TED talks at Australian Financial Review guide newsroom content plans

By Fiona Buffini

The Australian Financial Review

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


For the last couple of months, editors at The Australian Financial Review have been getting to know TED to better serve our audience.

The relationship started off slowly, but once we convinced the newsroom that TED had no intention of making us look bad — and could actually help us find more time for stories that mattered — things improved. TED inspired conversations that were frank, surprising, and revealing.

TED, or the Topic Editor Dashboard, is a newsroom tool that makes it easy for reporters and editors to see what stories are engaging readers well and which ones are not.

The new content dashboard used at The Australian Financial Review offers valuable information that aids the newsroom in strategic content decision-making.
The new content dashboard used at The Australian Financial Review offers valuable information that aids the newsroom in strategic content decision-making.

The Financial Review prides itself on being the “daily habit of successful people” — a much-loved tagline that describes the essence of the brand. We’re a digital subscription business, where most revenue now comes from readers rather than advertisers. And, a few months before TED was introduced to the newsroom, we had just come off a pandemic-driven surge in new subscriptions.

So, it was confronting to learn, as lockdowns started to lift, that of the 100 pieces of journalism we published every day, just 40% of articles made up 80% of what subscribers read.

“I didn’t use it” is one of the main reasons our subscribers churn. Clearly, we could do more to retain our must-read status.

That’s where TED came in. Making it easier for commissioning editors to clearly see which stories are and are not working to engage subscribers was critical. And using the data became a key part of our retention strategy. 

Editors spent two months using the dashboard and then reported back to their colleagues on what they found. During the process, the heads of Nine’s audience, research, subscriptions, and product teams shared information about who our subscribers are, how they behave, and why we lose them.

There were three particularly important discoveries we made using TED:

  • Readers were least interested in incremental stories with little added context and that could be easily found for free elsewhere.
  • We need to spend more time crafting great online headlines and on promotion, tagging, and distribution.
  • Our readers are hungry for advice and guidance on a variety of topics including what stocks to buy, how to get ahead at work, and the best gadgets to buy. TED has started an ongoing conversation to rethink how we do “service journalism.”

Specifically, here are some of the things editors learned in their TED talks:

  • A magazine editor ditched news about restaurant openings and replaced them with recipes. He discovered he needs to be more selective with arts and culture stories. He found travel stories work when they’re achievable and immediate. Additionally, he confirmed his suspicion that fashion stories are really people stories. “Our readers don’t care what we think is ‘in fashion.’ They’re interested in winning in the business stakes, not in the style stakes,” he said.
  • A lifestyle editor is experimenting with more coverage of podcasts and streaming but also set a goal to commission more investigative, long reads after finding that “well-written, home-grown stories generally do better than buy-ins. We need more of them.”
  • The company editors plan to cut down on incremental stories with no clear investor angles. They also plan to rethink the approach to one long-standing column and sharpen up coverage of important but dense policy stories. “We have to make these important issues relevant to our readers and not just to our contacts,” they said.
  • The tech editor dumped wire stories with no local relevance and has the team searching for the human, lessons, or wealth angles in start-up stories. More time is also being spent explaining complex topics such as start-up capital, Ethereum, and decentralised finance.
  • The markets editor experimented with new Q&A formats.
  • The personal finance editor tried out new home page images and repackaged print content into more digestible online pieces.
  • The property team pitched a story about why there are so many A$50 million pub sales, in addition to the deal stories.
  • TED helped the professional services editor demonstrate that subscribers loved to know about people moving jobs within the big consulting firms. Readers managed to find those stories whether they were promoted on home pages or not — a finding that delighted the editor-in-chief, who could see a straight line back to the People in Business column the Financial Review used to print in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • The workplace editor was surprised “just how much readers liked any story with a ‘how-to’ angle.”
  • And, the national editor found the process so revealing reporters will soon be doing their own TED talks.

Editors across all sections found that having to articulate a strategy also generated lots of new ideas for evergreen content, including explainers, trackers, newsletters, and podcasts.

We look forward to TED becoming a daily habit for successful journalists.

About Fiona Buffini

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