PRI develops tool to change how readers engage with its journalism

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In digital media, “reader engagement” is code for retweets, comments and Facebook shares. Public Radio International now hopes to expand the meaning of reader engagement in its newsrooms and at journalism organizations around the world.

In October, PRI received a grant from the Knight Foundation to develop StoryAct, a digital tool intended to extend readers’ engagement with news stories.

StoryAct was one of 18 projects supported by the Knight Prototype Fund, which provides grants of $35,000 each to ventures in the early stages of exploring media and information ideas. The grant covers three months of development and three months of piloting.

The concept for StoryAct, less than two months into development, is to integrate into news stories concrete ways for readers to take action on the issues covered in those stories. PRI expects these actions to fall into five main categories: learn, share, organize, contribute and suggest.

For example, a reporter might supplement a story about Ebola with pointers in the story’s margins that could help readers learn more about the disease, participate in local response efforts or find organizations that are seeking donations to fight the disease. A story about police brutality might highlight Meetup groups discussing relevant community action.

Here’s a mockup from PRI of what StoryAct might look like in the text of an article:



The difference between StoryAct and other engagement tools, according to Lisa Gardner-Springer, PRI’s director of institutional funding, is that the ideas for action will be located within the story instead of as a “learn more” button at the end of a story.

“It’s our hypothesis that when you offer opportunities to engage within the story itself, more people will act,” said Gardner-Springer.

But Julia Yager, PRI’s senior v.p. of marketing, sales and distribution, reassures me that this tool won’t be an avenue to push users to take a specific action but will provide options for actions that some readers are already doing.

“We don’t want to tell people what to do but give people options for how to act,” said Yeager.

According to Yager, PRI hopes to use StoryAct to measure how readers use knowledge from stories to engage with the world, instead of measuring only how many people read and share a story.

If the pilot is a success, StoryAct could benefit more than just PRI. It’s being developed as a module that will run on Drupal 7 and will be open sourced, so if the trial run is successful, the software will be available to any newsroom.

In the meantime, PRI will begin rolling out a pilot of StoryAct to some of the most dedicated users of early next year.

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