Welcome to the latest INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter.
This week features the latest on Verity — a super-clever News Corp Australia tool that gives newsrooms signals on what subscribers and potential subscribers really want, which journalists can use to tune their headlines and writing to land more effectively with readers.
It’s one of several analytical packages publishers and vendors are coming up with both inside and outside content management systems to combine data on user behaviour, engagement, and propensity to subscribe that can help journalists improve their success rate.
There’s also my recommended follow and a few must-reads that struck me this week.
Verity gives the newsroom clues to improve performance
News Corp Australia has released a new version of its award-winning Verity analytics tool that exposes its newsrooms to the performance of stories —and their propensity to generate subscriptions — firmly embedding a data-influenced strategy in news and story selection.
Verity appears to be driving impressive results and evidently influencing judgments in newsrooms in favour of content that drives engagement and converts readers to subscribers or increases use by existing subscribers and therefore help retention. The original version of Verity won a 2019 INMA campaign award based on major growth in subscriptions.
What the tool does
The tool — which integrates multiple data sources and now presents them in pages better designed for specific tasks from journalists, to editors, to subscriptions, and sales — is also exposing new audience cohorts that might not otherwise have been noticed, according to Verity champion, News Corp Australia’s Subscriptions Director Brendan Collogan.
“The new version is much more intuitive and directive on the metrics that matter,” Collogan told me in an interview. “The home screen will be different if you’re an editor or a digital specialist or a journalist. And it will guide you through a few things. Firstly, the performance and readership of every story that you’ve written. But also much stronger capabilities around predictive analysis.”
What does that mean?
“We have a predictive capability that allows our reporters to test various headlines and then it will return the likelihood of that story driving a subscription,” he said.
How the tool affects company goals
News Corp Australia has been on a subscription drive, and finding the journalism that converts users to subscribers and resonates with paying audiences has been critical. Before it introduced Verity in 2018, about 21% of subscriptions were driven directly from journalism. That’s risen to about 70% and is, of course, a far more economical source than marketing.
“It’s less than a 10th of the price [of marketing or advertising]. So, not only has it accelerated growth and we’re acquiring customers through the best possible channel — the core product — but we’ve shifted our mix of acquisitions and significantly lowered the cost of growth.”
That, he reckons, has had a big impact on the connection newsrooms have to the business their content is driving: “It’s been transformative in the mindset for newsrooms in terms of providing numeric information around the performance of journalism.”
Real newsroom applications
News Corp Australia Head of Audience Development Soraiya Fuda explained a few ways in which the newsrooms were using Verity to better serve audiences and create better content.
“With Verity, the audience is telling us which rounds [reporting beats] and types of journalism that they want to read,” she said. “We use it as a lever to maybe follow up on stories … . We almost saw a return like for like page visits and acquisition.”
Verity exposes the behaviour and loyalty of subscribers but also what Fuda calls “breach views,” which hit the paywall barrier, giving an opportunity to convert new readers to subscribers.
As a former reporter herself, Fuda believes Verity is helping her teams produce better journalism, adding: “If I had this tool at my disposal when I was a reporter, I honestly think that I would have been a better reporter because of it.”
At the center of the way Verity works across the business is an agreed metric, the C-Score, that’s especially relevant in the newsrooms where the C-Score is a blend of around 60% engagement and 40% conversion — meaning journalists are getting signals about what matters to them (readership) and what matters to the business (subscriptions).
“We know that active days and depth of engagement are the most strongly correlated behaviours or measures of retention,” Collogan said. “So we focus newsrooms on the things they can control, which is bringing our subscribers back to our journalism more often and for longer in driving, or delivering a mix of content that is going to be most appealing to our audience.”
Journalists can use Verity to get suggestions on their current work based on the performance of their past work to help write the optimal headline or maximise its search potential. Of course, there are content management systems that offer similar signals — my mind immediately goes to Rebel Mouse from the people who built BuzzFeed — but Verity is highly tuned to News Corp objectives. It seems to do it in a way that appeals to the motivations of journalists.
