Deseret News shares fast-growth strategy secrets

by Matthew Sanders        

With a focus on total audience, Deseret News is one of the fastest-growing newspapers in the United States. Here are four ways it got there.

Click the image to view a larger versionThrough some rather dramatic changes, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah, has become one of the fastest-growing newspapers in the United States. It has also grown its digital audience substantially, with almost two-thirds coming from outside its geographical borders. 
It has done so by pursuing a content strategy that addresses total audience. 
Redirecting the content strategy to attract and engage a broader array of users is paramount among the many changes necessary to transform to a digital media company. Newspaper company leadership should consider the following four keys to growing its total audience. 
Key No. 1: Focus on users not news holes
In the newspaper world, content fills news holes in the newspaper that eventually reaches a reader’s doorstep. In the digital world, users enter search terms, click on stories or bookmarks, and navigate to what is most relevant to them at that moment. 
A digital media company wins by focusing on what its audience members need and providing them with relevant, informative, rigorous results where and when they need them. 
From a study conducted among a national panel of users, the Deseret News identified a segment of the population that had very similar characteristics to its local users. In fact, this target audience represents more than 50% of households when segmented by their core values. 
Thus, the Deseret News labeled this group “like-minded believers.” That audience became the targeted total audience.
Key No. 2: Target relevance
The Deseret News identified six areas of editorial emphasis in which leadership believed it was capable of delivering world-class, rigorous, enterprising journalism. Once those were identified, the Deseret News next sought to understand more clearly the needs of its targeted audience and how well its content matched their expectations. 
When asked where they could turn for trusted news and information in these six areas, a surprising number registered “none” as their source. Yet, a large majority rated these six areas as not only relevant, but important. 
Key No. 3: Engage contributors 
As the third element of its total audience strategy, the Deseret News launched a community contributor network it calls Deseret Connect.
The network now includes more than 3,000 contributors who have delivered 22,000 articles published primarily on and Thousands of these articles have also been published in the newspaper. As the network has grown, so has the breadth of topic areas and depth of expertise available to provide relevant content for the Deseret News’ audience. 
The Deseret Connect team oversees the development of the technology platform that helps coordinate the interaction between contributors and editors at each publishing entity. Through the system, contributors either pitch ideas for stories or review, accept, and fulfill requests from editors. 
By engaging the talent and passion of nationally acclaimed writers like Richard Eyre and Linda Eyre on family and parenting topics, Timothy Clark on issues of business leadership, or Stanford scholar Michael McConnell, Deseret Connect helps the Deseret News serve its audience in new ways. 
Key No. 4: Involve new syndication
Traditional syndication models don’t match the needs of the digital future. Gone are the days when being a general news source and simply feeding wire news to an audience will yield success. 
To attract and engage a larger audience, news organisations must be more thoughtful and ensure that their offerings more closely reflect the needs of the audience targeted. 
Four prevailing syndication models have emerged across the market to help news organisations serve users:
  • News feed: Regular, daily feed to partner CMS.
  • News feed with links: Regular, daily feed of news stories that contain several hyperlinks throughout the story and related, bulleted links that take the user back to the licensor core site.
  • Widget: Embedded feed of headline links that take users to licensor site.
  • Channel: Licensor manages embedded, navitational sub-domain section of partner site with licensed content packages — optimised and merchandised for traffic.
For a news organisation to make the transition to digital success, it must think beyond today’s readers and consider how it can reach more users by delivering them more of what they seek. To do so, media companies will need to rethink their target audience, and serve up relevant, quality content that comes from their own reporters, contributors, and syndication partners. 

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