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INMA Stockholm study tour gets first-hand look at data in newsrooms

By Newsplexer Projects

Newsplexer Projects

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In a search for the best ideas in the reader revenue space, 40 participants from 17 countries visited publishers across Stockholm in the second half of a three-city study tour as part of INMA’s Media Subscriptions Week 2.0. Wednesday visits to NTM, MittMedia, Bonnier News, and Schibsted Sweden continued the previous day’s themes of the importance of newsrooms owning a digital- and reader-first culture, but also exposed the inherent need for integrating data into workflows and processes.

Study tour participants pose for a group photo at Expressen in Stockholm.
Study tour participants pose for a group photo at Expressen in Stockholm.

For some media houses, this means pulling real-time data out of personal dashboards and on to the walls. Multiple newsrooms toured by the group were lined with screens displaying real-time data about subscriptions, readership demographics, and progress toward daily and weekly goals.

Expressen’s newsroom has 280 screens displaying data around content and sales goals.

“We call ourselves the most data-informed newsroom in the Nordics,” Josefina Rickardt, head of marketing and analytics at Expressen, said.

Journalists are competitive, she said, and by adding specific statistics to the screens, they can benchmark their work against set goals. Beyond the screens, a Slack bot reminds journalists of current statistics and daily goals. This is powered by Google Analytics, which she said correlates well with their data.

“It may not be 100% perfect, but it may be 85%, which is fine because it still helps us,” she said.

Access to data turns all of Expressen’s staff into analysts, she said. This information supports editorial decisions and encourages journalists to rethink how they write stories. One tool, Genews, scrapes Expressen’s content to show the imbalance in how many men and women are featured and interviewed in articles. This awareness helps the team’s goal to reach more female users, who are more likely to read when coverage is balanced.

A Slack bot also drives editorial decisions at Svenska Dagbladet, Anna Careborg, acting publisher, said.

After pulling its Oracle tool into Slack, journalists receive suggestions to lock or unlock content based on its likelihood to convert readers. This tool, which has recommended articles staff may have never considered before, has changed how the staff thinks about its content. Still, the decision rests with a human.

“I think it’s really important to work with editorial decisions,” Careborg said. “This is for information — not for it to decide, but to recommend.”

Similar to Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter’s dashboard model is semi-automated, alerting journalists to content that receives a certain amount of social and direct traffic, then suggesting if it should be put behind a paywall.

“It’s logic that the best content should be behind the paywall,” said Martin Jönsson, head of editorial development at Dagens Nyheter. This can help drive conversion, he added, as a high spike in traffic has high propensity to convert users.

The Dagens Nyheter newsroom was one of four stops in Stockholm Wednesday.
The Dagens Nyheter newsroom was one of four stops in Stockholm Wednesday.

MittMedia’s publishing strategy is also informed by data. Data revealed a direct correlation between number of visits and the likelihood of retention, Robin Govik, the company’s chief digital officer, told study tour participants.

“We figured that the more often you visit, the more likely you are to become a subscriber,” Govik said.

Since MittMedia puts all of its content behind a paywall, the data and product management teams decided to test this hypothesis by giving readers access to every article within the first hour it is published. After a week, this test proved the hypothesis to be true. By encouraging readers to check often for new content, MittMedia has seen an increase in user conversion.

When talking about next steps, most of the media companies talked about the importance of relationships with staff, readers, and the company itself.

When data powers a newsroom, it impacts the culture at its core. Traditional organisational structures will not work, said Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief at Dagens Nyheter: “If you have this type of culture as a leader, you need to accept that information is transparent.” 

While most newsrooms are still in the phase of converting users to subscribers, MittMedia has moved toward retention. Addressing a churn problem requires thinking about the daily relationship readers have with the news brand.

“It took a pretty long time to realise that everything was about relationships, long-term relationships,” Govik said.

For Svenska Dagbladet, building long-term relationships mean evaluating and meeting subscriber needs. The company has opened itself up to its customers, responding to requests for more audio content and even sharing a daily brief with 40,000 of its subscribers. If single-copy print sales were a fling, digital subscriptions are a committed relationship, Careborg said.

“I think also that in a fling you can be a little more mysterious about things, but in a relationship you have to be more open with who you are,” she said.

Study tour participants on a tour of Aftonbladet's newsroom.
Study tour participants on a tour of Aftonbladet's newsroom.

For Aftonbladet, continuing to innovate and meet customer needs is the only way forward, Lena K. Samuelsson, the company’s publisher, said.

When asked to compare Aftonbladet to other big media players, audiences said they consider the brand to be similar to Spotify and Netflix. This is a good thing, Samuelsson said, but it also requires news media companies to stay relevant in their products and how they offer them. Entrepreneurs around the world are currently working to reach audiences in more niche, convenient, and frictionless ways. A constant state of innovation is required: “Never stop challenging yourself, because if you don’t challenge yourself, someone else will.”

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