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From Readers to Contributors: Is This the New Publishing Model?

Ever since the world of print journalism discovered online publishing, the previously opaque wall between reader and writer has steadily changed—becoming more transparent, punctured and malleable. The ability for readers to instantly comment on a story or interact with writers has changed the way we consume news.

Gawker Media is now breaking down that wall one step further. In February, Gawker’s popular automotive blog, Jalopnik, opened up its commenting platform to allow users to create their own micro-blogs within the site.

According to the site’s notice from Jalopnik editor in chief Matt Hardigree, readers can now “be a writer, an arbiter, an editor, and a publisher. You’ll still read, but now you can also contribute.” Those who wish to create a profile are able to compose blog posts using the site’s platform, powered by Kinja 1.0, and all the same tools that Jalopnik has at hand.

In addition to being able to more easily comment, share and compose original content, Jalopnik is taking it one step further by considering user posts for publication on the site.

“If we do republish something you created you’ll get the byline, the credit, and it’ll be clear where it came from,” Hardigree said in his blog post. “When we look for the next generation of writers for our site, and other sites, we’ll be looking at who does well in Kinja.”

Many sites have embraced readers as a part of the publishing process for a while now, using citizen journalism to find sources or get a lead on breaking news. CNN’s iReport allows users to contribute pictures and video of breaking news stories around the world. Outlets like Forbes.com and The Huffington Post regularly feature contributors from outside the organization to write. While each has a different model for generating outside content—CNN iReport is not vetted by CNN editors, Forbes.com selects and pays its contributors, etc.—the concept of social interaction between traditional publications and their audiences has caught on.

But not without some controversy. Jalopnik does mention that if a user’s content is published to the site, the user will certainly get credit with a byline, but Forbes.com contributor and public relations strategist Peter Himler wonders if simply getting eyeballs on the site is the real motivation for the move.

“If they were really looking to nurture the next generation of quality writers, then show them the money,” he said. “What they’re looking for is a way to grow the site’s editorial footprint, and profit from that.”

Jalopnik, like many online publications, relies on clicks and shares to generate revenue. But the debate on compensation—whether relatively unknown freelancers and bloggers should be “paid” through free exposure or monetarily—is a heated one. Another possible hitch in the new user-driven platform comes from whether or not Gawker will be looking at and editing what shows up on the site.

“It’s a little different from a Forbes.com or Huffington Post contributor scheme,” said Himler. “Jalopnik’s editors, from I can tell, do not pre-approve those creating copy for the site.”

Yet, Himler said he’s been following Gawker Media founder Nick Denton’s experiments with new commenting platforms, and sees the benefit in continuing to push reader-writer boundary.

“I think it’s smart of Nick Denton to custom-bolster the commenting section of his sites,” he said. “There are other turn-key platforms, like Disqus, that seek to do the same.”

Gawker said it hopes to expand the new platform to its other outlets in the near future. In his posts, Hardigree sings off, saying “By opening up our universe to you we’re giving up a lot of our ability to control the future. What will next week look like? I don’t know…It’s exciting and, maybe, a little terrifying. But mostly exciting.”

About Gina Joseph

Gina Joseph is a features writer for Cision Blog, and is also the digital engagement manager for Cision’s marketing department. She’s a book nerd, Detroit sports enthusiast, lover of cats, lifelong Phil Collins fan, and budding snowboarder. Find her on Twitter @gmg912.

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