At the heart of newsroom transformation in the emerging era of digital subscriptions is a simple observation: content is commodity, journalism is premium.

Grzegorz Piechota, senior researcher at Oxford University and INMA researcher-in-residence, shared insights at INMA’s World Congress of News Media on Thursday, giving the audience a sneak peak into an upcoming report on how publishers should look strategically at the transformations of their newsrooms. At the heart of this transformation is ubiquity of content.

“We’re not selling content,” Piechota said. “We’re selling journalism.”

As news media companies shift from manufacturers to service providers, it means newsroom functions will change. Business models are expanding to include new revenue sources and pricing strategies.

Greg Piechota says that today's newsroom transformation means putting readers first and taking control of the journalistic brand.
Greg Piechota says that today's newsroom transformation means putting readers first and taking control of the journalistic brand.

“When you become a customer of Dennis Publishing in the U.K., the most profitable customers are not buying newspapers or magazines. They are buying cars from them,” Piechota said.

Shifts in revenue strategies are really a change to the whole company, he added. At Gazeta Wyborcza in his native Poland, 10% of customers are responsible for 74% of the company’s revenue. How do publishers take care of these valuable users? Piechota said it is obvious that resources must be re-allocated.

“The marketing objectives shift when we move from a product-centered company to a customer-first company. From chasing reach, we are now shifting to maximising value of these users.”

The value proposition of news content has changed. Content is everywhere, Piechota said, and everyone is a producer of content. Building loyal audiences will be crucial to the financial success of news media companies. Studies show a clear correlation between frequency and volume of usage and purchasing. Building this connection involves many parts of the company.

“What we found out is that the newsroom is a very important part of it,” Piechota said. “It’s not alone. Actually, it’s a joint effort. They need to work with the product teams, with the marketing teams.”

Creating audiences is the core of a service, Piechota said, and the service is not just a product. To create the best environment to engage users, newsrooms need to share duties with other departments and be united by joint KPIs of audience engagement.

An important shared metric measures a user’s RFV: recency, frequency, and volume. Looking at an individual user journey is like looking at the pulse of a reader. This data is useful beyond acquisition, Piechota said. It can inform newsrooms on how their efforts helps build a habit of visiting after purchase on a more personal level.

“We often say that subscriptions are about creating relationships, but it’s hard to imagine relationships when you look at a big dashboard,” he said.

Relationship building that starts in the newsroom leverages a powerful tool: editors. Editors are the protectors of brands, Piechota said. Journalists are no longer only content creators. They are an essential part of the brand’s value proposition.

“If your company sells cars, everything hangs on the reputation and the quality of the original brand, and it hangs on the quality and independence of the journalism,” Piechota said.

Relevance drives satisfaction, and personalisation creates relevance. Personalisation requires automation, but allowing the person who designs the algorithm to lead the newsroom is a mistake, he said. Editors need to step up and be clear leaders.

Aftenposten’s Editor-in-Chief Espen Egil Hansen is also the company’s chief executive officer, and Piechota said this management structure speeds up change across the company. Swift, decisive change happens by treating initiatives like a political campaign, building support before a decision is made and change is implemented: “You need to build a sort of movement to move everyone towards it.”