With the launch of the INMA Newsroom Initiative last week, we recognise newsrooms are the beating heart of news publishing. With a global shift to subscriptions, reader revenue models, and more effective advertising, journalists and editors are at the center of their businesses and the relationship with readers.
I’ve spent the last month talking to newsroom leaders, who shared what they want from this initiative:
To better understand how journalism can contribute to the reader revenue trend.
Tools and best practice ideas from other publishers.
To learn how trust and quality can be core business values and be measured.
Management skills to effectively influence the rest of the business and newsrooms.
We’ll expand the initiative as your needs change and you tell us what works and what doesn’t.
The Newsroom Initiative is for everyone who works across publishing — from the journalists who create the content, the newsroom teams that lead them, the marketers, the advertising crews who sell the products, anyone in a journalism-led publishing business. We’ll deal with the business models, promoting trust and quality, and cultural change.
“This reader revenue journey begins and ends with culture change,” says Espen Egil Hansen, founder of media consultancy Fyrr and international advisor at JP/Politikens in Denmark, whose own master class for INMA last year laid the foundation for the Newsroom Initiative.
Three themes emerged from the initial ideas from the INMA board and interviews with news executives, academics, and publisher leaders:
Business models for journalism: Exploring drivers of reader-revenue models, advertising, and user-centric thinking in journalism and news products.
Creating high-value journalism: How to turn journalistic principles of quality and trust into core business values that create loyalty and generate revenue.
Impact and influence: How to get beyond the power struggle and influence strategy across your publishing businesses and take the newsroom with you.
There’s a Newsroom Initiative newsletter (which you’re reading now), a Newsroom Initiative site and blog, and a dedicated Newsroom Initiative Slack channel. Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Please tell us what you think you need and give us feedback.
Here’s how INMA chairman Damian Eales described the board’s motivation in launching the Newsroom Initiative: “We should never forget that at our core, we are an editorial-driven business, led by people not algorithms, connected to their communities.”
Three things to think about:
“Spending less time on news is bad for publishers but good for society”: Less breaking news might mean more understanding and greater trust, according to thisinteresting take from Digiday Editor-in-Chief Brian Morrissey’s SubstackThe Rebooting
“Agile Doesn’t Work Without Psychological Safety” is a worthwhile piece in the Harvard Business Review by Timothy R. Clark. As a big advocate of what I think of as “agile journalism,” I think he’s right to look at the question of trust.
The Washington Post put its “Democracy Dies in Darkness” motto into action with a new Democracy Desk.Described in this NPR piece, it fits with other projects to promote democratic accountability and local journalism.
Focus #1: Business models driving journalism today
One of the three critical areas we’ve decided to focus on in the Newsroom Initiative and next month’s launch master class is to go deep on contemporary publishing business models: from direct reader revenue through subscriptions to better-targeted advertising.
“Subscription puts the newsroom back in the centre of the news organisation,” was how Gerold Riedmann, editor-in-chief at Vorarlberger Nachrichten and managing director at Russmedia in Austria, put it when I interviewed him about the Newsroom Initiative.
But the Newsroom Initiative isn’t just for journalists. It should be valuable to everyone who works across publishing — from those who create the content, those who plan it, the marketers who promote it, and the advertising teams who support it.
Business models for journalism will explore drivers of reader-revenue models, advertising, and user-centric thinking in journalism and news products.
In the launch master class on March 8, you’ll hear from industry veterans and innovative newcomers who are rethinking the relationship with readers and the power balance between newsrooms and the rest of the news publishing business.
It’s all about the focus on user needs and analysing how readers engage with content. The Newsroom Initiative will share the tools and best practices that can help make your teams more effective, efficient, and create compelling journalism products that people are prepared to pay for through subscription or membership or indirectly with their time.
We will look at subscription models, membership models, advertising models, and the mixes of those that require newsrooms to respond with different content recipes.
“What the journalist thinks is important when you want the audience to increase their trust,” says Dagbladet CEO and Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Beverfjord. (And that will be an excellent segue to our master class, which is all about trust and quality).
- “Sleepers” are the biggest risk to your subscription business: Over on the INMA Reader Revenue blog, Greg Piechota called out a big risk — and opportunity — that may be hiding in your analytics about who is coming to your site and how often.
- “Dean Baquet never wanted to be an editor” by Clare Malone in The New Yorker offers an insight into the thinking of the current and potentially soon outgoing editor of the New York Times at a time of ethical and business upheaval.
Focus #2: Creating high-value journalism
Quality content that meets audience needs is at the center of how the modern newsroom contributes to the success of publishing models increasingly geared to reader revenue. That’s great news for journalists, but it demands ways to assess, promote, and measure quality.
