Owning your news audience is becoming more urgent

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


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?

4 benefits of owning your audience

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.

Actions and advice to make it happen

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?”

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About Amalie Nash

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