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Turun Sanomat user needs team finds success in exchanging ideas with “competitors”

By Stefan ten Teije

smartocto

Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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After smartocto introduced the User Needs Model 2.0 last year, numerous media outlets approached its editorial data analysis bureau for help with their own transformations.

The research shows most news publishers are not sufficiently aligning their online content with their audience’s needs. The model provides tools to frame and execute stories in ways that resonate better with news consumers.

Ten European news media organisations participated in the first round of the User Needs Labs.
Ten European news media organisations participated in the first round of the User Needs Labs.

“Of course, we understand that just handing over a very comprehensive model and wishing everyone all the best with implementing it into their newsroom was hardly going to be a victory road,” said smartocto CMO, Rutger Verhoeven. “But we realised quite quickly that we had underestimated all the questions that newsrooms had regarding implementation, behavioural change, and so on. That’s why we decided to put these people together in User Need Labs.”

Turun Sanomat, the leading regional newspaper in southwest Finland, was one of the newsrooms on this journey.

The Web site attracts two million visitors per month and approximately six million pageviews per month. Its user needs team consists of Katariina Norontaus, online producer; Johanna Käkönen, digital producer; and Nina Alatalo, data and research analyst.

“We have now managed to get FT Strategies to take over the consultancy aspect,” Verhoeven said. “The second round of the programme starts in April.”

What is behind the success of a story?

Turun Sanomat was one of 10 European news media participating in the first round of the User Needs Labs. It was much needed, Käkönen said: “In meetings, it’s very difficult to know for sure and reach a consensus about why a particular article was well read and what we should do with it.

“‘What is behind the success of the story here?’ remained a tough question to answer. So, there is indeed a need in the newsroom to give data analysis more substance. Editorial teams are looking for more quality insights; I mean more engagement data, for example,” Käkönen said. “The question is just: How do you get an entire company to adopt a different way of working and incorporate it into their daily routine?”

According to the three people who are tasked with rolling out the user needs method to their colleagues, something more than enthusiasm is needed to make it stick. “Persuading journalists is the hard part,” Norontaus said.

In her mind, the user needs approach could help the newsroom sharpen its focus on what it is trying to achieve with its stories.

“When I analysed 100 articles using the User Needs Model, I sometimes thought from the headline that this is a standard news update. Then I read the text and thought, no, it’s definitely actionable,” Norontaus said. “I hope our headlines are now better aligned with the intention of the story. We need to stop trying to please the entire world. We need more focus so that readers get what they expect and need from us.”

“I think everyone can relate when I say that so much is happening simultaneously in a newsroom,” Alatalo said. “In addition to journalistic craftsmanship, all sorts of data come in, and you need to respond to it appropriately. When you also have to implement the methodology of a model, it can be scary for some colleagues.”

Adopting ideas from other participants

Käkönen also thinks user needs lead to more focus, which puts quality at the forefront.

“During the User Needs Labs project, it felt like a big relief to see that other media are experiencing the same problems. And that we can help each other move forward when we use the same editorial language,” Käkönen said. “It’s also handy that we could adopt ideas from other participants. We knew that a certain approach worked there and could copy it so that we can demonstrate to our colleagues that it works.”

As a data researcher, Alatalo brings the numbers into play. “The editorial team naturally becomes enthusiastic when I can show that certain articles, written with readers’ needs in mind, perform well. That’s the way of doing it.”

Norontaus believes this as well: “It’s essential to exchange experiences. User needs as a way of thinking seems to be in the air and it looks like a lot of others in the media are experimenting with them at the moment.”

For Verhoeven of smartocto, it’s clear what media organisations need to do: “What we saw during the online sessions was that the programme participants benefited more from each other than from extra training on the model. I was recently reminded of a quote from Yogi Berra: ‘You can observe a lot by just watching.’

“So, look for like-minded individuals facing the same problem. Help each other with tips to then improve yourselves. In many cases, you’re not competitors anyway. The whole field of journalism can move forward with this. And, more than that, we’ll all rise together.”

About Stefan ten Teije

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