I’m back from a much-needed mini-break so Tuesday is the new Monday, well at least for me this week. Up first today in today’s media newsletter is a review of a talk by Adam Davison, the Head of Insight and Data Science at The Economist. The great write-up by Esther Kezia Thorpe looks at the evolution of The Economist’s paid content strategy over the last 20 years. This really builds on the post I highlighted last week that pointed out that businesses that get better are businesses that get smarter. They are constantly working and refining their model.
The killer quote by Davison was this one in which the business was trying to evaluate the trade-offs to certain business decisions whether that was advertising versus reader revenue or the number of articles that a reader had access to before hitting the paywall. Davison said:
Historically, we’ve not been very data-driven when evaluating these trade-offs basically. It’s been very much sort of…business strategy gut feel, maybe a little bit of data here and there, but probably not used anything like as effectively as it could have been. So I think with this latest transition, I really wanted to try to do this the right way, use data to be as informed as possible when we made this decision.
Read the whole piece, but the other thing that really stood out was how their data strategy has changed. The Economist has had to break down data silos in their business. They had data and talented analysts across the business, but they worked in isolation.
I have seen this in the work that I do. Editorial teams have data, usually quantitative, but marketing teams often have more information about the habits and preferences of audiences. Both pools of data can be useful to the other team.
Thanks to everyone who has subscribed to the newsletter, and if you haven’t already, you can get the full list of stories in your inbox. Subscribe here, and if there is a story that you think should be included, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.
In addition to that post, the other highlight from my newsletter today is an excellent look at the hottest issues in media right now: Membership and subscriptions. It’s a comprehensive look at various subscription models and services, but they also talk about a membership model in Albany New York. The newspaper there has tiers, “providing options for the customer”, according to Brad Hunt sales and retention manager for Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. “Instead of losing them outright or feeling like we were forcing them to go to a higher frequency in order to get to that gold status, we wanted to provide the means for the customer to choose,” he said.
More tomorrow, and remember, if you want to highlight a story for me, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.
In today’s newsletter, we find an example that runs counter or Betteridge’s Law. For my non-British readers, Betteridge’s Law, coined and named after Ian Betteridge is:
This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.” The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti, my friend and former collaborator when she worked for Trinity-Mirror (now Reach) flagged this up from the newsletter today. She has not only launched her own freelance journalism career but also the wonderful Freelance Pod.
And this LinkedIn post of hers is definitely going into the newsletter tomorrow. She starts the post off with:
In building the organisational case that of all of the digital things we could do that we needed to prioritise a newsletter over other things, I pulled on a lot of data and analysis that newsletters are critical to building a loyal audience primed for membership. I work for one of the longest member-driven media groups in the US, a regional NPR/PBS group, and this is
One of my go-to quotes on newsletter strategy comes from an earlier review of newsletters at The New Yorker and Oshinsky’s thinking in which they found:
Last year, Condé Nast’s data science team built a model to predict which factors best determine whether a NewYorker.com reader will become a subscriber. Whether someone was a newsletter subscriber was the No. 1 indicator. Thus, The New Yorker can draw a straight line between the quality of its newsletter readership and its bottom line: more newsletters subscribers, in turn, means more paid readers.
But where some of the newer scripted podcast producers are eyeing the big checks that platforms such as Luminary are writing, Slate sees them as a way to build its own business. Kammerer said that while Slate has had discussions with podcast platforms about licensing or producing exclusive shows for platforms, it has declined to pursue them because it is more interested in using its shows to build Slate Plus.
And I also want to highlight Reach PLC (formerly Trinity-Mirror and also a former client of my consultancy, Ship’s Wheel Media) and their efforts to try to bring some comity to the discussions around Brexit with their Britain Talks project. Their efforts to engage audiences, not only with their journalism but also in broader issues, really impresses me, and I appreciate more than most the challenging business environment that they are operating in.
In the BBC analysis, they attribute part of the change in fortune from cost cutting: closing of 450 positions, largely through voluntary redundancy (buyouts) and also reducing the costs of printing by ditching its bespoke Berliner format and going tabloid. But the switch to a membership, reader support led business model has also helped. A lot.
Emily Bell who ran the digital editorial operations when I was there also had a couple of excellent points on Twitter.
” TikTok is kind of a culmination of every viral video app that’s existed in the last five, maybe even 10 years – kind of going back to early YouTube. And it’s comedy. It’s music. It’s sometimes makeup and sometimes monologuing. And it’s a weird hodgepodge of every sort of viral thing that could happen in a short-form video app.” says Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone magazine.
” But when I showed TikTok to my 20-something producers, they thought that they were too old for it. It feels distinctly for the very young,” Spanos said.
