It’s All Journalism: Improve audience conversations and avoid trolls with Subtext

Imagine an online community where readers can ask reporters any and all questions they might have about their work, free from the insults and ridicule of trolls.

Welcome to The Alpha Group‘s Subtext, an SMS-based platform that allows journalists and news organizations to talk directly with their audience.

“It’s a platform that connects hosts — journalists and media organizations, in this instance — with their most engaged followers,” says Mike Donoghue, one of Subtext’s co-creators. “Think of it as having insider access and a direct line of communication with the journalists who are closest to the stories you care most about, in a medium that feels more engaging and personal.”

Subtext allows reporters and news organizations to discuss stories directly with their audience, or ask for suggestions on topics to cover. It can also offer conversation prompts, like asking what kinds of questions should come up in an interview. When the reporter responds, only the person who submitted the question can see the answer, or the reporter can choose to address it publicly.

“One of the nice things about Subtext is you can solve different problems, depending on the organization’s goals,” says David Cohn, another Subtext creator. “We have seen some people use it as an engagement tool. There’s a lot of free email newsletters out there but the open rate on texting is way better than anything on email. If you think about the voice you can accomplish through text, it’s way better.”

Other organizations have used Subtext as a retention tool, something extra they can add if their publication is behind a paywall.

Subtext, then, is the best of both Twitter and email in a troll-free environment.

“Trolls only succeed and thrive if they feel like they’re being seen,” Cohn says. “A mean person would be sending a mean message to one person. We haven’t had any trolls at all. It really is a service between the reporter and the audience. There’s no point in being mean or rude. We see a much better quality of conversation.”

It also helps build a  better quality relationship between reporter and audience.

“If you’re a sports reporter going on ESPN, the moment the lights go on, you deliver your reporting to the camera,” Donoghue says. “When the lights go off, the conversation you have with the crew, those are the ones that ultimately perform well on the platform because it gives your subscribers the sense of having this inside, unvarnished access to the personalities they love. That’s been a successful angle for hosts on the platform and it’s a really unique way to engage with journalists.”

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