During journalism studies in university classes, we were often told about the Chinese wall between editorial and sales departments to protect the integrity of journalism.
When the era of online publishing took over, many scholars (such as Annet Aris and Jacques Bughin, Mark Deuze, and Robert G. Picard) reported of increasing tension at the Chinese wall between journalistic and commercial departments in news outlets. They saw that journalists’ work, which was once the focal point in news organisations, seemed to have lost some of its power to the commercial side.
And, the whole concept of management — with terms like “strategy,” “agile work routines,” and “KPIs” — had entered newsrooms and narrowed the decision-making power of a single journalist.
Since making these statements, a lot has changed in the working culture of news organisations. We have probably all noted that working together — journalists, sales and marketing people, and data professionals — has definite perks. It is also quite difficult to succeed in digital news business without cross-department collaboration and without shared KPIs.
I think data is a common language upon which we can build a common culture.
At Kauppalehti, Finland’s leading financial and business news outlet, we been publishing online since 1996, and we started a metered paywall 2012. In 2017, we launched a freemium paywall, which was a start to the biggest change in how we work together. With this freemium model, the editorial department needed more data to run it, and they approached sales and data people for advice.
At first, the KPIs were very production-oriented. For instance, how many stories did we need to lock up behind paywall? The real sales KPIs stayed at the sales department. Over time, the need for more data, more insight, and more understanding surfaced, and we began talking more about what we should do together based on it.
The biggest change came in 2018 after 18 months of running the freemium model. We began presenting the sales KPIs on displays for the editorial department. There were no more productional metres — only the big target at the end of the day at the end of the week. This was a shared goal for the sales and editorial teams, both working toward it with the help of insight from data.
We started weekly “three minutes about subscriptions” meetings with both departments present. In these short meetings, we explain what we have done, celebrate victorious weeks, and think about what we could do better. This gets everyone on board with the results, talking about the same objectives and the same achievements.
This year our company backed the collaboration up by providing a yearly bonus programme with the same objectives for both journalists and sales people. This made it very concrete to everyone: It is worthwhile to do things together. As celebrated achieving all of our 2020 goals — on October 1! — I think, at least to us, working as one team with different professions and expertise but with shared goals and KPIs and data as a common language is really how news media can succeed in the future.