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UT News

Center for Media Engagement Awarded $900,000 Grant to Further Profitable, Robust Journalism

The Democracy Fund has awarded UT Austin’s Center for Media Engagement a grant to continue working with news organizations to develop research-based techniques for digital audience engagement. 

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AUSTIN, Texas — In a digital era in which news organizations struggle to find a sustainable business model, how can journalism thrive and engage audiences in ways that are healthy for democracy?

To help answer this question, the Democracy Fund has awarded the Center for Media Engagement a three-year, $900,000 grant to continue its work partnering with news organizations to develop research-based techniques that engage digital audiences in commercially viable and democratically beneficial ways.

“The news industry faces numerous challenges,” said Talia Stroud, director of the Center for Media Engagement and associate professor of communication studies and journalism. “Many news organizations lack resources to conduct research to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Further, newsrooms struggle with how to best inform and engage the public in a time of political polarization. Thanks to support from the Democracy Fund, the Center for Media Engagement will be able to help news organizations further profitable, quality journalism.”

Research conducted through the grant will focus on developing strategies and tools to present political news on Facebook, measure how people develop trust in news and promote civility in news comment spaces. 

The center will work with news organizations across the U.S. by partnering with them on specific projects and conducting trainings and workshops for editors and reporters to demonstrate how existing tools can be implemented. Additionally, news staff members will help in surfacing research ideas and identifying needs within their organizations.

“From a business perspective, our goal is to increase return visits, commenting, sharing and time on site,” Stroud said. “From a democratic perspective, we aim to engage audiences with news and provide insight into how to cut through polarization in order to bring people critical information and opportunities to learn from others who may not share their views.”

Founded in 2013 as the Engaging News Project, the Center for Media Engagement has developed many new tools and strategies and seen them integrated into the work of news organizations.

The center developed a quiz tool that more than 60 news organizations have used. It developed a “respect” button for social media that was adopted by The Texas Tribune and has been integrated with The Coral Project’s commenting platform Talk. It has partnered with over 50 news organizations on research projects.

Additionally, previous research has included numerous white papers on strategies for newsrooms, including making comment spaces more engaging and civil, increasing traffic to political coverage and using push notifications and social media.