Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 40 Number 1 2023 pp. 130-162

The Road to Open News: A Theory of Social Signaling in an Open News Production Community

O’Riordan, Sheila, Emerson, Bill, Feller, Joseph, and Kiely, Gaye


This study theorizes the role of social signals in overcoming the motivation, coordination, and integration challenges in a hybrid peer production community, WikiTribune. WikiTribune was a collaborative journalism project that combined elements of firm-based production with that of commons-based peer production. Empirical data (article metrics, project documentation, and user communications) was used to examine the first 18-months of building and developing the collaborative journalism platform and community. The study’s primary contribution is a social signaling model that extends the theory of commons-based peer production and presents three constructs that inform the socially productive behavior in these communities. These constructs (1) system signals, (2) normative signals, and (3) behavioral signals are theorized to shape user engagement through the different levels of project participation. The alignment/misalignment of these signals with project strategy produce positive or negative outcomes. The social signaling model seeks to explain how challenges are overcome and advantages leveraged in commons-based peer production, in both pure and hybrid forms.

Key words and phrases: Hybrid online production, co-creation, production openness, collaborative journalism, peer production, social signals, online news