Berlingske Media, DPG Media put user needs into action

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


I’ve become a big fan of the user needs framework for both its simplicity and its ability to hone in on meaningful insights. 

Analytics are important, of course. We need to understand what stories and topics are generating subscription conversions, pageviews, engagement, and more. But data from our existing sources doesn’t tell us much about what the reader actually wanted, whether the story met their needs, or how to think about our content mix more holistically.  

By combining the user needs framework with our data, we’re able to better understand our audiences and how needs and emotions fit into our understanding of how journalism serves our readers.

User needs came up repeatedly on the big stage at INMA’s World Congress of News Media in April, and I was excited to host a Webinar on the topic just days later. Read on for some meaningful case studies and practical advice on the subject.

And reach me anytime:


A primer: What are user needs and why should I care? 

The concept of user needs was first introduced in 2016 by the BBC World Service after researching the needs of its audience. From that research came six reasons people typically consume news, which were crafted into these user needs:

  • Update me.

  • Keep me on trend.

  • Give me perspective.

  • Educate me.

  • Divert me.

  • Inspire me.

Importantly, these needs speak to what people are trying to get when they visit your platforms; they’re designed to bring your journalism closer to its audiences. Other media companies soon adopted the model, but it didn’t become commonplace across the industry then. 

However, user needs appear to be making a resurgence in recent months after being reintroduced in 2023 by Dmitry Shishkin, a former BBC journalist and advocate of the model, and smartocto, which offers publishers a user needs tool. The update adds two new user needs and includes a guide on how to write articles that address specific user needs.

The model suggests four essential drivers that lead to the user needs:

  1. Fact driven: Inform your audience. This is the one journalists often think of when it comes to their content strategy and often over-indexes in analyses of user needs.

  1. Context driven: Explain to your audience. I believe this one is important to combat news fatigue, as well. This suggests readers want more context and explainers, which also is what readers who are turned off by the news say they want.

  1. Emotion driven: Move your audience. People are often emotionally attached to news that affect their lives, yet we do a poor job of providing that connective tissue and evoking emotions through our storytelling on a daily basis.

  1. Action driven: Motivate your audience. Here’s another motivation important to addressing news avoidance: People want to understand solutions and be given agency. This type of journalism connects people to people, ideas, or concrete events.

Recent iterations of the user needs model have eight needs derived from those four drivers — update me, educate me, give me perspective, divert me, inspire me, help me, connect me, and keep me engaged — but many newsrooms have adapted and slimmed that model based on their missions and audiences. 

I’ve talked to a number of news companies using the model, and in every case, it’s led to meaningful insights and changes to their content strategies. And in every case, the results have shown improvement and a deeper understanding of audience.

That was certainly the case for the two publishers featured on our user needs Webinar.

Are you all in on user needs? What are you seeing? E-mail me

Case study: Berlingske Media, Denmark

Teaching a 275-year-old newspaper new tricks 

At Berlingske Media, Lars K. Jensen, team lead audience, said the original model didn’t quite fit their media organisation, so they revised it. “User needs aren’t inherently good or bad, but they can be good for looking at a number of things,” he said.

Berlingske has six needs:

  • Connect me.

  • Give me an edge.

  • Help me understand.

  • Inspire me.

  • Update me.

  • Entertain me.

By using user needs, they have learned:

  • Some needs and topic combinations are better than others when it comes to selling subscriptions.

  • The same goes for retention — and it’s not necessarily the same combos.

  • They are publishing more stories on those high-converting needs while increasing conversion per article — and producing fewer stories overall.

  • An increasing number of stories are being commissioned based on user needs.

  • It gives them a shared language, which is more about the users and less about the media company.

“This is where all the things start to come together for me,” Jensen said. “You can actually publish fewer articles and have a better performance.”

Jensen offered great advice for other considering user needs:

  • Start small and analyse first. Don’t try too much at once.

  • Get management’s buy-in and understand your colleagues.

  • Find a narrative and stick to it.

  • An example says more than a thousand words.

  • Create a shared language.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  • Think in structure. Constantly.

  • Change takes time, but standing still changes nothing. Hold on.

“You need to have a lot of patience,” he said. “These things take time. You are asking people to do things that are different every day.”

After implementing user needs, Jensen said editors-in-chief began to understand how user needs can be a central part of how they do journalism at Berlingske. He now sends a weekly e-mail on Thursday with analysis on user needs and paywall behaviour.

Case study: DPG Media, Netherlands

User needs for the head and for the heart 

DPG Media NV has had user needs since 2018.

“The most important thing is, it’s a conversation starter,” said Roy Wassink, insights manager at DPG Media NV. “It’s just the answer to the question: What’s the best way to tell this story? What’s the best way to make it valuable for our readers?

DPG Media also uses six needs, which they have divided into two categories: for the head and for the heart. It looks like this:

For the head:

  • Update me.

  • Give me context.

  • Help me.

For the heart:

  • Touch me.

  • Make me feel connected.

  • Surprise me.

An important overarching insight: Journalists were writing too many stories for the head and too few stories for the heart.

“We started very carefully on a small scale and we started manually, labeling the user needs. We used it as a conversation,” Wassink said. “We found that journalists were very positive about the user needs. They were less interested in the fancy data around it.”

After successful testing, DPG Media began building dashboards, Wassink said. The company also started training its own AI model to automate coding content based on user needs. It’s 81% accurate, he said, allowing articles to be automatically updated by user needs.

Building a common language around user needs is essential, Wassink said. He offered three practical applications for user needs:

  • Use user needs when pitching topics. Let each pitch consist of topic, audience needs, and angle.

  • Create a follow-up with the user needs. See which news generates a lot of reach and then think of a valuable follow-up in a different user need.

  • Determine together which needs you want to meet in an average edition. And use that as a guideline in your daily schedule.

The next application: Using AI and user needs to suggest headlines and intros.

“We have a model, we have a dashboard, we have a training programme, and now we’re in the next step — tooling,” he said.

One tool: “The Headline King,” a headline tool based on user needs. It offers 10 headlines in the correct user needs.

“Every user need has specific headlines,” he said. “Every journalist can use it as an inspirational tool.”

Wassink’s advice for those considering user needs:

  • Discuss the model; make it your own.

  • Score every article (using a LLM).

  • Integrate user needs in dashboarding.

  • Train (and retrain) editorial teams.

  • Provide practical applications for everyday work.

  • Integrate user needs in tooling.

What would you add to these takeaways? E-mail me:

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About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Amalie Nash, based in Denver, Colorado, United States, and lead for the INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative. Amalie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of bringing newsrooms into the business of news.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Transformation Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Amalie at or connect with her on INMA’s Slack channel with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Amalie Nash

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