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July 15, 2014

Why Dodge Supports WFMU’s Audience Engine and What It Means for Community Journalism

Today’s Nieman Lab post on WFMU‘s new Audience Engine explains how WFMU wants to “build open tools to help radio stations (and others) raise money and build community.” The article also mentions the Dodge Foundation as a prominent supporter – we have given a total of $400,000 to help build the Audience Engine.

Why have we invested so much in a new content management system – especially when there are free tools like WordPress?


The biggest new start-ups, like Vox, are using custom made CMS’s that are built with journalists and audiences in mind, but custom systems are prohibitively expensive for most publishers, including the local journalists we support in New Jersey. And although WordPress is free, and it is a great tool, we also believe that Audience Engine can help tie together some of the most important functions of today’s news organizations – engagement, fundraising, and more – in ways that more general platforms cannot. The Audience Engine is built for media makers and newsrooms and the audiences who love them.

Moreover, the Audience Engine seeks to understand what audiences want and deliver it to them. It is “network agnostic” which means that it will break down the silos between radio, tv, print and digital media to create meaningful passages so that audiences and content can flow across different stations, networks and publishers, based on user interest. To put it another way, audiences care about good content, and where they find it is irrelevant to them. The Audience Engine is built on this concept.

Unfortunately, many news organizations are too entrenched with a competitive mindset to see the value in sharing, for fear of losing their audiences to another publication or radio or tv station. Part of the reason we have invested in this project is to emphasize our desire to see the kind of sharing and collaboration between publishers as well as the deeper engagement opportunities with communities that the Audience Engine is designed to facilitate. We are also signaling our confidence in WFMU to build this tool, given their track record for technological innovation, expertise in community engagement, and commitment to building an open source tool.

For smaller community news operations often unable to afford their own customized systems and hemmed in by the limitations of general platforms, the Audience Engine enables them to modernize their operations – for free – empowering them to broaden their reach, invite participation from the community, and raise dollars all in one package.  At the same time, larger news organizations, which usually have their own proprietary systems, can choose to adopt only the components of the Audience Engine that suit their needs.

Our support for the Audience Engine doesn’t just benefit WFMU. It benefits the entire New Jersey news ecosystem and hopefully publishers of all kinds far beyond the borders of New Jersey.