New INMA report offers practical advice for newsroom transformation

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


ICYMI, my first report for INMA’s Newsroom Transformation Initiative was just released, offering practical advice for getting newsrooms closer to the business of news.

In researching and reporting the topics for this publication — Strategies for Continuously Transforming Your Newsroom — I had an opportunity to talk to media executives from many companies, to dig into case studies of newsrooms that are innovating and driving growth, and to deep-dive into insightful research.

I learned a lot in writing this report, and I hope you’ll learn from it, as well. One of the best things about our INMA community is learning from each other.

In this edition of the newsletter, I’ll offer some excerpts from the report. Please spend some time with it and let me know what you think and what I should focus on next. 

Reach me anytime:


4 types of journalist relationships with data  

Louise Kjærgaard, a Danish lecturer from the University of Southern Denmark, recently authored “An investigation into how user data affect journalists’ motivation — in the light of self-determination theory,” a 78-page thesis on data use in newsrooms.

I had an opportunity to speak to her for the report, and it was a fascinating conversation on how journalists view data and how leadership can more effectively communicate about the use of metrics.

Kjærgaard conducted qualitative interviews at multiple media companies for her research, concluding that journalists fall into four distinct types based on their motivation and their relationships to Web metrics:

  1. The distanced pragmatist: “I hold data at arm’s length and do journalism I can vouch for myself.”

  2. The worrier: “I’m concerned because data controls at the expense of journalistic quality. I am uncomfortable with management’s handling of data.”

  3. The pragmatist: “I care about getting good numbers and think journalism should meet the user.”

  4. The enthusiast: “Data is a brilliant tool, and I want even more. It makes journalism better and helps the media set the right priorities.”

“User data has changed the criteria in journalism,” Kjærgaard said. “It has led to a change in the professional identity of many journalists. Decisions are no longer being made on gut feeling — now we’re relying on data.”

Kjærgaard’s research found newsrooms with more journalists in the “enthusiast” category have one thing in common: Leadership is effective at communicating about data and involving journalists in the process.

She proposed five recommendations for media organisations to bolster journalists’ motivation around data use:

1. Always turn data into meaning:

  • Feedback should have learning points and be actionable.

  • Create learning through experiments, hypotheses, and personal feedback.

  • Involve journalists in how data is interpreted.

2. Manage by journalistic values, not by data:

  • Data targets should reflect the values of the media organisation.
  • Data measurements must be nuanced.
  • Involve journalists in what needs to be measured.

3. Discourage competition:

  • Consider setting organisation-wide goals but not individual goals.
  • Avoid competition and rewards that shift focus from task to competition.

4. Avoid insecurity:

  • Be transparent in explaining how data is used to assess individuals.
  • Ensure data is interpreted in context so journalists don’t feel judged on the wrong basis.
  • Create an open conversation that allows for critical feedback and questions about how data is used.

How have you helped to improve your journalists’ relationships with data? E-mail me

Owning your audience is becoming more urgent 

The models that fueled news publisher growth for 20 years are changing.

Social has become a competitor instead of a referral source. Search is likely to change rapidly due to generative AI. Cookie depreciation is reducing the value of a pageview.

Amid that volatility, news organisations recognise the urgent need to own their audiences. That means building more direct and habitual relationships with readers instead of transactional ones that come via search and social platforms.

So what should we do?

Josh Awtry, senior vice president of audience development with Newsweek and the former vice president of content strategy analysis for Gannett | USA Today Network, delved into the business case for engagement and how to build a healthy funnel with first-party data during a recent conversation I hosted. 

Do you have traffic or audience?

There’s a difference, Awtry explained: Traffic can pay the bills, but the bucket is infinitely leaky. Engaging and connecting with an audience ensures your site becomes a place people actively go to — not just a place where they wind up.

“A site may say, ‘We have a great audience,’ when what they really mean is that they have a lot of traffic,” Awtry said. “Audience is intentional. This is about talking about building an audience.”

According to Awtry, building a direct pipeline to your audience brings these four benefits:

  1. Increases pageviews per visit. 

  2. Increases return frequency. 

  3. Creates a strong subscriber pipeline.

  4. Builds robust first-party data.

Josh Awtry recommends media companies identify the stages in their audience funnel and target tactics for each stage.
Josh Awtry recommends media companies identify the stages in their audience funnel and target tactics for each stage.

Awtry offered some pragmatic advice for publishers. His takes:

  • Open conversation, but close the feedback loop: Site comments have fallen out of vogue over the years. But as social media wobbles, this offers a way to reclaim some platform time. 

  • It’s past time to be bullish on newsletters: Hosted newsletters offer a way to connect with your readers in ways that highlight personalities and offer opportunities for connection.

  • Engage through quizzes and polls: With the need for first-party data growing, online interactives are making a return. Find a tool and approach that incentivises registration to see full results or get more detail.

  • Converse where your digital readers are: You likely have a local Subreddit. If not, consider NextDoor or even Facebook Groups. Examine your goals before diving in (pageviews or brand building).

  • Connect your stars via premium texts: If you have the right personalities, you’d be shocked at reader willingness to subscribe to a “group text” experience with sports columnists or public faces.

And if you remember just one thing, he said: “Don’t let a pageview be an end goal. Each view is an opportunity to connect with readers. What action do you want them to take next?”

Have you had success building direct audience? I’d love to hear about it. 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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