Are we prepared to offer participation and transparency?

Membership Puzzle Project knows from talking to hundreds of members of news organizations around the world that members expect the newsrooms they support to offer transparency and opportunities to meaningfully participate. This is a key point of differentiation between membership and subscription.

Instead of presenting as a disembodied institution, member-driven newsrooms should show supporters who they are, including what they’re currently working on, how people can contribute to it, and where they’re coming from. They want to know how supporters’ money and other sources of revenue are spent. They want opportunities to contribute that match their passion and expertise, or at least to see that those opportunities exist. Transparency also entails being open about mistakes that you make, challenges you face, and when you need help.

But it also means being clear with members about the limits of their involvement. Members have to know that they can’t act like censors, they don’t get to dictate how the story comes out, and not all their suggestions will be adopted. 

Having members does not mean you have to offer participation opportunities at every stage of your work. Newsrooms that succeed at implementing a membership strategy find the intersection point between their newsroom’s needs and the motivations of audience members to contribute. That might be just one or two things. But adopting an ethos of transparency and audience participation often requires not just workflow change but deep culture change in the way a newsroom works. Jump to “Developing memberful routines” for advice on developing that capacity.