Let’s give reader comments another chance — and for real, this time

It’s our duty as journalists (and it also makes sound business sense)

Ernst Pfauth
Dec 7, 2016 · 13 min read
Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Audience engagement is especially important in a time where many people feel a serious disconnect with corporate media, who they feel speak more for business interests than serve the public good.


This is what goes wrong on both sides

What journalists think about reader participation:

What readers think about reader participation:

The result

This is how Meg Pickard (then Head of Digital at The Guardian) explained things in 2010 to audience engagement strategist Joy Mayer. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant.

9 conditions for engaged readers

1. Everyone in the organization recognizes that readers possess relevant knowledge and expertise, be it through their job, education, or life experience.

2. Journalists don’t only ask for contributions from readers *after* publication, but also announce new articles-in-the-making ahead of time.

A call to our readers, by our correspondent Climate and Energy. Click to read the article
And by our Guest Correspondent Music Industry.

3. Readers know exactly what journalists expect of them

4. Journalists keep and share a public notebook

Go the Banking Blog

5. Authors get involved in discussions

6. Readers respond using their real names

7. Journalists highlight valued contributions

The New York Times highlights valuable comments

8. The technology supports the community

We call them contributions instead of comments

9. Publications help readers establish authority and grow their reputation

The bio feature on Quora
Members can add a specific bio for every contribution they write.
And here’s how the bio looks in the contributions

What can an individual journalist do right now?


Open questions and challenges

Hearken in action, on The Chicago Tribune’s site.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.

Thanks to Rob Wijnberg, Loeki Westerveld, Maaike, and Sterre Sprengers.

Ernst Pfauth

Written by

Cofounder & CEO of The Correspondent. Working to bring our ad-free, reader-funded journalism to the US and beyond.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.