On Saturday, November 9, Germany celebrated the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. That wall often represents the separation in media companies of functional territories of the newsroom and the business side.

There are still good reasons to keep that wall intact: A journalist should always follow his or her own journalistic agenda and not be involved with commercial interests. But there are a couple of spots along that wall where there are no longer checkpoints and free zones of collaboration are needed.

The readers team breaks down the walls between different parts of the company.
The readers team breaks down the walls between different parts of the company.

Until a couple of years ago, my job at De Standaard mainly consisted of putting up as many sales and marketing campaigns as the working budget allowed. These campaigns were meant to stimulate the circulation of Saturday’s newspaper, promote the temporary discounts of a subscription, and mount online competitions to attract as many visitors as possible and convert them into registered users.

Are these tactics gone? Is this kind of marketing a thing of the past? No. But I sense more energy is going into the fundamentals of our business:

  • Creating a product displaying our journalism in an excellent way.
  • Offering a great user experience.
  • Stimulating the user to engage more with our news brand.

Call it product development and reader engagement. Those two principles are the responsibility of almost everybody in the organisation on both sides of the wall.

An editor manages content marketing tools like homepage management, newsletters, and posts on social media. A digital manager develops news products and manages the portfolio. An editor-in-chief offers new insights into our journalism. And a marketer finds ways to convince new and existing customers to step in.

We are not going to be successful if we achieve these goals separately from each other.

I read about transformations in different news organisations. At De Standaard, we’re setting up a new “readers team.” It’s a blend of marketers, the digital manager, and project editors. Each member of the team shares the same objectives and collaborates on different projects. Each one maintains his or her expertise.

There’s an editorial developer for the design of news products and a marketer for reader engagement and optimisation of the paywall. There’s a strategist that finds the right use of data in the newsroom and an editor to create the right online environment for investigative projects. We have a communication manager that forms a solid reader community.

We are putting into play what Anita Zielina, our excellent host at this year’s INMA Media Innovation Week, means by “digital transformation in news organisations.” She says: “We need to re-invent ourselves, both in the newsroom and on the product side. We need to become more innovative and collaborate on how we engage with our readers. We also have to find new ways in how we engage with each other in the news organisation.”

Let the readers team be a first step in that collaboration.