4 news media companies share how data is becoming their foundation

By Michelle Palmer Jones

Nashville, Tennessee, United States


By Jalisa Haggins


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Texas


By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Structural changes are challenging, and they rarely happen overnight. That kind of transformational change must be embraced at all levels of a company and committed to for the long haul.

“The news industry is going through a transformational time,” said Pedro Cosa, data general manager for News UK, with the need to balance traditional media with the growth of digital. Customer behaviours and media consumption methods are changing, he said, and data will help us not only grow but also future-proof our business.

During Module 2 of 7 of the INMA World Congress of News Media, four news media companies how they are making data a foundation of their companies. The Tuesday session was sponsored by BlueConic. The World Congress continues throughout May on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Registation is available here for all or individual sessions.

News UK creates a 5-pillar data strategy

News UK manages several brands, including traditional media (like The Sun and The Times) as well as several radio stations and a new TV channel.

News UK has invested heavily in building successful data capabilities.

News UK conducted a thorough data literacy assessment to learn how data was being used across the company. This led to the creation of the “One Enterprise Data Strategy,” which aligns data strategy across all brands.

Pedro Cosa, data general manager for News UK, shared the company's 5-pillar data strategy.
Pedro Cosa, data general manager for News UK, shared the company's 5-pillar data strategy.

The five pillars of this strategy are:

1. Data leadership: News UK created a new role called “Data Partner.” These are people who are “embedded within the senior leadership team of each title,” and they serve to essentially translate between the title and the company’s overall data and technology teams. 

The Data Partners work with the Data Hub team, which supports all the brands. Within the Data Hub, there are teams dedicated to analytics, data governance, insights, and data strategy, and this is the team that works very closely with the technology team to craft and deliver the solutions.

2. Transparent data framework: “We knew we were already sitting on a gold mine” of data, Cosa said, “we just didn’t know how to extract it.” It’s critical to know what the data is and where it is before you can figure out what to do with it, he said.

3. Proactive data governance: News UK elevated the Data Governance function to ensure the management and use of data was structured and transparent — and following the rules. “We built a bigger team for governance,” Cosa said, “giving them more power.”

4. Data culture: The full value of the data can only be achieved if it’s adopted by the whole organisation, Cosa said, and News UK’s data democratisation efforts have two components: Data fluency (which involves training) and data access (which involves dashboards and reports).

5. Innovation and future focus: Like many companies, News UK had been using financial KPIs to measure success. “We wanted to be able to tell titles how to use metrics to track and influence customer behaviour to change those KPIs,” Cosa said. “They need to be able to understand what actions are triggered based on changes we make so that we know what levers to pull to impact revenue.”

He acknowledged that this will require a huge cultural change within the organisation since it’s never been thought of this way before.

The Economist looks at gaps and silos

The two key issues Karine Serfaty, chief data officer at The Economist, has seen in news media companies are the gaps and silos.

“Gaps are missing pieces of capabilities,” she said. “Silos are an interesting situation because there are two different parts of teams working with different data sets, so there’s a gap between the behavioural data of how people interact with the product vs. the contextual data of what’s people’s status with us in terms of being a subscriber or not, having lapsed, having resubscribed … and so on. It’s a major challenge because the state of the data mirrors the environment in which those teams are evolving.”

Karine Serfaty, chief data officer at The Economist, outlined the company's five-step approach to data.
Karine Serfaty, chief data officer at The Economist, outlined the company's five-step approach to data.

To resolve that problem, Serfaty said it’s important to rethink the overall approach to data. In The Economist’s case, it meant rebuilding a new data platform and taking an intentional five-part approach:

1. Business strategy: “We looked at what’s our market in terms of premium news readers who are willing to pay for news in our three target segments.” Then, she said it applied those filters to estimate what the market could be. Based on that, she said, “We believe we have three to five times the size of our current subscriber base that would be interested in our product. This is fundamental check of, ‘Is there an audience for what we’re doing?’”

2. Metrics: “Basically, our goal here is to define a set of strategic metrics and make sure we understand the predictive relationships between them and how they really help us drive our business. Then we set them as goals.”

