Shouldn’t news story formats mirror reader preferences?

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


Join me for a conversation tomorrow on metrics for newsrooms. 

I’ve received more than 50 e-mails from INMA members about the Newsroom Transformation Initiative (thank you!) and one theme has been consistent: We’re all talking about metrics in our newsrooms. What metrics matter. What we should be measuring. How we’re getting more sophisticated in our use of data. And where we need to go next.

This led to an idea: Let’s gather for a broader conversation about our analytics and content strategy. This isn’t a Webinar where you’ll hear case studies and ask questions. Instead, it’s whatever you make of it — no programming, just a chance to gather, swap examples, and learn from each other.

I hope you’ll join me for this conversation on Wednesday, February 14, at 10 a.m. New York Time. Register here. Please come with your successes, challenges, and ideas for ensuring the metrics we’re monitoring can get us to the insights we’re seeking.

E-mail me at if you have an example to share now.

Looking forward to it, Amalie

It’s time to think more seriously about story formats 

Why is so much of the journalism we produce still written in a traditional style when research has shown readers prefer more digestible, scannable content?

That’s a question we need to be asking ourselves more. We need our stories to be relevant, readable, and respectful of our readers’ preferences and time. Too often, we default to a story that is a series of paragraphs instead of any number of other ways to present the information — such as lists, takeaways, smaller sections with subheads, Q&As, FAQs, timelines, and more.

Consider this:  

  • The average reading speed for adults is around 200 to 250 words per minute.

  • The typical length of a news story is 300 to 800 words.

  • Readers typically spent one to five minutes reading a news article online.

We’re writing a lot of words that most people aren’t reading. And there’s evidence that readers are willing to spend more time with formats they find easier to navigate. 

A few takeaways from an Axios piece on the subject:

  • Streaming and smartphones have made it easier to turn big stories into more digestible formats.

  • Newsrooms are pivoting away from large chunks of text online because the format doesn’t suit readers’ attention spans on mobile phones.

  • Bigger projects are now being published with accompanying audio, video, or newsletters. Long-form journalism still has its place, but it’s being packaged differently.

At Newsday in the United States, the editorial team has goals and expectations on alternative storytelling. It’s been in Newsday’s DNA for years, and three years ago, Publisher Debby Krenek says it became more of a focus with specific goals that have increased each year.

“We started making specific goals to go along with all the training we were providing,” Krenek says. “The goals have increased every year because our newsroom sees how our audience is engaged with these formats, and their collaborative work always surpasses the goal.”

Their toolkit includes everything from need-to-know boxes to charts to data to multimedia elements. A recent example: Newsday published a story on Long Island’s 139 missing persons cases, which generated more than 50 paths to conversion. A searchable database, published as a standalone piece, got 20 more.

Journalists at Newsday take a six-week internal training course on alternative storytelling, where they learn best practices, templates for different formats, and the reasons for doing it.

“They’re on board and understand the engagement they get from alternative storytelling,” Managing Editor Rochell Sleets says. “We talk about it in training, in our budget meetings, with our topic teams. It’s part of the conversation, which makes it part of the culture.”

Would love to hear from you if your newsroom has focused on different formats and storytelling tools. E-mail me

Q&A with the Toronto Star’s new head of audience  

Robin Honderich has been with the Toronto Star for more than 10 years, working in various newsroom content strategy and data roles. He’s now taking over as the head of audience development, where he’s the conduit between the newsrooms, product, and consumer marketing to develop growth strategies. 

We recently spoke, and I wanted to share some excerpts from that conversation. 

Q: What’s the goal of your new role? Is it something you pitched yourself? 

A: Yes, I’ve been pitching this for some time. Too often we’re in our silos and don’t work effectively as a result. Take SEO. The newsroom may be doing SEO best practices, but it will be useless if your tech stack isn’t good. And your tech stack can be good, but it won’t matter if the newsroom isn’t paying attention to SEO. It felt fragmented, and the goal of this is to bring it all together.

Q: What are the metrics your newsroom is looking at? Are all the journalists bought into metrics? 

A: Everyone has access to, and we look at subscription segments, pageviews, conversions, last post touched before conversion, time spent, that sort of thing. It took a while to get the culture to where it is now, and there is still work to do, but it’s something we’ve been at for a long time now.

I’ve had a lot of support from senior management over time, and we’ve put in a lot of time and effort to show that we’re there to help and are not using the numbers to punish or tell editors or reporters they don’t know what they’re doing.

We’re always looking for actionable takeaways. And our best journalism is often confirmed by the numbers — our data regularly backs up good editorial instincts. 

Q: What will you be focusing on next? Where do you hope to take this role?

A: We have a steering committee and met last week. We all agreed we have too many sources of truth and need to get back to one. Before, people could take the same data, go to their corners, and come back with their own versions of what it means. It’s not the sexiest work, but it’s important. 

As a result of Canada’s Online News Act, which requires tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online, Torstar’s smaller publications saw a significant drop in social referrals, Honderich said. 

In some cases, they had up to 20% of their traffic from Facebook, while the Star was closer to 4%. Like other publishers, the Star is concerned about AI’s potential to further decrease referrals, as well. Honderich’s team is now focused on strategies for building more direct traffic from readers. 

Among their tactics and ideas:

  • Doubling down on newsletters to build habit.

  • Using push alerts to re-engage low-usage users.

  • Commenting, which requires registration. 

“Our business knows everything there is to know about print distribution. We’ve been doing it for 100 years and are very good at being as efficient as possible,” Honderich said. “Digital distribution is not yet as well understood or ironed out. We need a more cohesive, organised strategy for the digital distribution of our content.”

What do you think? Does your organisation have a role like this? E-mail me:

Interesting tidbit: Article readership peaks within 3 days

It’s no surprise that the shelf life for an article is short. But how short? 

According to a report published by PR analytics and insights platform Memo, the vast majority of an article’s readership typically occurs on the day of publication or the day after — before quickly dropping off after day three. For topical news, readership was even more concentrated within the first three days at 86%.

What can you do to extend the life of your stories? Thinking about an evergreen strategy for timeless content on items of continuous interest in your markets. And work to move topical stories forward.

Mark your calendars

Upcoming INMA events that shouldn’t be missed:

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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