One of the things that online journalism lacks these days is a good component of social media. As journalism makes the difficult transition to a largely online model, this should be a strong component of anything we do.
Most online publications stick to the old print model: People can write letters to comment on an article.
What's needed is a way to get the audience more engaged in the process.
First, there should essentially be two publications on the site: One written by professional journalists and experts, another written by readers who have a topic that interests them.
Readers can also apply to the editors to have their articles posted in the "professional" publication. If approved by an editor, they can become regular, paid contributors and join the moderated discussion.
Discussions and commentary
We should create online discussions between journalists writing the articles, experts in the field, and readers. This needs to be give-and-take, not just random postings and back-and-forth rants from readers.
I've long felt that there should be a combination of moderated and unmoderated discussions.
The editor(s) should invite qualified people to write commentaries and carry on debates. Some of them may be related to articles that were published on the site. Once someone is invited in, they will have the ability to comment on any article, or any other commentary in the stream.
Others may apply for authorization to comment on the moderated discussions.
Alongside the moderated discussions should be unmoderated discussions to which anyone can contribute. Yes, those are often rants. But to encourage thoughtful discussions and add to the talent pool of good commentators, anyone who shows an ability to make a positive contribution to the discussions can be invited to become an authorized contributor and join the moderated groups.
The two commentary streams could run side-by-side, so readers can compare and choose which discussions most interest them. Commentators in both streams can also incorporate ideas from the other in their own discussions.
Perhaps this requires a three-column approach: The original article on the left, the moderated discussion in center, and the unmoderated discussion to the right.
How can all this be funded? By the only effective revenue source for publications online and off: Advertising. You can read my views on this topic in my previous posting.
When this is done, online publications will take advantage of the capabilities available online, rather than just being old media published in a new place.
And isn't that what "new media" is all about?