How news organisations are succeeding with reader-first digital transformation

Transformation, by Cornelia Kopp, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Since 1996, in some way, I’ve been focused on digital transformation at media companies, initially as a front-line journalist but since 2005 either as an internal or external consultant in a wide range of roles. Topping my media newsletter today is the summary of a talk by Greg Piechota and George Brook about digital transformation at media organisations. They see successful digital transformation efforts not so much as being good at managing various products but rather by serving various customers.

There are a lot of great quotes in this summary, but Greg started by re-framing the issues around the pivot to paid as:

The reinvention is actually much bigger than just the change of a business model. It’s like the transformation of journalism from a mass market, industrial product to journalism as a service.

The digital transformation of newsrooms to become reader first, by Shelley Seale, International News Media Association

He walked through the model at The Guardian where the product hadn’t changed as much as the way that they captured value from various classes of users. “What they manage are not different products, but different sets of customers. Some customers want to contribute to support the mission. Some people want to pay for a certain user experience [mobile app, e-reader, etc],” Greg said.

I think his framing of how to become reader focused also made sense in terms of selling journalism as a process rather than as a product. By looking as journalism as a service to be sold instead of a product, then companies could re-orient around their “impact on the customer”, he said.

This dove-tailed nicely into a discussion with George Brock, former managing editor at the Times in London, about the role that trust played in this reader-focused, service-oriented model of journalism. Rather than summarise the entire post, I’ll highlight this cultural challenge that George highlighted in terms of making this shift to a reader-first orientation. “I think the bigger problem is that the kind of things we’re talking about involve, across both the commercial and the editorial departments, shifts of power,” he said. Indeed, and I would add that it also involves shifts within the editorial department. This is a great summary of a webinar to digest, and I’m really interested in INMA’s broader Readers First Initiative.

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