4 top editors explain how their newsrooms stay connected to the business

By Nevin Kallepalli

New York, United States


While some may assume that the editorial and business sides of a media company work toward different goals, four editors at this panel discussion say otherwise. 

Four editors — editor-in-chief of Dagbladet Alexandra Beverfjord, former editor-in-chief of USA Today Nicole Carroll, editorial director of Bonnier News Lotta Edling, and editorial director of Organización Editorial Mexicana Martha Romas Sosa — discussed how their teams’ editorial strategies are informed by the business of journalism and vice versa at last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media.

Dagbladet goes free

Dagbladet is a 154-year-old Norwegian newspaper and the country’s second largest. An extremely influential publication, they reach 28% of the population daily with a total of 85,000 subscribers. 

Looking back at the recent history of the newspaper, Beverfjord recalls a number of challenges Dagbladet was facing in 2018. They experienced a sharp decline in unique visitors, had no position on Web-TV, and decided to end their print edition.

“It was clear that if we did not take any actions, we would have to reduce the number of journalists dramatically,” Beverfjord said. 

So Dagbladet made an unusual decision. They went completely free. 

“We decided to make a  free site first, and then think of subscriptions as No. 2,” Beverfjord explained. That decision was hugely successful after their period of precarity. Today they are a mobile-forward platform that is about 90% free, with a small premium layer.

The team carefully analysed how to allocate resources toward breaking news, paid content, and digital advertising. Readership data factors heavily into their daily editorial meetings.

USA Today considers stories from a business + editorial perspective

At the top of her presentation, Nicole Carroll of USA Today did what editors do best: tweaked a headline. She changed the title of the event “how editors are embracing the business of news” to “how editors are leading the business of news.”

“I promise all the CEOs and publishers, we get it!” she assured the crowd. 

Under Carroll’s leadership, every editorial meeting started with a two-pronged approach:

  • She asks questions about the impact of their stories from a business perspective.
  • She asks questions about the impact of their stories from an editorial one.

For Carroll, data is key:

“We’re data fluent. We’re bilingual in both news judgment and data analysis. Data isn’t something we’re looking at in just that morning meeting. It’s something that’s always running in the back of our minds as we make every decision.”

These sorts of data points figure into the strategies of the editorial team as a whole and among individual reporters. 

USA Today is also reactive to the more qualitative feedback they get from readers. What do their readers care about? Local issues. Carroll is passionate about the declining industry of local newspapers and how better to serve communities directly. 

“We know that local news spreads the truth, and we know that local news connects communities,” she said.

Bonnier News focuses on transparency, dashboards, task forces  

The Bonnier News is the largest news media group in the Nordic region. Their holdings span books, real estate, ventures, and news, and their publications include national, local, lifestyle, and business publications. While the Bonnier Group spans a wide range of revenue, Edling says newsrooms “are the heart of our business.” 

As Bonnier continues to expand, they take a different approach from digital-only outlets Dagbladet: A cornerstone of their strategy is keeping print alive. According to Edling, there are newsrooms with 300 journalists and some with three. But the media group as a whole cherishes the diversity of its publications and takes individualised approaches to supporting them all.

Outlining the company’s strategy in broad sweeps, Edling focused on three points: transparency, dashboards, and task forces.  

Like Carroll, she emphasised the importance of sharing data with reporters on how their work is performing with readers. “We can explain and we can educate,” she says, pointing out how special it is for writers to know when people subscribe in response to something they’ve produced.

Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM) still dealing with COVID issues

Organización Editorial Mexicana consists of 45 newspapers from all around Mexico: “One national brand, one sports brand, but mostly, we are local brands,” Sosa explained.

An investment in connecting to local readership through the news is core to their strategy: “Our goal is to be very dear to our communities.”

Sosa broke down how OEM makes efficient use of resources.

They utilise facilities that can print and distribute as many as 10 newspapers and employ individualised strategies for print editions of weekly and daily newspapers. Their 45 newspapers are divided among four regional newsrooms. In addition to news, they engage in tourism editions for specialised regions, as well as generate content in the fishing, manufacturing, sporting, and real estate industries. 

A challenge Sosa has faced is what she called the effects of “long COVID” on the newsroom. “We’re dealing with stress, health issues, and panic attacks, which have become quite a phenomenon that we have to embrace every day,” she said.

This has had a significant impact on workplace culture:

In response to these shifts, OEM employed sustainable changes to meet the needs of its workers, namely a greater effort to internally communicate across projects and publications. For Sosa, this means sharing a monthly newspaper that celebrates achievements among teams, bringing on people with diverse expertise for projects, and distributing in-depth data reports. 

Wearing both editorial and businesses hats, Sosa a number of concrete goals for the future:

Key KPIs from each editor

In a lighting round of questions following the presentations, each speaker was asked what their most important KPI is when measuring success:

Beverfjord answered unique users.

Carroll said returning users.

Edling looks for growth in subscriptions.

Sosa gave a less quantitative but equally elucidating answer: “Well being in Mexico, maybe being criticised by the president.” 

About Nevin Kallepalli

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