Moving on from TikTok another feature in my newsletter today, I also found a lot of great insights in this overview of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism . Chris Faraone, one of the co-founders, described BINJ like this:
Basically, I wanted to create a miniature ProPublica, a collaborative, free-floating incubator that would be a Make-A-Wish Foundation for all of these news outlets to help them do what they couldn’t afford to do.
Chris Faraon, co-founder, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism
This is a really good, actionable look at the kind of support that this group is providing for local news producers. It is giving small local publishers some room to experiment and also building deeper connections to users. The other thing that really stood out for me what that the institute helps small indies in choosing what they cover and what they don’t cover.
As usual, if you’ve got a story that you think would be good in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal. If you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, it’s easy to do so here.
I edited local newspapers for a very brief period of my career – about 21 months. I joke that I survived the six rounds of cuts but not the seventh. Those cuts included simple budget cuts, hiring freezes, a major reorganisation and an early retirement scheme.
I actually really enjoyed working in local media, despite the incredible pressure of trying to expand two newspapers amidst an industry collapse. I managed the newspapers in two towns in Wisconsin: Sheboygan, population 50,000ish, and Manitowoc, with a population of around 35,000. For the first year, I felt like an old-fashioned small-town editor. In Sheboygan, where I lived, people would stop me on the street, just to talk because I was the editor of the newspaper . But the cuts drove home just how badly the newspaper industry had shrunk. In 2005, the newspaper in Manitowoc had about 12 editorial staff. When I arrived in 2014, the local staff was still about nine. Today, it’s four.
During my time in local newspapers, one particular question gnawed at me: Was one factor in the decline in newspapers down to a decline in local civic engagement or was the decline in local civic engagement driving the decline in newspapers?
Research is now beginning to answer that question. Take this from an article in Governing:
According to a study published in November in the Journal of Communication, voters rely more on national outlets — and become more partisan — as local newspapers decline or close.
“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” says Johanna Dunaway, professor of communications at Texas A&M University and coauthorof the study.
The article goes on to highlight an increase in partisanship as the news becomes “nationalized”. Again, I saw this at the local level. People didn’t really distinguish between the local newspaper, the New York Times or cable news. It was all just one undifferentiated mass for them. People would call me up as the editor and shout at me about things in the “the media”, usually cable news – CNN or Fox, depending on their politics. I tried to explain to them that we didn’t have anything to do with that, were owned by entirely separate companies and that our focus was the local community, not commenting on the latest hot issue in Washington.
At the same time, they were very disengaged from local politics. In a conversation with our city clerk in Sheboygan, who helped run our local elections, she made the point that in the previous spring’s election we only had a turnout of 7 percent. She made the quite valid point that it cost the same to run an election whether the turnout was 7 percent or 70, but it was really shocking to see how few people made the effort to vote.
When local people did talk about politics, particularly on Facebook, it was frustrating to see them grouse rather immaturely about local government, rather than engaging with issues in a substantive way. More than that, they often made it clear that they were doing this from the sidelines and not as active voters or civic participants. It was civics as a spectator sport.
The article in Governing does a good job of pulling together the threads of a lot of research showing the negative consequences of this loss of coverage including a decline in local government accountability and even negative environmental impacts. But this kind of local reporting is really expensive and no one seems willing to pay. I had several ideas on how to begin rebuilding local reporting and, although my first year in Sheboygan gave me the opportunity to start putting some those into practice, the continued cuts and reorganisations made it impossible to capitalise on those early gains.
What we’re losing with respect to local journalism is hurting our society. And we need not just creative ways to start rebuilding that. We should all acknowledge that these organisations will not cut their way to growth or cut their way back to meaningful, engaged local news outlets. We have to find a way for this to work, for the sake of our communities and our citizens.
According to TikTok’s pitch deck to U.S. agencies, about 60% of its monthly active users in the U.S. are between 16 and 24 years old. Also like Snapchat, users are heavily engaged with the app, spending 46 minutes per day on TikTok, on average. While TikTok doesn’t have a way for publishers to directly monetize on the app, such as through sharing ad revenue, some publishers are still choosing to experiment.
Kerry questions about how much resources early adopters including NBC and ESPN can afford to throw at a platform that doesn’t have a clear way to directly monetise attention. That question alone shows the shift from the strategy a few years back of building an audience and worrying about monetisation later to thinking about the revenue strategy off the bat.
Other topics in the newsletter today are:
Publishers need to prepare for mobile app resurgence. Filloux says large players are preparing to dominate the subscription battlefield. Podcasters need to experiment with new revenue models. Brit & Co is the latest millennial digital brand in trouble.
If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here.