Creating high-value journalism is the second critical focus at the launch of the INMA Newsroom Initiative and is a big part of the March master class. At its core, the question of what constitutes quality is a shared understanding between the journalist and the reader. Trust is central to that bargain and to the commitment to subscribe or sign up as a member.
“Trust is a fundamental issue to legitimacy of journalism, brand positioning of news outlets (their differentiation), and a condition for people to pay,” says Greg Piechota, who has long headed INMA’s Readers First Initiative.
The Newsroom Initiative and the master class will look at ways newsrooms have embraced the concept of trust and in some cases how to measure quality — or find proxies for it.
Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at The Guardian, led a major project built on content analysis from the proprietary Ophan database to reduce production of less valuable content and promote best practices to generate more of what readers valued. That also turned out to be better journalism that was more rewarding for the newsroom to produce.
Some of it involves the basics, he says: “Ask yourself if right now your organisation has a really clear sense of what it is covering across a week, month, or year? If not, you probably should. If you think you're publishing too much, ask yourself why. The metrics you use to judge this will shift radically according to what the problem is (promotion? production resource? quality?).”
Chris is due to speak in the second session of the March master class.
Some publishers, such as Sinead Boucher of Stuff in New Zealand, are focusing on trust as a central business as well as editorial proposition. She wants Stuff to become New Zealand’s most trusted company, not just an editorial operation. Stuff also launched a charter to set out its stall.
Sally Lehrman, chief executive officer of The Trust Project, is due to speak in the Newsroom Initiative master class and has the data points from worldwide surveys of news consumers to show how much relatively simple acts and transparency can add to trust in news.
Trust is good business.
The Trust in News Project from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is among the most comprehensive and international analyses of how publishers and journalists are dealing with how to regain or reinforce the trust of their users. “Most (consumers surveyed by the RISJ project) had low trust in information they saw on platforms, but judgement of individual news outlets often depended on how strongly people already felt toward the brands they encountered there.”
Sally Lehrman, CEO of The Trust Project, wrote a report, “How News Brands are Rebuilding Trust,” for INMA last year on the topic.
“How can you judge the quality of a news outlet? Look at how politically diverse its audience is,” by Joshua Benton at NiemanLab reports on how algorithms may help users find more politically diverse sources of information.
Focus #3: Impact and influence
The third focus in the INMA Newsroom Initiative is on culture. We’re calling it Impact and Influence. It’s about how to communicate your journalistic motivations, lead other like-minded people, and get beyond the power struggle between “the business and the newsroom.”
Some publishers are a long way down that path, others are starting out, and many encounter tension in the church vs. state divide that is historically a principle of U.S. journalism. Trust, again, is central to this, but it is mostly about trust within publishers — top to bottom and across the organisation where developments like product thinking demand trust and a lack of hierarchy.
“I have heard business people complaining for years about their editor who doesn’t get it. It’s not true anymore. It’s all about journalism, about engaging readers,” says Gerold Riedmann, editor-in-chief at Vorarlberger Nachrichten and managing director at Russmedia in Austria.
The Newsroom Initiative is not just for newsroom leaders and journalists. This section in particular would be valuable for human resources people and if you work in product — anywhere you are driving to promote change, push business goals, and get teams aligned.
“This reader revenue journey begins and ends with culture change,” said Espen Egil Hansen, founder of media consultancy Fyrr and International Advisor at JP/Politikens in Denmark, whose own master class for INMA last year laid the foundation for the Newsroom Initiative. Espen is also due to take part in the March master classes.
- Life’s Work: An Interview with Martin Baron in the Harvard Business Review is a valedictory interview in which he says something that chimed with me, putting fairness at the center of what The Washington Post did: “I always try to look at things from the perspective of the people we cover and assess whether we’re doing a fair job. Fairness also means fairness to the public: telling them what’s really going on.” And: “I encourage people to be more focused on what they don’t know than on what they do know or think they know.”
Dates for the diary
The Newsroom Initiative’s first master class for 2022, Putting Newsrooms into Business, starts on March 8. Have you registered?
Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) on Twitter is The Guardian’s correspondent in Kiev, and is worth following on the Ukraine crisis and for his terrific series of memes on the ridiculous Putin tables to keep COVID away.
Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) is one of the most thoughtful commentators on the intersection of technology and media and everything in between. His newsletter is a must-read and his Twitter feed pricks the balloons floated by others.
Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don’t like in this launch newsletter, please.
“I often focus on what works badly,” is how Globe & Mail editor-in-chief and Newsroom Initiative master class guest speaker David Walmsley describes how he responds to data.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.
This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.