D. L.; Vadratsikas, K. & Papa, V. (2012). Their two cents worth’: exploring user agency in readers comments in online news media. Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, 6 (3): 021-047.

Milner, H. (2002). Civic literacy: how informed citizens make democracy work. Hanover and London: Tufts University.

Negreyeva, I. & Prasad, R. (2012). Developing media literacy by teaching citizens the standards of professional journalism. Journal of Applied Journalism and Media Studies, 1 (1): 33-53.

Nielsen, R. K. (2010). Participation through letters to the editor: Circulation, considerations, and genres in the letters institution. Journalism, 11 (1): 21-35.

Nyirõ, N.; Csordás, T. & Horváth, D. (2011). Competing by participation – a winning marketing tool. Communication Management Quarterly, 21: 111-140.

Pastor Pérez, L. (2012). Las nuevas reglas de la participación del público en la prensa digital. Análisis de siete diarios europeos de referencia. Estudios sobre el mensaje periodístico, 18 (1): 193-210.

Perrin, A. J. (2016). Since this is the editorial section I intend to express my opinion: inequality and expressivity in letters to the editor. The Communication Review, 19 (1): 55-76.

Puustinen, L. (2013). Trust in economy in letters to the editor. Paper presented at the Future of Journalism Conference. Cardiff: Wales.

Raeymaeckers, K. (2005). Letters to the editor: a feedback opportunity turned into a marketing tool. European Journal of Communication, 20 (2): 199-221.

Reader, B. (2015). Audience feedback in the news media. New York: Routledge.

Reich, Z. (2011). User comments: the transformation of participatory space. In J. B. Singer, D. Domingo, A. Heinonen, A.d Hermida, S. Paulussen, T. Quandt, Z. Reich & M. Vujnovic (eds.), Participatory journalism: guarding open gates at online newspapers (pp. 96–117). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Richardson, J. E. (2008). Readers’ Letters. In B. Franklin (ed.), Pulling newspapers apart (pp. 56-66). London: Routledge.

Ribeiro, F. (2014). A participação dos leitores na imprensa: uma proposta de análise às Cartas do Leitor do Jornal de Notícias. Comunicação Pública, 9 (15): 1-19.

Ribeiro, F. (2013). A participação dos cidadãos nos média portugueses (The citizen participation in Portuguese media), PhD Thesis. Braga: Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade do Minho.

Robinson, S. (2010). Traditionalists vs. convergers. Textual privilege, boundary word, and the journalist-audience relationship in the commenting policies of online news sites. Conver- gence, 16 (1): 125-143.

Schlesinger, P. (1978). Putting reality together. London: Constable. Schudson, M. (1978). Discovering the news: a social history of American newspapers. New York:

Basic Books, Inc., Publishers. Silva, M. T. da (2012). Newsroom practices and letters-to-the-editor. An analysis of selection criteria. Journalism Practice, 6 (2): 250-263. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2011.629124 Silva, M. T. da (2014a). As cartas dos leitores na imprensa portuguesa: uma forma de comunicação e debate do público. Covilhã: Livros LabCom.

Silva, M. T. da (2014b). Portuguese news organisations and online audience participation: policies and self- perceptions. Paper presented at JSS-ECREA: Journalism.

Silva, E. C. e (2015). Crisis, financialization and regulation: the case of media industries in Portugal. The Political Economy of Communication, 2 (2): 47-60.

Singer, J. B. & Ashman, I. (2009). Comment is free, but facts are sacred’: user-generated content and ethical constructs at the Guardian. Journal of Mass Media Ethics: exploring questions of media morality, 24 (1): 3-21.

Sorlin, P. (1992). Le mirage du public. Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, 39: 86-102. Strandberg, K. & Berg, J. (2013). Online newspapers’ readers’ comments democratic conversation platforms or virtual soapboxes?. Comunicação e Sociedade, 23: 132-152. Trygg, S. (2012). Is comment free? Ethical, editorial and political problems of moderating online news. Polis Research Report, London School of Economics.

Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2007). Journalists and the public. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

World Editors Forum (2016). Do comments matter? Global online commenting study 2016, Frank- furt: WAN-IFRA.

World Editors Forum (2013). Online comment moderation: emerging best practices, Darmstat: WAN-IFRA.

Young, N. (2011). Working the fringes: the role of letters to the editor in advancing non-standard media narratives about climate change. Public Understanding of Science – online first.

Zamith, R. & Lewis, S. C. (2014). From public spaces to public sphere. Rethinking systems for reader comments on online news sites. Digital Journalism, 2 (4): 558-574.