News UK COO shares thoughts on role of news media during the pandemic
Conference Blog | 26 January 2022
Digital media use has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago. News media subscriptions of major brands have grown, and media companies have had to adapt to new working environments as lockdowns happened all over the world.
Two years into the pandemic and, as we begin to come out of it, where do news media companies fit into the way people consume news now?
David Dinsmore, chief operating officer at News UK, joined INMA’s Mark Challinor for a members-only Webinar on Wednesday to discuss how the company’s brands and teams have adapted to the challenges that arose over the past two years.
News UK is a major media company in the United Kingdom and includes popular brands such as the Sun, the Times and news radio shows such as Times Radio. These brands reach 40 million people a week, which is impressive considering the population of the UK is 67 million.
“Everything has accelerated during the pandemic. Businesses who had a large legacy and portfolio, there was always that reluctance and resistance to let go. The pandemic has made everyone let go and realise there is no going back,” Dinsmore said of how media has been forced to change its ways of reaching the public.
The accelerated shift to digital
Dinsmore emphasised print will not end at News UK, but the focus has had to shift while the pandemic is still happening.
“Print in our case will play a big part of the foreseeable future, but digital has to be a very significant part of the next five years,” Dinsmore said. “We have put all of our focus into that and the challenges that come with that.”
When it comes to retention and growth of its audience and subscribers, News UK has succeeded during the pandemic by shifting focus onto how to get the print content to the public.
“Our content is the thing that would bring people back. It doesn't really matter what format it’s produced — paper or digital — it’s the stories people are coming for.”
The trust factor
With the pandemic, along with many other major news events throughout the world over the past two years, trust in the media has been a hot topic. Dinsmore discussed how News UK has held a trusted reputation with its audience during this time.
“Trusted information is a necessity. It’s not a want, it’s a need.”
So how does News UK handle the trust factor?
“Trust for me means trust in the brands,” he said. He gave an example of what trust in a brand looks like. “If I am getting content from the Times or the Sun, I can give a level of trust to what I am getting. I know what I'm getting from it, and I know it’s different from other brands.”
Diversified revenue streams
Dinsmore talked about how new ventures have opened up ways of growing News UK’s audience and created additional streams of revenue during the pandemic.
“Times Radio does two jobs: It promotes the Times massively and opens it up to a whole new audience and community. The other job is to open opportunities for advertising.”
Times Radio has not only helped grow News UK’s audience, it’s also helped retain its subscribers. The editors appear on Times Radio and essentially deliver the same content as they would write in the newspaper.
“It’s brought a two-dimensional newspaper to life,” Dinsmore said. “We have found these stars in the newsroom who have gone onto radio, found they are really good at broadcasting, and they attract a whole new audience — and also retain the existing audience who didn’t know the depths of what they were reading.”
The pandemic’s challenges and opportunities for community service
March and April of 2020 were challenging times for media companies: “Are we ever going to sell another newspaper again?” Dinsmore recalled wondering.
News UK went to the British government to offer help with challenges the public was facing as the pandemic hit.
Dinsmore described his approach: “As an industry, we can come together and provide you with a platform that will allow you to get your messages out.”
The result was a partnership with the government for advertising important information about COVID-19. The first of these was an entire wrap of all of the newspapers in the country on the same day, taking over every news Web site with the same message — the first time that had been done in the UK News brand.
“This became a story in its own right,” Dinsmore stated.
He shared a video campaign with INMA members attending the Webinar that was published through all major news media companies in the UK. This video advertised media solidarity and the job of bringing trusted and accurate news to the community during the difficult times at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Together we are stronger, together we are a team nation” was the catch line of the video campaign, which aimed to bring the community together as well as build trust for the media moving into the health crisis.
At the start of this new collaboration in April 2020, the British government spent £35 million in the media industry. In the current contract that runs through March 2022, Dinsmore said, the government will have spent almost £100 million in the last year. In the year before the pandemic, only £10 million was spent on media.
“They came into it wanting to help the industry, but they've come out of it thinking this is the best advertising public service we’ve ever done. The metrics are off the scale,” Dinsmore said.
In January of 2021, The Sun was approached by the UK health secretary to help with the vaccine roll-out. News UK editors launched a programme called Jabs Army, which helped administer vaccines to the public. Within 18 days, the programme had 60,000 people signed up in the UK to receive the vaccine.
Dismore believes this programme had an impact on the success of the vaccine roll-out in Britain because it’s likely someone who showed up to receive the vaccine had been directed there by the Sun’s promotions.
“It shows the role of the newspaper in bringing the country together and providing a public service,” he said. “I’m really proud of the industry as a whole has been able to drone this and how we’ve been able to deliver it.”