Driving toward newsroom cutbacks? Stop and ask for directions

As media companies look to cut costs in the newsroom, the counter-balancing revenue loss needs to be included in the calculus: the inability to raise prices or charge for new products, including digital subscriptions.  

It’s the illusive “quality” measure. Where do cuts impact quality and where do they not? And have we gone too far?

Each newspaper needs a relevant “quality” measure determined by the readers. These inputs will help identify less important assets and those that are so critical to readers’ experience that they should be protected, if not reinforced.  

We need to talk to our readers on a regular basis to conduct this gap analysis. We need to determine what is quality to the reader and where does the newspaper meet, beat, or fall short of those expectations?  

The research doesn’t have to be expensive, but it is an investment in time.  

  • Begin a culture of listening with a series of one-on-one interviews to provide a constant drip of information about the perceived your quality and content. The output of the interviews is a series of attributes and benefits of the media company and needs of the readers — the dimensions of quality.

  • Conduct an annual e-mail survey among print and digital readers, asking two simple questions followed by some demographic and classification questions — the measures of quality
    1. How important is each of the attributes and benefits to you when you read the publication, either in print or online (five-point scale)?

    2. How well does the publication deliver on each of these attributes (five-point scale)?
  •  Analyse the attributes, benefits, and needs, putting each into one of four categories:

A quick note on the attributes, benefits, and needs themselves:

  • As readers are being questioned, it’s critical to understand their feedback in actionable terms. For example, local news and information is an attribute, but not an actionable one.  

    What is it about local news and information that is important? Is it that the reader knows about and can attend important local events? This is why starting with qualitative research is key, so the moderator can drill to the root of the statement.

  • Because of the “root cause” nature of the qualitative research, one-on-one interviews are preferable. Focus group feedback can be swayed by a single outspoken participant.

  • Some benefits and needs might not be concrete. The qualitative research might uncover less tangible elements, such as the serendipity of finding an interesting topic or article without purposefully seeking it out – the delight factor.

  • Listen to all readers – print-only, digital-only, and print/digital readers. You might learn that you meet some needs better on one platform than the other, and it’s really just an issue of cross-pollinating.

Quality is an elusive term that is used with great seriousness, but with less understanding. A culture of listening and an investment of time to uncover how readers’ define quality will help the consumer marketing team grow revenue. It also establishes a road map for the inevitable expense cuts and reallocations in the newsroom.

About Lynne Brennen

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