How successful newsrooms have transformed to become customer-centric

By Shelley Seale


The role of the newsroom has changed over the past 10 to 20 years. Grzegorz Piechota, INMA’s researcher-in-residence, says these changes have happened across the world — they just happen at different paces, in different places.

Speaking at the INMA World Congress of News Media in New York, Piechota said the most advanced newsrooms often are the most successful with reader revenue.

The organisations that were ahead of the curve for transformation are “the newsrooms that actually started to adjust the journalism that they produce to the needs of their customers,” Piechota said. 

“In a way, they are getting more customer-centric. They look at the data about the stories that are attracting new potential subscribers, and they are engaging their current subscribers.”

This very much affects the coverage that these newsrooms create and decisions about where to send their journalists. It also informs where they reallocate their resources.

“Services are basically, in essence, about creating audiences and creating experiences for people,” Piechota said. Journalism becomes more participatory as a result, and the audience is invited into the process — creating an experience around content production.

“So the public is invited to be experts, to provide some sort of insight and information,” Piechota continued. “Maybe collect the data, maybe verify the data. Maybe journalism delivery is not just about written text, not only about video or audio. It might be about life events; it might be about meetings.”

Another change is the new roles that have emerged in newsrooms: audience development roles responsible for finding audience for the content, team members who are responsible for facilitating user engagement, and even brand new functions such as growth hackers.

“These are people who are working with product and marketing on how to increase engagement of potential or current audiences,” Piechota explained. “You also see elevation of customer service.”

Traditionally, customer service was part of the fulfilment process and was often routed to hotlines in circulation. When a reader would call those hotlines, usually they thought they were talking to the journalists, Piechota said: “Based on the research, we know that in the customers’ minds, people are part of the service. They don’t differentiate. They think that people who provide service are part of the value proposition — the contact with them.”

This is an interesting framework to keep in mind, Piechota said, but it also means editors must take control of the customer service. “This is part of the job, this is part of the engagement that action newsrooms in service companies are required to think about.”

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