News Corp’s News Regional Media (NRM) operates 16 daily Web sites and more than 30 non-daily community sites across Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory in Australia.

In the past year, it has become the fastest-growing news digital subscription business in the company with 53% growth, year on year. NRM now has more than 45,000 subscribers.

“A Digital Playbook for Every Newsroom” is NRM’s data-driven strategy, which focuses on delivering targeted local stories to drive digital subscriptions.

The past year has been one of incredible change to deliver on our main objective: “To deliver and retain digital subscribers through increased audience engagement.”

With newsrooms that vary in size and digital experience, NRM developed a comprehensive strategy to engage and grow audiences via Web, mobile, social media, and local news apps. The objective was to not only grow display advertising revenue through increases in pageviews, but also to build loyal, local audiences willing to pay for strong coverage of issues that matter to them.

The News Regional Media Digital Playbook is a comprehensive guide for existing editors to execute across digital channels. Each is tailored to the local needs of the audience. The playbook identifies four key audience segments based on how often they visit and consume content, and it goes as far as detailing the types of stories likely to appeal to each segment.

NRM's digital playbook strategy involves tracking audience segments and the content they engage with most.
NRM's digital playbook strategy involves tracking audience segments and the content they engage with most.

Editors are then encouraged to use different platforms — ranging from social media to newsletter and app alerts — to target readers, whether they are casuals, moderates, heavies, or super heavy consumers of news.

Daily and weekly data reports are sent to newsrooms and individual reporting staff so teams can see which stories are appealing to the different reader groups. Editors and reporters are then encouraged to hone in on content likely to drive both pageviews and subscriptions.

Weekly reports keep staff informed about how each content type is performing with the audience segments. This helps them plan coverage that is most likely to generate subscriptions.
Weekly reports keep staff informed about how each content type is performing with the audience segments. This helps them plan coverage that is most likely to generate subscriptions.

The playbook has worked well across both “metered” and “premium” subscription models.

In recent months, all of our daily Web sites have transitioned to the premium model, and now that approach is starting to roll out to non-daily sites, including the successful launch at the Coffs Coast Advocate, the first for News Corp in Australia. Despite putting out a free newspaper twice weekly, more than 200 paying digital subscribers have already signed up.

The level of granularity of the playbook includes topic tagging of content designed especially for local news coverage — whether a major road project, development, shopping centre, or job opportunities. Subscribers can follow topics of interest to them and receive regular email updates. The past year has not only seen innovation in storytelling, but also a data-driven approach to the types of stories covered. Local sites have used their analytics, highlighted through weekly and daily Adobe reports, to identify hot topics to generate pageviews and subscriptions. 

The Gold Coast’s story quadrant shows the type of stories that work, from high traffic stories in the top left (weather, traffic, top 10s, cheap flights) to hyperlocal subscription drivers in the bottom right (development, business collapses, big business, crime reads, court, restaurant openings and closings, as well as inside stories on big yarns).
The Gold Coast’s story quadrant shows the type of stories that work, from high traffic stories in the top left (weather, traffic, top 10s, cheap flights) to hyperlocal subscription drivers in the bottom right (development, business collapses, big business, crime reads, court, restaurant openings and closings, as well as inside stories on big yarns).

The weekly reports that go to reporters not only highlight how many pageviews their stories had, but also what stories were particularly popular with subscribers. Since the introduction of a premium model across most sites, reporters are also being rewarded in newsrooms for stories that generate subscriptions.

The result has been far greater coverage of local business, development, real estate, and industry projects, which are likely to trigger subscriptions and retain existing subscribers. 

Product innovations also have included the rollout of new apps for News Corp regional sites, better newsletters which allow editors to talk to subscribers direct, app alerts, more local video production, and greater use of video on social platforms to drive external audience engagement. Also each regional newsroom has now been equipped with a drone with training rolled out for a chief drone pilot at every newsroom — even the smallest sites.

NRM's "A Digital Playbook for Every Newsroom" initiative earned an Innovation of the Year award at the NewsMediaWorks News Media Awards in Sydney.
NRM's "A Digital Playbook for Every Newsroom" initiative earned an Innovation of the Year award at the NewsMediaWorks News Media Awards in Sydney.

Specific training in headline writing, use of social media, and mobile video production has brought us major improvements in online news coverage at News Corp's regional news sites.

Each week, more than 150 locally produced videos and photo galleries complement well in excess of 2,000 locally produced stories.

Significantly, the NRM business has become audience revenue positive, meaning digital subscription growth has outpaced print decline, and the consumer revenue line is in growth mode.