Editors should factor reader data into their content publishing schedules

By Justine Harcourt de Tourville

Antwerp, Belgium


Cédric Algoed, lead news analysis for DPG Media in Belgium, wants you to know that he’s neither part of the marketing nor business team. He’s part of the editorial department. It’s an important distinction because journalists and their editors need to have a better understanding of optimal publishing schedules as much as departments concerned with ads and numbers do.

Breaking news is very unpredictable so digital reach is unpredictable, Algoed said at the recent INMA Media Innovation Week in Antwerp, Belgium. A major event, like the January 6th U.S. Capitol breach or the Titan Oceangate submersible implosion, spikes digital readership by 10% to 15%. Sales over the next week go higher. Reach increases. Breaking news is not that hard, but as a business, it’s only one to two major events per quarter. 

“Most news days are tumbleweeds blowing through the office” — days where reach trends downwards, Algoed said. Worse, no news signals to your readers “nothing is happening” (so why bother coming back or subscribing).

To reverse course, the tendency is to publish more news, between 75 to 150 articles. But that isn’t what should happen, Algoed said. 

Items published to pad the news offering overwhelms or irritates readers and shows no concern for their habits or preferences. He cited sports reports appearing at ungodly hours long after a game, or culture editors who want movie reviews on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. (but absolutely no one is looking to see a film at that hour). Even news editors who believe news should be published ASAP — because it’s, well, news — adds to the counterintuitive schedule and variability between each day.

Variability within each day presents different issues. At 7:30 a.m., people are seeking what major or important events happened overnight. Between 10 a.m. and noon, there is a dip when people are focused on work. Interest in news drops. It rises again at lunchtime, then falls immediately after.

A look at readership throughout the 23 hours after an article is published.
A look at readership throughout the 23 hours after an article is published.

Another layer to the scheduling challenge: an article’s shelf life. Within 12 hours, an article maximises near 90% of its potential reach.

News articles reach most of their audience within 12 hours of publication.
News articles reach most of their audience within 12 hours of publication.

Good planning will not help extend reach on major news days, but it will help on the ordinary, “nothing is happening” moments, Algoed said: “Do not publish 100 articles all at once!” — especially since typically only two or three articles are read per session. Instead, it is better to follow the natural rhythm of the reader. For example, 7:30 a.m. is a great moment to publish the top news stories, because that’s when people are seeking what happened overnight. At 10:00 a.m., when there is the least reader traffic, it might be the moment to have something diversionary or light, when a worker wants a break from a mundane task.

By studying analytics, news rooms can make more well-rounded assumptions about what the reader seeks at certain times of day (say at 4:00 p.m., does the reader want content to know, understand, feel, or act?). The publication schedule can then be created to better mirror reader preferences.

Editors scheduling news articles should factor in a user's day and needs.
Editors scheduling news articles should factor in a user's day and needs.

Two main advantages of a reader-synchronised schedule: 

  1. Journalists have a better idea of where their article best belongs. The coveted 7:30 a.m. slot is reserved for top stories and not 100+ news stories dropping at once. 

  2. The entire editorial team gains a shared framework to objectively determine what works (and what does not). 

What the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws (The Latest News) found after it implemented an optimised publishing schedule is that the reader-aligned timings can even help smooth out the dips. In fact, the news publisher experienced 9% growth in article views and 11% in paywall sales in the six months after the roll-out in 2022.

A small but important improvement.

After all, Algoed said, “If digital streams are broken, revenue streams are broken, too.”

About Justine Harcourt de Tourville

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