“It’s a newsroom assistant,” Collagen said. “Verity is blending the art and talents of our journalists and editors with the science informing decisions, not replacing them.”
Acceptance by journalists
He is cognizant of the need to get journalists to accept Verity and is eloquent about the idea that the tool brings the journalist closer to their readers — a critical issue when seeking the support of newsrooms to back projects and data that connect them to business goals.
Some insights have emerged, including a focus on geographically local audiences and ways to serve them, as well as new cohorts of readers who consume content differently and at different times. Verity has also signaled a desire for more news-you-can-use on the cost of living, for example.
Fuda sees journalists embrace Verity to service audiences better and get their stories read: “If there’s one take-home message there, it’s that it changes the way we think and we write, and I think that’s a pretty unique tool to have.”
Decisions on what not to do are also influenced by Verity, which provides a more nuanced view of engagement, retention, and conversion than arbitrary pageviews.
“Increasingly, you need to contemplate the effort of not just writing a story, but ensuring that that story finds its audience,” Collogan said.
Critical to the success — which appears to be real — of Verity in the newsroom has been working with journalists from the start. There’s a team who are part of a so-called centre of excellence around content-led growth with people embedded in newsrooms.
“They are the bridge between Verity and editorial decision-making,” Collogan said.
He showed me a live demonstration. It was interesting to see stories that appeared to have triggered sign-ups and those that had high engagement scores but low subscriptions. It does seem critical to think of it as a funnel and a set of options, not a singular drive to distort journalism towards subscription and retention rather than doing the work of reporting.
“What it does is it allows you to differentiate between what are the stories we need to write that we know will attract a new audience and what are the stories we need to write that we know will engage an existing reader,” Collogan said.
The News Movement breaks into the American market
The News Movement, the social media-first publisher founded by former Dow Jones supremo William Lewis and former BBC news executive Kamal Ahmed, hired a U.S. editor to drive its planned launch of an American operation in October.
Jessica Coen joined as its U.S. executive editor, having had senior roles at Morning Brew, Mashable, Vocativ, Jezebel, Vanity Fair, and New York Magazine.
“Young audiences are consuming the news differently, and it’s important for us to meet them where they are by publishing content that resonates with them. I’m looking forward to joining The News Movement’s newsroom, building a team of fresh, talented reporters, and expanding our U.S. audience, especially in the run-up to the mid-terms and presidential elections,” Coen said in a statement from The News Movement.
Others on the U.S. team include Kimberly Avalos from NowThis, John D'Amico from Mashable, and Jennings Brown, a producer, podcaster, and former Esquire Magazine Editor.
Ahmed, whom I interviewed for INMA a couple of months ago, said Coen would help drive the strategy of social-first publishing for a new generation of young news consumers: “As we develop our newsrooms in London and New York, we are dedicated to using the latest storytelling techniques to help the next generation of audiences navigate the world.”
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) @occrp has broken some of the most important corruption and money laundering stories of recent years. Based mostly in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the OCCRP has huge investigative reporting skills, data visualisation chops, and great expertise in newsroom and reporter security.
- The Dubious Wisdom of “Smart Brevity” is a clever and amusing takedown by Clare Malone in The New Yorker of the very proposition to which I devoted not one but two blog posts on INMA: the concept of Smart Brevity espoused by the founders of Axios.
- “This isn’t an acceptable part of the job”: How journalists and publishers can tackle online abuse is an interview with Reach PLC’s new dedicated online safety editor, Rebecca Whittington, whose appointment is a recognition of the abuse many journalists face online and the responsibility of newsroom employers to do something to help staff.
- Platforms under pressure to pay for news is an analysis of pressure in New Zealand, especially from newspapers, for the government to intervene and support their demands that Google and Facebook should pay for content from publishers on their platforms.
Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don’t like in this newsletter, please. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also plan a Slack group. Interested?
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.