Video, podcasts are changing news media’s storytelling formats

By Justine Harcourt de Tourville

Antwerp, Belgium


The New York Times dropped its first news podcast, The Daily, in 2017. In Flanders, De Standaard launched Vandaag (“Today”) in 2019 and De Tijd launched De 7 (“The Seven”) in January 2022.

In other words, Belgium was late to the news podcast party, according to Karl Dierickx, head of audio for Mediafin.

Speaking with at the recent INMA Media Innovation Week in Antwerp, Dierickx shared podcast stories and strategies along with a few peers: Wolfgang Jascherensky, visual desk leader for Suddeutsche Zeitung (Germany); Liv Moloney, head of social media at The Economist (UK); and Chris Patheiger, chief product and data officer from the Toronto Star (Canada).

The four speakers delivered meaty answers to stop a potentially anemic interest in reading. By innovating and augmenting formats, they shared how the news industry will continue to engage readers, improve subscription rates and secure greater revenue.  

Arriving unfasionably late is better than not arriving at all

News media companies should not be worried if they feel slow to start their audio strategy, reassured Dierickx. 

The Flemish business daily De Tijd came up with a simple proposition for De 7 — a no more than 15-minute podcast that hits the airwaves at 7 a.m. five days a week with just seven need-to-know topics each day. Crucial to the formula was a host with “personality.” Presenters were road tested and supplemented by editorial experts who could weigh in. 

Opting to go without a paywall option, the podcast looked to ads. Brands could purchase a 10-second pre-roll (pure voice; no sonic branding) or a 30-second post-roll (with sonic branding). Ideally, there would be a link with the content.

Outcome? Reach neared 25,000 listeners each day. In a country where 39% of Belgians listen to a podcast monthly (up 10% from 2022), Mediafin’s audience was 64% (rising from 46%). Almost half listen every week.

The turbo boost? Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Ensuring that the podcast was “drive-ready” helped move the numbers upwards by 25%.

De Tijd's podcast De 7 is "drive ready" because of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
De Tijd's podcast De 7 is "drive ready" because of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Dierickx’s main takeaway? You didn’t miss it; the podcast party is still booming. You can show up today with a news podcast your audience will want to listen to.

Text ad infinitum

Jaschensky of Süddeutsche Zeitung kicked off his presentation with a simple paragraph from a newspaper article on a mobile phone. String after string of text, no visual elements. Very uninteresting. Meh.

At least that’s what the majority of readers think.

Jaschensky is tasked with making editorial content more compelling. He explained it was the famous Panama Papers that made the editorial division acutely aware of the need to guide readers through complex reporting. Visual aids could help keep readers’ attention through dense chunks of text, but they wanted to go beyond ordinary illustrations to captivate and inform.

The shift towards pairing important stories with visuals, including animations and motion graphics, continued. The response was unsurprising: Stories resonated more. Readership followed.

Ultimately, Suddeutsche Zeitung’s entire organisation changed to reflect the evolution and scale its operation.

In 2022, a visual desk was created independent of news with a team of 50 (out of a newsroom of 600). In this new configuration, the visual desk strives to produce 10 visual stories a day and three lighthouse stories a week.

While heavy on design talent, journalism is still at the core of visual desk operations and so its own managing editors are focused. On top of being tasked with developing and innovating new journalistic narrative forms, the visual desk must also coordinate all story design aspects (e.g. editorial design, layout, image editing, infographics, etc).

The result being: what used to look like this:

Now looks like this:

New audiences futureproof a 180-year old brand

The Economist’s Moloney asked why social media is so important.

“At The Economist, social media is responsible for bringing in new audiences,” she said. 

With 61 million followers across the news media company’s social accounts — X, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Threads — these platforms account for 20% of Web site visits to form a key component of the subscription and registration strategy. More importantly, Moloney said, they keep the historic Economist brand relevant. In fact, Instagram was proving to be significant because “two-thirds of our 6.2 million Instagram followers are 18 to 34 and skew female.” 

Instead of the traditional storytelling using landscape mode (think television, film, music videos), social media algorithms are prioritising vertical video. As Instagram and other platforms are increasingly pushing Reels and other short-form video formats to their users, The Economist started to think seriously about how to repurpose their content across Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and X.

In summer 2022, after much deliberation, The Economist added another platform and launched a TikTok channel. They wanted to repeat the Instagram success (which is responsible for more organic subscriptions than Facebook). Each video relates to editorial content, an article or podcast, that leads people back to the magazine. By collaborating with the marketing team, more acquisitions can come through paid activity or ads.

Moloney also shared the creative thinking behind The Economist’s videos. Moloney emphasised the importance of “the hook” to get viewer attention, so the video needs to be anchored in a compelling image at the start because “the first second matters.” Another creative decision: instead of following conventional wisdom by posting every day, the team opted to go for two to three high-quality videos a week.

The Economist shared details of how it makes its video content.
The Economist shared details of how it makes its video content.

In one year, The Economist social accounts received 140 million video views across all platforms in one year with 100 million of those coming from Instagram. TikTok, however, had only 35 million views, but pulled in different demographics: the majority was younger than 35 and leaned male (58%). 

Social media takes constant tracking, but Moloney proved using the platforms for vertical video can be a valuable resource in rejuvenating audience share and increasing readers/subscribers.

Chicken or the egg?

“It’s the egg,” says Toronto Star’s Patheiger. He wanted to make sure video wasn’t overly hyped as the easy answer. Editorial standards still hold, but audiences are evolving in part because of news fatigue. Patheiger explained that 80% of readers prefer video to written text.

Why aren’t more news organisations switching to video? Cost, capacity, and the necessary digital infrastructure are the main culprits. Patheiger countered by showing how the Toronto Star’s path to video brought in more readers, partners, and greater revenue.

The Toronto Star starts its video strategy with problems to be solved.
The Toronto Star starts its video strategy with problems to be solved.

The Toronto Star combined two CMS systems for a smooth, fast delivery system. By partnering with Oovvuu, they were able to integrate video directly into Blox Digital CMS, their content production system. Typically, 80% of traffic comes from 20% of the overall stories, and 80% of that traffic comes within the first 20 minutes of being published.

Oovvuu’s analytics gave real-time insight to both editorial and commercial teams and generated a common KPI to track performance and know where to intervene. By adding video earlier in the process, Patheiger said there was more opportunity, including valuable ad and pre-roll inventory.

The results paid off. 

Each day has an average of 62 embedded videos, with viewability 13% higher than global benchmarks. That has translated into a +300,000 increase in incremental revenue this (unfinished) year alone.

Incorporating a video strategy has led to big gains, which prompted Patheiger’s final advice in terms of video go-to-market strategy: Sell on value, not volume.

About Justine Harcourt de Tourville

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.