What newsrooms can learn about reader retention from a former DJ

By Jens Pettersson


Stockholm, Sweden


Fifteen years ago I was having the time of my life, working as a reporter during the day and playing records as a DJ at a big night club in Uppsala, Sweden, at night. Eight-hundred students waved their hands in the air, dancing to my tunes every weekend.

Every DJ with self respect at that time (pre-Beatport and pre-Spotify) had some special, rare tunes that were exclusive to them. One of my biggest smash hits was called “Shhh … be quiet … listen!” It’s an ecstatic, upbeat tune by the artist Jonah. In the song, the beat suddenly drops, the huge dance floor becomes totally quiet, and a whisper is all that can be heard in the darkness — “Shhh … be quiet … listen!” — followed by an insane energetic burnout in beats. Lovely.

There is power in listening to what reader have to say.
There is power in listening to what reader have to say.

Fast forward to 2020. The DJ career is long over, and the reporter duties have changed to a mission of trying to master the art of digital reader revenues. But the suggestion in Jonah’s tune is still very valid. If you aim to engage your audience beyond the level of just clicking articles and reading them for as long as possible, you need to take the relationship between your newsroom and the reader one step further. Listening and creating conversation is essential.

As you probably know, there is nothing more harmful to a relationship than a one-sided conversation. Monologues don’t really strengthen feelings. Well, listening to an audience is nothing new. There have been a lot of efforts to conduct surveys, commit work to answering comments on Facebook pages, and open up newsrooms by transparently video-broadcasting meetings.

But to go beyond that and create a truly meningful dialogue is not that easy and not that common in our industry. Getting that kind of structured conversation going in your daily workflow is hard work.

During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been a lot of good examples related to relationship building. For instance, live reporting at Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet where reporters spent almost as much time talking, writing, answering questions, and guiding as they did reporting the latest news.

Personally, my most rewarding experience in the area of a conversational journalistic process was when we managed to create a specific zone for conversation by using Facebook Groups. At the regional newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning, we created UNT Pendlingskollen, a two-way channel for discussions on the situation for commuters in our area. It turned out great and made a lot of journalism possible that never could have been done without that kind of super close relationship and conversation with the readers.

Other good examples in this area of reader involvement can be found in Denmark, where both TV2 Fyn and the conglomerate Jysk Fynske medier have done a really nice job. Powered by the company Hearken, the newspapers in Jysk Fynske medier have managed to take on a workflow based on a truly outside-in perspective by involving readers in the journalistic process.

In combination with constructive journalism, its an appealing way to get closer to reality. Subjects they have approached in this way have been local traffic issues and how to handle population booms in the city. The team also simply reaches out to citizens with a straighforward approach: “City asks; we answer.” There have been good results and increases in engagement KPIs.

We all want commited subscribers that never leave. We want retention KPIs to increase and churn to go down. This kind of relationship perspective on journalism is, of course, not the whole solution, but creating a feeling of stable and long-term closeness is an important step in the right direction.

And to make that happen, isn’t it just as simple as what you do at home with your loved ones, if you really want the relationship to last? Shhh ... be quiet ... listen …

Banner image courtesy of Redrecords ©️ from Pexels.

About Jens Pettersson

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