Berlingske Media, DPG Media show the value of a user needs framework

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Knowing why audiences want to consume news and understanding what they’re looking for are key to keeping them engaged. During this week’s Webinar, INMA members took a deep dive into user needs models and how they can enhance both processes and outcomes.

Leveraging a user needs model to improve journalism, presented by the INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative, offered members a look at two media companies sharing how a user needs model has transformed their operations, how they approached that implementation, and what other news companies can learn from them.

Amalie Nash, INMA’s Newsroom Transformation Initiative lead, explained what user needs are and why they’re critical to operations. While data can tell companies things like how many people are reading a story and which stories are converting them to subscribers, it doesn’t get into why they’re consuming it, she said.

“It’s hard to use pure analytics to predict what people want to understand,” she said. “They landed on a story; did they get what they wanted out of it?”

A user needs model, she said, “really digs into what the motivations and the needs are of the people who are consuming news content.”

Amalie Nash, INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative lead, explained the user needs framework.
Amalie Nash, INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative lead, explained the user needs framework.

User needs are typically bucketed into eight categories, Nash said:

  • Update me: Tell users what has happened.
  • Educate me: Provide more information about a specific topic or event.
  • Give me perspective: This includes analysis/opinion pieces.
  • Divert me: Lighter, more entertaining pieces.
  • Inspire me: Uplifting, feel-good pieces.
  • Help me: Action-driven journalism.
  • Connect me: Provide information about what’s happening in their community.
  • Engage me: Make users part of a conversation about a topic.  

By understanding the motivations and desires behind news consumption, Nash said news companies can adapt content strategies to better meet user needs: “Paying attention and adapting your content strategy based on those needs is a really important aspect of understanding what audiences want from you and how to keep them coming back on a regular basis.”

A poll of Webinar attendees showed the majority of had already implemented a user needs model but were still in the early stages. Both of the presenters — Lars K. Jensen, team lead audience for Berlingske Media in Denmark, and Roy Wassink, insights manager at DPG Media NV in The Netherlands — discussed how they have implemented user needs models in their respective organisations with a focus on understanding the motivations and needs of news consumers.

Rethinking user needs

Uunderstanding user needs is important because it not only gets audiences closer to the journalism they’re seeking, but is also a way to overcome challenges such as value propositions, user value, relevance, and retention, Jensen said. 

Such frameworks also create a shared language within the newsroom, he said: “So when you talk about an ‘update me’ story, ‘help me understand’ story, there is a common sense of what that actually means.”

In the user need model at Berlingske, Jensen said they are focusing on what users see on the free side of the paywall — a headline, image, and two or three paragraphs of text.

“That’s what we look at when we determine what [category] a user need a story belongs to,” he explained. “And we do that because it’s sort of based on conversion. In a sense, we also see choosing to read an article as a kind of conversion.”

Looking at stories this way is vital because it shows some needs and topics pair better than others as tools for selling subscriptions. Utilising user needs and using different data tools allows them to look at how a story performed in different ways, Jensen said:

“Did it perform on the paywall, conversion-wise, or did it perform with the subscribers? Was it sort of a retention story? I don’t want to put everything about journalism into business terms, but it’s great to have that part of the conversation as well.”

A user needs framework has allowed Berlingske Media to publish fewer stories but gain better results.
A user needs framework has allowed Berlingske Media to publish fewer stories but gain better results.

Now, thanks to the user needs model, Berlingske is seeing increased conversions per article based on user needs. Those stories are better performing, Jensen noted, and it has allowed the company to publish fewer stories but see better performance in the stories that are published.

Think big but start small

For companies eager to get started on a user needs framework, Jensen recommended starting small. Begin by doing an analysis and seeing how user needs fit into the newsroom. He cautioned that implementing such a framework requires cultural change, so it’s as important to understand the pain points and motivation of colleagues as well as those of users.

“When we did workshops, I made sure to talk to each and every editor to really understand that person,” Jensen said. “What motivates you, and how do you and your people work, and when are you succeeding, and so on. Because if the user need model doesn’t help them achieve that, well, we are in for a tough sell.”

The art of selling to newsrooms

As a journalist by origin who later became a trainer and data analyst, DPG’s Wassink understands how to frame the user needs model to make it more appealing to newsrooms. The company began working with a user needs framework five years ago, starting on a small scale with editorial teams at two of the company’s 16 titles.

“We started manually training the editors in recognising the user needs, [then] we just started discussing them,” he explained. “We saw the user need as a start of a good conversation about writing stories: How can you write a story in a different way, in a more valuable way?”

DPG Media divided the categories of user needs into two areas that further simplifies understanding of the model. Practical information and service journalism falls into the category of “stories of the head,” while stories that inspire and touch people are referred to as “stories of the heart.”

DPG Media categorises content as being either “stories of the head” or “stories of the heart.”
DPG Media categorises content as being either “stories of the head” or “stories of the heart.”

As the model began being used company wide, DPG created its own AI text analysis based on 7,500 of its articles that it manually labeled and then used to train the model. Now, every article automatically receives two scores — one for the main user need, and one as a percentage score to see if the writer touches on more than one user need in the article.

Those analytics are shared on a dashboard so the newsroom can see how they’re performing.

Analytics also lets editors ensure a balance between the number of stories of the head and stories of the heart published.

DPG Media is leveraging AI to help with its user needs framework.
DPG Media is leveraging AI to help with its user needs framework.

DPG Media has trained more than 50 teams from 16 titles and over 750 journalists in Belgium and the Netherlands. This has included journalists from weeklies, magazines, and new publications. The most important thing, Wassink has found, is building a common language and teaching them to recognise user needs and use them when writing stories.

This year, DPG Media introduced its own knowledge centre based on everything learned through analysis. It also has created its own AI assistant, ChatDPG, which has dozens of different tools that work with user needs.

Those tools include the Headline King, which can write headlines based on specific user needs, and the Brainstormbot, “which is basically a tool that helps you to brainstorm about news stories and follow-ups,” Wassink explained. The bot asks for a topic or an article, then responds with 12 possible angles for a news story.

About Paula Felps

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