Beyond Comments: Finding Better Ways To Connect With You

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At NPR, our success depends on our ability to connect with our listeners and readers. It is the cornerstone of our public media mission. We want to hear your voice, and we want you to actively inform our ideas about the stories we tell and how we tell them.

NPR introduced public comments to its website eight years ago, when many of today's most popular venues for digital interaction didn't yet exist or were in their infancy. Since then, we've explored and developed many options for strengthening those connections. Some of these methods have proven invaluable. Others less so. After much experimentation and discussion, we've concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users. In order to prioritize and strengthen other ways of building community and engagement with our audience, we will discontinue story-page comments on NPR.org on August 23.

The NPR.org audience has grown dramatically in recent years, to between 25 and 35 million unique visitors each month. But far less than 1% of that audience is commenting, and the number of regular comment participants is even smaller. Only 2,600 people have posted at least one comment in each of the last three months –– 0.003% of the 79.8 million NPR.org users who visited the site during that period.

We believe strongly in the value of audience conversations about the news and our work and we also believe in adapting as tools and technologies evolve. We see these as the best outlets for our community engagement:

  • Social media is now one of our most powerful sources for audience interaction. Our desks and programs run more than 30 Facebook pages and more than 50 Twitter accounts. We maintain vibrant presences on Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr. Our main Facebook page reaches more than 5 million people and recently has been the springboard for hundreds of hours of live video interaction and audience-first projects such as our 18,000-member "Your Money and Your Life" group.
  • In addition to desk and program accounts, our journalists discuss their work on hundreds of personal social channels. As their NPR.org bylines link to these platforms, our hosts, reporters, editors and producers talk with listeners and readers every day to improve our reporting.
  • Our reporters regularly use social channels to seek help with our work, from reporting on biker gangs in Texas to finding stories you want to hear about Los Angeles. Also, our research team regularly conducts surveys on behalf of our editorial leadership, aiming to understand what's working for you and to help important NPR diversity efforts.
  • We've taken our special engagement events to new levels with the Tiny Desk Contest and Generation Listen. This year's Tiny Desk Contest received more than 6,000 entries and introduced the world to winner Gaelynn Lea. Meanwhile, our journalists regularly visit Generation Listen gatherings, connecting with the next generation of public radio fans at NPR Member Stations around the country.
  • We have an entire team devoted to Audience Relations, who read and personally respond to thousands of listener emails every month. This indispensable forum fields your most substantive feedback and questions and allows us space to provide equally substantive answers. Our help.npr.org site works across platforms and is always open for your questions and concerns.
  • NPR also is one of the few major news organizations to employ a full-time Ombudsman, an independent mediator who reports on the standards and ethics of NPR's work and who writes a running blog about issues you raise.

And the experimentation continues. In coming weeks, in addition to refining our live interaction approaches on Facebook, we'll begin testing a promising new engagement tool that is rooted in public media. Hearken is a digital platform that allows journalists and the audience to partner on the development of story ideas and it's already in use at dozens of NPR Member Stations. We will be bringing Hearken to our Goats and Soda blog on global health and development with the potential for expansion in the future.

In the eight years since NPR first launched its online comment section, the world of social media has changed dramatically, as has NPR's digital presence. We're constantly asking ourselves where we can create the best dialogue with you and how we can deepen that relationship. It's a question we will keep asking because the way we communicate online will keep changing. We're looking forward to continuing the conversation.


Scott Montgomery is Managing Editor for Digital News.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.