Politico shares its unique vision for using data to fund journalism

By William Maxwell McKeon-White

Ithaca College

Ithaca, New York, USA


How is data driving revenue?” Peter Cherukuri, executive vice president of audience solutions at Politico asked the audience at the Big Data Media Conference, a joint venture of World Newsmedia Network (WNMN) and INMA, at Thomson Reuters on Thursday. The way we associate most with funding journalism is advertising. Unfortunately, this assumption is one that misaligns the newsroom and business eye.

This was as true with print media as well as digital. Now, instead of growing circulation, we are growing traffic. However, this is “feeding the beast” of trying to get the most money out of page-views as possible.

Politico's Peter Cherukuri has a different business model for funding journalism.
Politico's Peter Cherukuri has a different business model for funding journalism.

According to Cherukuri, this is not the only way. Politico has developed a long-term investment strategy and created a better business model. Using data, the company has developed a way to monetise that doesn’t focus on getting the most pageviews possible. Instead, Politico focuses on its customer.

Politico, a self-proclaiming “upstart” organisation that began in 2007, sought to provide an alternative news source. Politico developed a “right time, right place” strategy. It wasn’t based around location, but on the people, understanding that people on and off the Capitol hill could affect politics. Politico started from that perspective.  

As such, it created Politico Pro, a subscription-based service. Built for the political and policy influencer audience, it began with a focus around certain specialty sectors, what the target audience sought to read. From here, Politico advertising was developed, still with this focus on the consumer, providing what the consumer actually sought. These ventures were met with remarkable success. 

Riding off this success, Politico made an investment. “We decided to invest into data tech,” Cherukuri explained. Initially utilising the established advertising infrastructure, Politico refocused it to better profile our readers. The company’s methods of analysis has matured, and now, its focus around the individual can be broken down into five parts.

  1. Usage data and how customers respond to its content.

  1. Product registration and who uses what.

  1. Events and who attends them.

  2. Research and what this says about demographics.

  1. Third-party data and what else this individual does beyond us.

Utilising data gathered has allowed Politico to expand and develop its brand, as well as helping it determined there was a want from the audience for long-form information. In response, Politico Magazine was finally developed. It was a resounding success, and is now the company’s best-selling product.

And the investment continues. Recently Politico developed a broad geographic expansion and is working on coverage internationally to better serve those that affect policy. Through data collection, Politico has better developed an informative and pertinent product for each region.

Through these continuing expansions, the company has started to function though the protocol of “what works.” “How could we as a newsroom could we cover urbanization?” Cherukuri asked. Through data, he answered, Politico knew it had a burgeoning readership in mayors. So, through partnering with JPMorgan-Chase, it begun to cover cities in depth, developing a reputation as trustworthy and well received, even at the local level.

“If there is corruption, or some equivalent harm afflicting a city, we are considered a trusted source and can help the affected city,” Cherukuri said. Through data analysis, Politico has had an opportunity to expand globally and locally to better serve the global community, regardless the scale.

Similarly, through data analysis of the recent election, Politico has begun to gain popularity. Yet, Politico is not happy simply standing by.

“We want to maintain this popularity, and continue this past the ‘key arc.’ Again, this has given us an opportunity to begin to develop media products for our new readers and bring this success forward,” Cherukuri said.

Instead of capitalising on short-term gains, the company’s information piping is allowing it to make long-term investments. Utilising data to create tailored stories for its readers, Politico is exploring a new method of monetisation, eschewing the traditional “pageview mentality” in favour of stories that ensure “page stay.”

About William Maxwell McKeon-White

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