INMA Oslo study tour focuses on digital-, reader-first newsroom culture

By Newsplexer Projects

Newsplexer Projects

USA

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Scandinavian publishers are on the bleeding edge of reader revenue. On the first leg of a two-city study tour as part of INMA’s Media Subscriptions Week 2.0, 40 participants from 17 countries visited publishers across Oslo in a search for new ideas in the nuances of triggers, pricing, and battling churn.

Visits to media houses across the city — including VG, Aftenposten, Amedia, NHST Media Group, and Aller Media — continued a significant common theme: the importance of newsrooms owning a digital- and reader-first culture.

A total of 40 study tour participants started the three-day, two-city tour in Oslo, then will continue to Stockholm.
A total of 40 study tour participants started the three-day, two-city tour in Oslo, then will continue to Stockholm.

Aftenposten changed its business model seven years ago toward subscriptions. The culture around subscriptions puts the brand’s journalism at its core, and, with that, the reader. At a weekly 9:30 a.m. meeting, newsroom staff gathers to discuss content published over the weekend. While pointing out what was great about each story, the team also gives specific examples of how it could be even better.

Espen Egil Hansen, Aftenposten’s editor-in-chief and CEO, said with its journalism at the heart of the discussion, focusing on areas for improvement will improve performance overall.

“I think that now, maybe for the first time ever, journalism is now the product,” Hansen said.

At VG, the success of a documentary has driven subscribers to its documentary product two years after its launch. Now the company has more than 400 movies in its library and works to embed them into relevant content elsewhere on their Web site.

“Great content never goes out of date,” said Anne Julie Saue, head of innovation and growth at VG, whose documentary offering has driven more than 12,000 sales, with 12% of those subscribers being first-time VG customers. Live sports is another area of success for VG.

The same is true at Amedia. Sports Director Helge Birkelund said covering live sports is part of the company’s DNA. Amedia streams an average of 78 games on any given Sunday.

“We know that hyperlocal journalism sells, so the next thing for us is to deliver the right content,” he said.

Delivering the right content to the right user requires data-driven audience knowledge. User fingerprinting helps VG target audience segments. The company is working toward an enhanced user experience to show new and varied products on VG’s home page and considering a premium experience for its VG+ members. The foundation of the company’s efforts to improve engagement is a combination of user testing and data.

Study tour participants attend a morning editorial meeting of Aftenposten, a daily newspaper owned by Schibsted.
Study tour participants attend a morning editorial meeting of Aftenposten, a daily newspaper owned by Schibsted.

Personalisation is imperative for Aftenposten, said Eirik Winsnes, development editor for the company.

“People are so different in terms of how often they visit that it doesn’t make sense to show all the same stories to all the same people all the time,” Winsnes said.

It is also important to show readers what they need to see, not just what they want to see, Winsnes said. There must be a balance on the front page that considers both reader frequency and preferences while simultaneously avoiding the creation of filter bubbles.

For Ingeborg Volan, editor of reader engagement at NHST’s Dagens Næringsliv (DN), this means bringing the reader’s perspective into the newsroom. Her team aims to analyse and identify its audience segments, but those statistics are inherently limited.

“Your stats only tell you about the content you already produce and the audience you already have,” she said.

At Amedia, data is not only informing editorial decisions around the types of content that news media companies should be creating, but giving insights into how the stories should be written to best capture audience attention.

Amedia was one of five Oslo stops on the study tour.
Amedia was one of five Oslo stops on the study tour.

Stine Holberg Dahl, development editor at Amedia, said her goals are to ensure subscriber and consumption growth. Content drives both, she said, adding that a company must be driven by the question, “How many paid subscribers read an article every day?”

Editorial analysis revealed the company was producing a lot of the least-read content on the Web site, and not producing enough of the most-read content. Evaluating this data clues journalists in to what readers want and encourages them to write more stories that readers want to read. Being data-driven is a super power that gives special insight into reader needs, Stine said.

“I think as a journalist and an editor, it’s really difficult to argue with what the reader has to say,” Dahl said.

Editorial analysis on its politics coverage outlined a clear interest in impact- and people-focused stories. Amedia doubled its politics readership in two years by acting on this feedback: “We kind of saved politics,” Stine said.

Study tour participants tour Nattavisen newsroom, an online-only daily newspaper owned by Amedia.
Study tour participants tour Nattavisen newsroom, an online-only daily newspaper owned by Amedia.

Data can demonstrate the impact journalism has on readers, which can be a powerful tool for engaging journalists on what happens after a story is published online. This can be a challenge in newsrooms still influenced by traditional print habits.

“People are getting a lot more ownership to the digital product,” Dahl said.

NHST is also preparing its business for a future without its print editions, Julie Lundgren, editor of product and innovation at DN, told study tour attendees. To make that strategic vision happen, the company has outlined five “must win” battles centered on its audience and internal culture:

  1. Create a workplace for the future.
  2. Make quality journalism to drive engagement.
  3. Innovate to create products and services that people love.
  4. Think mobile-first.
  5. Win more young subscribers.

Lundgren said some of these goals may be old compared to progress at other media companies, but there is a benefit to learning from others’ mistakes. Though they have a small team, this may actually work in their favour.

“That’s a good thing because we can move fast when we decide where we want to go,” Lundgren said.

While all the companies seem to be in different phases of their reader revenue journey, they all shared the same uniting factor: emphasis on the customer through great journalism.

Putting resources into exclusive, quality content is key, said Jane Throndsen, editor/head of paid content at VG: “We need the users to love us and never leave us.”

The study tour continues in Stockholm through Wednesday.

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