Knight Foundation invests $3.89 million to support new avenues for audience engagement in journalism

Mozilla, The New York Times and The Washington Post today announced that they are teaming up to build a new content and commenting platform that will allow audiences to more deeply engage with media coverage and help news organizations everywhere better manage user comments and contributions. The online community platform is supported by $3.89 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

This open-source community platform will allow news organizations to connect with audiences beyond the comments section, deepening opportunities for engagement. Through the platform, readers will be able to submit pictures, links and other media; track discussions; and manage their contributions and online identities. Publishers will then be able to collect and use this content for other forms of storytelling and to spark ongoing discussions by providing readers with targeted content and notifications.

By putting free, efficient and scalable tools in the hands of publishers, the platform will provide an alternative to proprietary software and community platforms that can be costly and difficult to integrate and customize. With the platform publishers will be able to easily include reader contributions in their content cycle, manage their communities and gather valuable user data. The platform will also use reputation scores, self-policing and other tools to make it easier for news organizations to monitor comments.

“The Web offers all sorts of new and exciting ways of engaging with communities far beyond the ubiquitous—and often terrible—comments sections at the bottom of articles. With this collaboration, we’re bringing together top talent to build new tools for newsrooms to engage,” said Mozilla’s Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla Open News initiative, who will lead the project.

“When it comes to the essential task of engaging readers, different publishers have different needs. This collaboration gives us the opportunity to create a flexible solution for our industry, one that can be thoughtfully woven into each publication’s digital presence,” said Marc Lavallee, editor of interactive news technology at The New York Times.

“This isn’t another commenting platform for publishers; it’s a publishing platform for readers,” said Greg Barber, director of digital news projects at The Washington Post. “Knight Foundation has given us a tremendous opportunity to create a platform for civic engagement that will help connect users and newsrooms for years to come.”

“This project is an unprecedented collaboration between major players in the news space, working together to enable a shift toward more meaningful engagement with readers in newsrooms everywhere,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “Through this community platform news organizations can preserve the quality of engagement that most people want, elevating civil discourse, while building a loyal following.”

As a starting point for the project, Knight recently funded a human-centered design study to build a plan for the platform that centers on audience needs. The study revealed that readers do turn to comments for cues on how to react to a story, that they like reading feedback from experts in the comments, and that they are more careful about their own comments if they are permanent and attributed to them. These early findings will be used to guide production of the community platform. Ultimately the project aims to improve the relationship between users and publishers by:

●Making user-generated contributions easier to collect and package.

●Helping news organizations produce immersive, user-driven narratives typically only seen in large newsrooms.

●Giving journalists a platform to discover unique voices within their communities.

●Reaching experts to increase content quality and create value for readers.

●Changing the way journalists and users interact by shifting the relationship from comments to conversation.

The open-source platform will be shared with newsrooms everywhere. For updates on the project visit Knight Blog or follow Knight on Twitter.