In my first month leading the Newsroom Transformation Initiative, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people across the industry. In each one, I’ve asked some of the same questions: What metrics are your newsrooms monitoring, and what have you learned? How are those insights leading to changes in your coverage priorities?
The answers have varied. Some newsrooms focus on a fairly traditional set of metrics, including pageviews, subscription conversions, and time spent. Others have adopted a more sophisticated approach, looking at analytics in new ways and working to measure reader sentiment and emotion, along with the hard numbers.
Our challenge here isn’t a lack of data. In fact, it can be too much data. The key for newsrooms is to understand what metrics will lead to actionable insights.
Read on for an interesting example of that. And e-mail me at email@example.com to share your data story.
Is this coverage for casual readers or subscribers?
In newsrooms, we often talk about beats as “top-of-the-funnel” or “bottom-of-the-funnel” — not both.
In other words, the coverage typically is seen as leading to high pageviews or high subscription conversions. Such is the case for restaurant coverage in The Dallas Morning News, which brings in a large audience of casual readers but doesn’t lead to high conversion numbers, says CEO Grant Moise. The publication’s highest converting beats are real estate and development, baseball’s Texas Rangers, and retail news.
However, by adding another data point — subscriber pageviews — The Morning News landed on a meaningful insight. Although coverage of restaurants doesn’t bring in a high volume of new subscribers, it is the No. 1 read topic by current subscribers.
“We used to just track the path to conversions, but by looking at subscriber pageviews, we discovered that once someone subscribes, restaurant coverage is the No. 1 tool to bring them back,” Moise tells me.
Moise and Executive Editor Katrice Hardy review analytics together quarterly, looking at a series of overlaid metrics that can result in findings like this one.
So, what did they do with this knowledge?
Hardy says she added two more restaurant reporters, for a total of three. One writes food stories focused on Hispanic readers and region-wide interest in Hispanic culture, while the other is currently focused on profiles, overall trends, and enterprising pieces.
“We added more writers because bringing in more pageviews is key for us in our growing market of newcomers and increasing our market penetration,” Hardy says.
Hardy also shares metrics and insights with her staff, including in a weekly newsletter that highlights successful journalism and includes digital tips, takeaways, and insights, and in quarterly staff meeting metrics reviews.
“This year, we’re rolling out individual dashboards for each reporter,” Hardy says, noting the process will begin next month.
Do you have a similar data example or takeaway? I’d love to hear it: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The importance of building more direct traffic
INMA’s Newsroom Transformation Initiative held its first Webinar on January 24, covering a wide range of topics from news avoidance to user needs. We had an interesting conversation on direct traffic (you can read coverage of it here) — and the need for newsrooms to focus on bringing readers to their sites instead of relying on search and social for referrals.
Speaker Alexandra Beverfjord, executive vice president of Aller Media and CEO of Dagbladet, urged publishers to build a strategy for direct traffic instead of expending more resources on social media, given the significant declines in referrals from those sources.
Mariëlle Vermeer, chief data and social for Telegraaf/Mediahuis in the Netherlands, asked a question during the session that we weren’t able to get to but deserves further exploration. She pushed back on de-emphasising social media, given its appeal to target audiences, saying: “In my opinion, you have to grab everything.”
The Reuters Institute/Oxford University 2023 Digital News Report backs that up: The vast majority of those under 35 use social media, search engines, or news aggregators as their main way of getting news online.
However, the report also offers a stark view of search and social trends this year. Data from the analytics company Chartbeat, sourced for their report, shows aggregate Facebook traffic to news and media properties has declined by 48%, with traffic from X down 27% and Instagram by 10%. Publishers also expect a further substantial reduction in referral traffic as AI becomes integrated into search engines and other gateways.
In the Reuters Institute survey, 77% of publishers say they’ll work harder on building direct links with readers via platforms they can control — their Web sites, apps, newsletters, and more.
Media analyst Thomas Baekdal also took up this subject in his November newsletter, in which he echoed that publishers need to focus on building their own audiences.
“When we look specifically at direct traffic, we see that overall, there is a small but declining trend,” Baekdal wrote. “This, of course, is not good. Because of the problem we experience with social traffic, it has become vital for publishers to focus on building their own audiences ... meaning, getting people to come to you directly, and to have people use your journalism as a ‘destination’ rather than as a random click on Facebook.”
Do you have a direct traffic strategy? E-mail me: email@example.com.
And now, some practical advice on news avoidance
News avoidance is proving to be a hot topic for our initiative. The Reuters Report offered five things news media can do to respond to consistent news avoidance. Those include:
Responding to how news feels. We need to address the very real concern that many news avoiders find the news depressing and irrelevant.
Taking communities and identities seriously. Many who avoid the news are not well served or represented in the news.
Packaging and delivering content for consistent news avoiders. Many news avoiders find news too time-consuming, and our current content and formats are not meeting this need.
News media literacy and communicating the value of journalism. We’re not good at getting the point of our own work across.
(Re)affirm editorial values and defend professional standards. If journalism is a public good, it deserves a well-articulated coordinated public defense.
I’d love to know: How do you plan to address news avoidance in your 2024 content strategy? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark your calendars
Two upcoming INMA events — one virtual, one in-person — that shouldn’t be missed:
February 7: Join my colleague Sonali Verma for her first Webinar as the lead for the new INMA Generative AI Initiative. She and guests Jovan Protic, COO and AI Fellow of Ringier Axel Springer in Poland, and Lars Anderson, head of innovation of DPG Media in The Netherlands, will talk about “10 Smart Ways to Use GenAI in the News Business.” Register for the event.
February 26-March 1: Join me at INMA’s Media Subscriptions Summit in New York. This original programme, curated by our Readers First Initiative Lead Greg Piechota, delves into strategies for protecting and elevating the value of premium journalism and its missions. I’d love to meet you if you’ll be there, too. Register now.
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 email@example.com or connect with her on INMA’s Slack channel with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.