3. Capabilities: These include strategic metrics and insights, day-to-day insights and feedback loops, and activation and optimisation. “I think of data more as a nervous system for your organisation and think of this as how you can really create value,” she said, adding that the most overlooked area is the daily insights, which is a mistake: “I think this is the area where you really drive cultural change in the first place.”

4. Agile, value-first mindset: Serfaty shared two strategies — build the entire platform and use it, or build it bit by bit, which leads to fragmented and siloed capabilities. “To me, you have to find where those two things meet.”

5. Adoption: Serfaty shared results with World Congress attendees from The Economist’s experiences, saying it has seen positive results in every area of the virtuous growth cycle.

Gannett invests in its four core data pillars

Analytics and Big Data are the driving forces behind some of the biggest digital innovations in the past six decades, Nate Rackiewicz, chief data officer at  Gannett/USA Today Network, told World Congress attendees. 

“Data exists to facilitate digital transformation in media organistions, and digital  transformation exits to facilitate a business outcome,” he said.

Rackiewicz has a long history of using data to create engaging and subscription-based products. He spent nearly two decades working with the technology and content strategy teams at HBO. He helped launch what we now know as HBO Max, one of the largest content streaming platforms as of right now. He then went on to work with A&E networks and the video game industry.

Now, working with Gannet, he spoke to the company’s culture saying they are committed to “empowering communities to thrive.” With this in mind, Gannett is investing in data and data science to strategically pivot, he said.

Rackiewicz shared the four pillars of Gannett’s data ecosystem:

Nate Rackiewicz, chief data officer at  Gannett/USA Today Network, shared the four core pillars of Gannett's data strategy.
Nate Rackiewicz, chief data officer at Gannett/USA Today Network, shared the four core pillars of Gannett's data strategy.


The analytic journey for media organisations looking to transform is broken down into three categories with key business questions, he said:

  1. Descriptive: Descriptive analytics answers the question of “what happened and why” and is typically would call business intelligence. This is traditionally the level an IT department would be involved. 

  1. Predictive: Rackiewicz described predictive analytics as the realm of data science and answers the question of “what will happen.” This is what helps companies forcast their future.

  1. Prescriptive: Prescriptive analytics takes advantage of machine learning. This is the step companies explore different scenarios using the predictive analytics to then answer the question of “what should we do” or “what should happen.” Rackiewicz described this as the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Throughout evolution of an organisation’s analytics journey, Rackiewicz questioned if AI is just hype. With so many buzzwords — the metaverse, Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR) — Rackiewicz said it’s important for organisations to figure out if it’s the next big thing or just trending concept. 

Nine takes a holistic approach to data

The data vision for Nine in Australia is to have a good view of who the customer is and use that information to drive long-term competitive advantage. But the data really means so much more than just beating the competition, said Head of Product and Data Euan Fisher.

Head of Product and Data Euan Fisher shared the key elements of the company's data transformation.
Head of Product and Data Euan Fisher shared the key elements of the company's data transformation.

“It’s not just about competitive advantage for advertising,” Fisher said. “It’s about marketing, it’s about programming, it’s about editorial, it’s about the sales operations. So we want to look at it holistically.”

Nine thinks about its data strategy in three areas:

  1. Collection of data: There must be a clear value exchange with customers.
  2. Control (or governance): Control who can access the data, when they can access it, and permissions given both internally and externally.
  3. Activate.

Along the way, Nine tackled challenges like structure, fragmentation, and identity, which Fisher detailed with World Congress attendees. 

The goal wasn’t necessarily to centralise the data since the ROI on that is hard to measure. Fisher recommended building a product first and then showing how it can be used in relation to business goals.

“We are using a whole bunch of projects or initiatives that the organisation wants anyhow, and we are taking the opportunity to bring the data into a centralised infrastructure so that we get the goal that we need to for our data strategy, but at the same time, making it much more efficient for delivering these projects.”

Nine has taken data collection very seriously and realises that just because they have data doesn’t mean they should always use it, Fisher said.

“We’ve made a choice to be quite conservative with what data we share, particularly our consumer data, across the organisation,” Fisher said. “We feel the values of our subscribers are such that we want to be quite careful with what we share and how we share it.”

Follow coverage of the World Congress here and via #INMA2022. 

About the Authors

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.