Guardian, Gannett, SCMP share case studies in building popular news products

By Michelle Palmer Jones

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Chandler Wieberg

INMA

Austin, Texas, United States

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By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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After learning how to identify what media consumers need and want, the time comes to build those products.

In the third day of the INMA Product and Data for Media Summit, The Guardian (UK), Gannett (United States), and South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) share recent examples of just that.

The Guardian builds live blogs

Chief product officer for The Guardian, Caspar Llewellyn Smith, encouraged attendees of Tuesday morning’s Product and Data For Media Summit to constantly evolve and change to get writers closer to their audience.

The backbone of how The Guardian does this is with live blogs, something they’ve been doing since 2001 as a way to interact with users.

Caspar Llewellyn Smith, chief product officer for The Guardian, said live blogs are a key way the company gets close to its audience.
Caspar Llewellyn Smith, chief product officer for The Guardian, said live blogs are a key way the company gets close to its audience.

“They could do things like comment, the writers would read the comments, they’d respond in the live blog,” Llewellyn Smith said. “Quite quickly a new sort of relationship — a new sort of journalism really was born — which was both live and interactive.”

As The Guardian evolved, it became clear technology would play a major role in the quest for innovative products.

“It’s essential to view developers as part of a creative process like this one because they are the ones who are closest to the possibilities that new technology can afford,” Llewellyn Smith said. “It’s also essential to encourage a culture in which the engineers, the product managers, the journalists, actually do know each other.”

Llewellyn Smith believes The Guardian is where it is today with innovative live blogs because of a series of happy accidents paired with a clear vision and succinct mission and strategy. 

Gannett builds USA Todays Sports Plus

When Gannett decided to create a new product for sports fans, the company knew it was taking on a huge — and risky — endeavour.

“It was the first new subscription product that we have launched in over 10 years,” said Kara Chiles, vice president of consumer products at Gannett. “It’s not enough to have a good idea. We needed to also have the confidence that we were able to fit in fit in our three key criteria.”

Danny Sanchez, senior product manager, said the engineering, design, and product teams needed to understand each other’s concerns.
Danny Sanchez, senior product manager, said the engineering, design, and product teams needed to understand each other’s concerns.

Those three criteria were:

  1. Right to play.
  2. Right to compete.
  3. Right to win.

If they didn’t fit all three, there was no reason to continue with the idea. So, before making decisions, they began talking — to consumers, to customers, and to the different departments involved. Ultimately, Gannett decided it had the sports expertise and depth of coverage to move forward.

Thaenew product, Sports+, premiered in September and is currently in six markets — chosen because they have large sports followings of professional and college sports teams, as well as local newsrooms to provide the coverage. The product provides a “one-stop sports experience” with expert analysis, scores, customizable updates, and more.

“We realised we already had a head start,” Chiles said, explaining the product team was already experienced in creating engaging end-user experiences and the newsrooms had a strong history and reputation of providing quality sports content.

Engineering, design, and product had to come together and “flesh out a lot of details,” said Danny Sanchez, senior product manager. “The big achievement for us in terms of collaboration is really an understanding of each other’s concerns.” 

South China Morning Post builds a paywall

Vhanya Mackenchie, vice president of product at South China Morning Post, explained to INMA members how the company built its paywall structure in three and a half months in 2020. 

SCMP had been using a paywall since the early 2000s, but then pulled down its paywall structure in 2015 when the Alibaba Group bought the company. 

Vhanya Mackenchie, vice president of product at South China Morning Post, explained the company's paywall journey.
Vhanya Mackenchie, vice president of product at South China Morning Post, explained the company's paywall journey.

In March 2020, when the pandemic hit, regular users skyrocketed with all the content, which is when South China Morning Post decided to develop a paywall structure. It was developed in a short three and a half months and launched in August of 2020 to Hong Kong and South East Asia, allowing 10 free articles. 

After launching the metered paywall, South China Morning Post noticed stop rates were lower than the industry average. The team conduction A/B tests, which found lowering the free article limit in the paywall improved the stop rate.

“Lowering the free article limit to five also did not damper harm engagement or churn rates,” Mackechnie said. 

Since October 2020, South China Morning Post has been experimenting with other paywall types, such as an “archive wall” and an “audience-specific wall,” which he explained in detail to summit attendees.

After SCMP reached its target audience reach, “our data team grew and matured from producing descriptive analytics to being able to produce predictive analytics,” Mackenchie said. 

This requires putting in data points into a data engine, such as:

  • Referral source (where to user is coming from).

  • What platform they’re reading content on.

  • User consumption patterns (what type of content users are reading).

  • Frequency and length of visits.

  • Actions users take within the Web site.

“We look at these data pieces on a daily basis and throughout the day to help us make decisions,” Mackenchie said. “It’s very easy to get caught in trying to figure out which specific cohort should have what based on the data, but we also found that sometimes an experience is better for a universal audience instead of trying to force it into making it a custom journey.”

INMA’s Product and Data Summit continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays through October 19. 

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