Mediahuis shares 5 key lessons of its digital transformation

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


Mediahuis Digital Change Director Ezra Eeman is not sure he fully believes in the concept of a digital transformation that ends at some point.

“I don’t believe that any media company can be completely transformed,” he said during the INMA members-only Webinar on Wednesday. It requires an ongoing effort.

That said, Eeman shared five key lessons Mediahuis has learned during the first year of its current transformation process.

The Mediahuis umbrella includes more than 30 news brands in five European countries, reaching 1.7 million subscribers, so transforming how they work was no small task. Change was necessary, however, for a couple of reasons, Eeman said.

Mediahuis has grown so much in recent years — roughly four times in less than a decade — that scalability is critical. It’s important to identify the challenges of being grouped together with other news organisations, but it’s just as important to identify the benefits.

“It would be a lost opportunity,” Eeman said, “if we didn’t think about how we can benefit from the richness of all these brands and where growth can come from if we do things together.”

The reality of a changing media landscape, in which mobile has become the primary device for both news and entertainment, was another factor driving the transformation.

Mediahuis Digital Change Director Ezra Emann shared the company's vision for transformation.
Mediahuis Digital Change Director Ezra Emann shared the company's vision for transformation.

“Of course, you can transform in a lot of directions,” Eeman conceded. To encourage focus, Mediahuis developed a few clear tracks they called “Expedition 2025.” These serve as something of a road map, some of which are quite high-level goals — such as delivering the best mobile and audio experience in Europe.

While Mediahuis is still in the early stages of the transformation process on the road to Expedition 2025, Eeman presented the five key lessons they’ve already learned:

Lesson 1: Tech isn’t the only consideration

“Even if it’s a tech solution you’re bringing to the newsroom, don’t make it a tech-only discussion,” Eeman said. They brought the editorial and newsroom teams into the discussion from the start, and the conversation goes both ways. It’s about people in similar roles sharing knowledge, which leads to a “vibrant community that helps one another across titles to tackle common problems.”

Lesson 2: Decide on “First Principles”

It was important to lay out what they call “First Principles” before they even began the discussions, Eeman said. They’re able to refer to these guideposts any time they’re stuck, to make sure the work they’re doing is still serving the goals.

Lesson 3: Do not just rebuild existing systems

In setting goals for the future, Eeman said the team works hard to avoid simply rebuilding existing systems. It’s an “opportunity to define future outcomes and what success looks like” instead of recreating what they already have.

Lesson 4: Keep solutions simple

It’s tempting, sometimes, to want to come up with a solution that solves every problem, but Eeman said their goal is rather to keep it simple, since “more functionality means more complexity.” They looked for the simplest solution that could handle the main problem and worked concrete application examples into the conversation to make sure the concepts didn’t get too abstract.

Lesson 5: Do not not just focus on tools

The final lesson Eeman mentioned was a riff on his earlier statement that the transformation isn’t just about the tool. The platform, he said, is only part of the transformation. They’re also taking how each newsroom works into consideration — and they’re measuring and tracking everything.

Self-assessment surveys in the newsrooms offer insights into not just what’s working but also where they are in the process and what clear actions should be taken next.

“We see this as a puzzle we need to tackle together,” Eeman said, “rather than just bringing in new tools.”

It’s not all about lofty future ambitions, though. One of the visions of Expedition 2025 is to continue to have a successful print media presence in an increasingly digital world, Eeman said: “Print is still very much our core business, and we think for the long-term print will be there — so we want to make sure it’s efficient and successful in the future.”

One of the ways Mediahuis is working on realising the Expedition 2025 vision of having a “scalable and efficient media organisation” is by aligning platforms. Their brands currently use different app and Web platforms, as well as different editorial and backend solutions, which can get quite costly.

Platform alignment is a big part of the company's plans before 2025.
Platform alignment is a big part of the company's plans before 2025.

Aligning platforms helps to increase efficiency, reduce certain costs, and it also provides an opportunity to learn from one another.

This kind of alignment means there’s more room to innovate and experiment, with one brand trying something that, if it works, can be implemented across other brands without needing to test it repeatedly in every organisation. It empowers smaller entities, giving them a “richness of tools” that they may not be able to afford if they were on their own.

This doesn’t mean everything is aligned identically, since local markets may have different needs, but the goal is to align where possible. Eeman said they’re constantly trying to balance their alignment goals with agility.

“We believe we need to empower strong journalism. We have local brands that are beacons of independent journalism and have their own kind of voice. It’s not one-size-fits-all.” The balancing act means they’re “willing to look into how we can ensure the strong voice stays there while maintaining a kind of good alignment that helps us scale,” he said.

Independent journalism, diversity, and local relevance are key priorities in the transition.
Independent journalism, diversity, and local relevance are key priorities in the transition.

A new tool called CUE from Stibo DX is at the heart of the transformation process.

Michael Taylor, sales director at Stibo DX, presented a brief walk-through of the CUE content platform to demonstrate its capabilities — how story elements are inherited seamlessly from Brand A to Brand B, for instance, while still allowing for individual elements to be changed to meet each brand’s needs. CUE also makes it easy to manage digital assets, from storage and organisation to rights management, as well as see metadata associated with content.

Eeman stressed that using a new content management system isn’t just about bringing in a new tool: “It’s also a chance to reevaluate how we work,” from the order in which the company does things to different methods of storytelling so content can be more easily repurposed on different platforms without recreating the wheel.

About Jessica Spiegel

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