The playful newsroom: Iterating and reiterating the news and its publics
The crisis in the journalism industry, intensified with the popularization of the World Wide Web, warrants radical rethinking of the professional identity of journalists and their role in society. This paper first suggests replacing the Habermasian public sphere with Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s magic circle of play to describe the relationship between the press and its audience. Within this new model, the writer configures the rules and boundaries in which the reader is free to respond and subvert, an interplay that increasingly shapes both current news production and expectations of the public. This paper then explores play and playful attitudes in newsroom practices and output through semi-structured interviews with journalists, game designers and educators. The “Game Team” at the news and entertainment Web site BuzzFeed acts as a primary case study of a group of journalists who make a variety of playful products — from full-fledged games to interactives — which they iterate and improve over time, in response to readers’ feedback.