Paid digital subscriptions for U.K.-based DC Thomson’s daily news brands (The Courier, The Press and Journal, Evening Telegraph, and Evening Express) recently surpassed 25,000 paid subscribers — just 18 months into the company’s ambitious drive to build a new, sustainable model for local journalism.
The shift to a digital-first approach saw the complete transformation of its newsrooms, with every staff member taking on new roles. New teams were created to concentrate on building deep expertise in individual areas such as crime and courts, health and well-being, and environment and transport — all viewed from a local perspective.
Specific audience development, insight, and data positions were created to give the teams an understanding of the needs and wants of their readers. A content development function was built to develop specialist skills, such as data journalism and in-depth investigations.
Investing in talent
The company also made investments in developing and upskilling talent in areas such as audio production and video. For the first time, the news teams created investigative documentaries and daily podcasts.
The success of a story isn’t measured by the number of clicks it receives but by a “quality reads” metric, identifying how much of an article has been read, putting high standards of reporting and engagement at the core of the work.
This emphasis on excellence in journalism was recognised at September’s Scottish Press Awards, with The Courier being named Web site of the Year and The Press and Journal taking Daily Newspaper of the Year honours. As well as the title awards, staff working across DC Thomson’s daily news brands won prizes including best local feature writer, best campaign, best columnist, best local reporter, and best podcast.
Focusing on value
The focus of encouraging audiences to pay for news shifted from solely being tied to digital replicas of printed products toward true digital-first subscription products that focused on delivering our communities more value from the content the newsrooms produce. Research shows subscribers place the most value on “up-to-the-minute” news available to them at any time of day.
Print continues to be a crucial part of the news mix, with more stories, an increased focus on supplements, and reader participation. In particular, the P&J’s Saturday edition was recently redesigned to substantially increase the breadth and depth of coverage with increased pagination and a renewed focus on features.
Frank O’Donnell, editor of the Press and Journal said: “Attaining 25,000 subscribers is a significant milestone on our journey to developing a sustainable digital newsroom. Having only launched in May last year, we are ahead of target and confident that the changes we have made in content, structure, product, and audience focus are delivering results.
“We must now keep listening to our audiences to deepen our understanding of what readers want from us.”
David Clegg, editor of The Courier, called it “an encouraging early success” for the company’s strategy of delivering journalism that readers realise is worth paying for.
“It is a tribute to the deep connection we have with our communities that so many thousands of people have chosen to support us on this journey,” he said. “I want to thank our readers for helping us build a sustainable future for The Courier’s quality journalism.”