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The Guardian, Aftenposten bring newsrooms into their reader revenue strategies

By Brie Logsdon

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Shelley Seale

INMA

Austin, Texas, USA

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News publishers must convince everyone in their organisations that data is important — but Chris Moran of The Guardian says it goes beyond that. People must also be moved to proactively want to use data and think about the ways in which it can change how the organisation works.

As the head of editorial innovation at The Guardian, Moran spoke to INMA members at the Media Subscriptions Summit on the topic. He shared his experience moving The Guardian into the digital age and data-centred journalism a decade ago, where at first he had a difficult time getting anyone in the newsroom to listen to him about digital journalism.

“What I realised was I was expected to go up against 200 years of habit,” he said. “Some habits formed for very good reason, but I was expected to go up against that with nothing more than a hopeful charm. What I realised was that I needed to convince them that it was worthwhile to do this, that it was beneficial to The Guardian as an entity and to the journalism directly.”

He knew that the best weapon in his arsenal to do so was data. He started an internal data newsletter for the organisation, which he was only allowed to send to four people on the team. Today, that newsletter is created with an entire data team and goes to everyone in the organisation.

“For most people, that is the first thing they read,” Moran said.

Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at The Guardian, shows the company's Ophan dashboard.
Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at The Guardian, shows the company's Ophan dashboard.

He enlisted help within the company, which included the creation of an SEO dashboard. This showed Moran the last three minutes of the traffic that was going to any Guardian article.

“Even though it was only three minutes, it was transformative,” he said.

From that, they started quietly building the data dashboard that would become Ophan, with a goal of showing their journalism to more people who were interested in it and to improve the journalism itself.

“One of the single most important things we did, only six months into the existence of the dashboard, was we used a Gmail authentication to verify users.”

This meant they could stop the data from being seen by anyone outside the organisation — but more importantly, it allowed them to go from Guardian data being available to only a handful of team members to being accessible to everyone, in any department, virtually overnight.

“That might not seem particularly radical today, but eight years ago it was pretty radical,” Moran said.

Another Summit workshop tapped into Aftenposten’s experience addressing three core problems facing newsrooms in the transformation to a reader revenue business model:

Content planning: Aftenposten has been a subscription-based newspaper since its creation in 1886, Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen, the company’s managing news editor, said. Content planning is crucial to the success of Aftenposten’s explanatory news experience position. Strøm-Gundersen said the company takes great care to align the newsroom and reader revenue team, and encourage communication around shared goals. Day-to-day efforts require sharing a lot of data and making decisions around that data. 

Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen, managing news director at Aftenposten, discussed three problems facing newsrooms as they focus on reader revenue.
Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen, managing news director at Aftenposten, discussed three problems facing newsrooms as they focus on reader revenue.

Enabling of newsroom: Implementing a strategy is one thing, but getting the entire news team behind presents its own set of unique challenges, said Hanne Waaler Lier, head of national news desk at Aftenposten. By asking every team in the newsroom what kind of change they valued, found inspiring, and doable, they created a list of potential actions that were potential innovations or could improve daily output. The teams all aligned around one initial project chosen from the list: creating better manuscripts.

Organisational alignment: Hansen shared five tactics that he did that he felt worked to align the organisation when he was editor-in-chief at Aftenposten. One was to close the gap between journalism and business. Every month, Aftenposten had an all-hands meeting about financial details: “To show journalism and our business model had become very intertwined.”

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