Overview of this campaign
As a subscription business, we need to make our value clear in order to grow and retain our readership. However, as our growth has moved us towards having a larger digital base than print, that value is no longer a straightforward package of stories in a newspaper. Our aim with this piece of research was to identify exactly which parts of our journalism lead to high digital engagement and present the learnings in such a way that traditionally print-focused editors and reporters can use them as a catalyst for change.
Tagging our articles across multiple data points gave us insights in such granularity, we could pinpoint the effects of each decision taken from commissioning to publication of every article. For example, we could ascertain if a certain tone leads to a higher rate of subscriptions, if our readers engage with news stories from specific parts of the world more than others or identify a theme across articles that leads to a longer time on page, more shares or higher number of comments. Not only did we want answers to specific questions, but we also wanted to explore aspects of our digital journalism we hadn’t considered before to allow us to understand the difference between a print reader and a website reader, and maximise their positive behaviour.
Not only did we require trustworthy and robust data, we had to translate it carefully and efficiently in order to get senior editors on board with the findings. We wanted to use the data to transform the idea of “good” in the newsroom, and encourage colleagues to think differently about the service we’re providing for readers. Ultimately, the data should be a driver to transform our offering and inform our editorial strategy as we grow into a digital-first world.
Results for this campaign
Our digital readers engaged best with the aspects of our journalism that are unique to us. It allowed us to visualise how much of what we produce is not unique and put it in front of senior editors for the first time. We could, in turn, have conversations about how our digital strategy should deviate from what we do in print.
We quickly discovered that most findings were unique to the various audiences consuming different types of content and, as a result, broke them down into specific sections to explore with relevant deskheads.
For example, we found that readers of foreign news preferred explainers on big topics, allowing them to understand a world that is far away from home. Using our findings, the World News editor took the decision to have staff in London write more of the straightforward print stories, freeing up foreign correspondents to spend time explaining the world to our readers with longer, more analytical pieces.
We found that some types of news stories produced for print were not well engaged with online and started experimenting with fewer stories in our digital news run. Upon discovering that readers of Business engage best when figures are presented in charts, we arranged mass training on data visualisation for Business reporters.
Over the year, we produced information booklets for each section in collaboration with the section editor. It contained information on which article type, tone, production methods, headline type and more, led to higher rates of engagement within our readers. It also contained information on the type of reader we can see most engaging with the section content, and which type of reader we’d like to get more of in order to grow.
Although it’s still early in our period of change, we’re already seeing promising results as we continue to use “conscious commissioning” methods to curate pieces that lead to the highest reader value. Early data shows that rates of engagement are up despite offering readers fewer stories.