Online audience engagement, such as rating or sharing news, commenting or creating content, can enhance users’ loyalty toward online news brands. Yet recently, uncertainties have been discussed within journalism research and practice concerning the handling of online comment sections and potential negative influences – caused through comment reading – on news brands. From a brand management perspective, audience engagement and comment reading can affect a brand’s equity. This study investigates the value of audience engagement and comment reading for the customer-based brand equity of online news outlets. An online survey with n = 313 users of the digital native cohort revealed that comment reading is neither directly beneficial nor harmful for online news brands. However, for brands providing hard news comment reading seems more likely to have negative than positive relations with CBBE than for brands with other content. Sharing and liking news are associated with a stronger perceived brand quality, loyalty, and associations. User-generated content creation including commenting does not enhance customer-based brand equity. Overall, serious content proved to be a stronger driver of news brand value than any form of audience engagement.