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.

If you’ve got a story that you think should be in the newsletter, let me know @kevglobal on Twitter.

Slate expects almost half of its revenue to come from podcasts

Headphones on a baby, by Gideon Tsang, from Flickr

The top story in the newsletter today reminds me how reader revenue, whether that be through subscriptions or memberships, is remaking media. Digiday is reporting that Slate expects nearly half of its revenue to come from podcasts, but the thing that stands out is Slate sees this as supporting their subscription model, Slate Plus. They aren’t looking for syndication deals. It’s all about building a loyal, paying audience on their own platform. How times have changed. From Digiday:

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.

Slate expects nearly half of its revenue will come from podcasts this year, by Max Willens, Digiday

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.

As always, if you have a media business story that you think I should highlight in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal. And you can subscribe to the newsletter here.

The Guardian is back from the brink

The Guardian and Observer offices back when I worked there, by Kevin Anderson (me) from Flickr

The top story in my international media newsletter is The Guardian’s great news that it has broken even for the first time since 1998. I worked at the Guardian from 2006 to 2010, and it has been great to see the turnaround since Kath Viner took over as editor.

I think that the BBC article, an extra link not on the newsletter, summarises all of the things that went into this change in fortune. My friend and Indian media-tech superstar Durga Raghunath has the tl:dr version of the BBC’s coverage:

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.

Other top stories in the newsletter today:

That is the newsletter today. If you have a story that you think is worth including, shoot it to me on Twitter @kevglobal. And if you want to subscribe to the newsletter, go here.

The value of data for readers and the newsroom

When I was at the BBC, a very smart producer, Gill Parker, approached me about pulling together a massive amount of data and information she was collecting with Frank Gardner trying to unravel the events that lead to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Not only had Gill worked on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight and on ABC’s Nightline in the US, she also had worked in the technology industry. They were interviewing law enforcement and security sources all around the world and collecting masses of information which they all had in Microsoft Word files. She knew that they needed something else to help them connect the dots, and speaking with me in Washington where I was working as’s Washington correspondent at the time, she asked if help her get some database help.

I thought it was a great idea. My view was that by helping her organise all of the information that they were collecting, the News website could use the resulting database to develop info-graphics and other interactives that would help our audience better understand the complex story. We could help show relationships between all of the main actors in al Qaeda as well as walk people through an interactive timeline of events. I had a vision of displaying the information on a globe. People could move through time and see various events with key actors in the story. This was a bit beyond the technology of the time. Google Earth was still a few years away, and it would have required significant development for some of the visualisations. However, on a story like this, I thought we could justify the effort, and frankly, we didn’t need to go that far. Bottom line: Organising the data would have huge benefits for BBC journalists and also for our audiences.

?Unfortunately, it was the beginning of several years of cuts at the BBC, and the News website was coming under pressure. It was beyond the scope of what I had time to do or could do in my position, and we didn’t have database developers at the website who could be spared, I was told.

A few years later as Google Earth developed, Declan Butler at Nature used data of the spread of the H5N1virus globally to achieve something like the vision I had in terms of showing events over time and distance.

It is great to see my friend and former Guardian colleague Simon Rogers move forward with this thinking of data as a resource both internally to help journalists and also externally to help explain a complex story in his work on the Wikileaks War Logs story. Simon wrote about it on the Guardian Datablog:

we needed to make the data easier to use for our team of investigative reporters: David Leigh, Nick Davies, Declan Walsh, Simon Tisdall, Richard Norton-Taylor. We also wanted to make it simpler to access key information for you, out there in the real world – as clear and open as we could make it.

As the digital research editor at The Guardian, data was key to many of my ideas (before I left this March to pursue my own projects). I even thought that data could become a source of revenue for The Guardian. Data and analysis is something that people are willing to pay for. Ben Ayers, the Head of social media and community at, (speaking for himself not ITV) said to me on Twitter:

Brilliant. I’d pay for that stuff. Surely the kind of value that could be, er, charged for. Just sayin’ … just an example of where, if people expect great interpretation of data as part of the package, the Guardian could charge subs

As I replied to Ben, I wouldn’t advocate charging for data for the War Logs, but I would suggest that charging for data about media, business and sports. That could become an important source of income to help subsidise the cost of investigations like the War Logs. Data wrangling can be time intensive. I know from my experience in developing the media job cuts series that I wrote at the end of 2009 for The Guardian. However, the data can be a great resource for journalists writing stories as well as developing interactive graphics like the media job cuts map or the IED attack map for the War Logs story. Data drives traffic, as the Texas Tribune in the US has found, and I believe that certain datasets could be developed into new commercial products for news organisations.

Digital brain drain at British newspapers

Emily Bell left for the Guardian to become the director of a new centre for digital journalism at Columbia University, and let me congratulate her on the opportunity. Simon Waldman, described as the Guardian Media Group digital strategy chief by the Media Guardian, is leaving to join the DVD by mail service LoveFilm.

Now at the Telegraph, the Media Guardian is reporting that Will Lewis has been forced out over a disagreement with the publisher on the newspaper’s direction. What is shocking is that Lewis had just launched a new internal digital incubator just last November, the so-called Euston Project. He was named Journalist of the Year in March for the Telegraph’s scoop on the MPs’ expenses scandal last year.

My former colleague Roy Greenslade has details. It appears that Lewis wanted the Euston Project to be a standalone business and the publisher disagreed.

My leaving gift from the Guardian

It was my last day at the Guardian, and as a leaving gift, Peter Martin, the tags editor, made me a tag cloud linking to all of the stories that I wrote in my three and a half years there. Steve Busfield, media and technology editor, gave me a piece of paper with just the code for the tag cloud and this simple bit of BASIC on it all on classic VT100 green text on a black screen.

10 PRINT “Kevin Anderson has left the building”
20 GOTO 10

“I’m told that you’ll know what it is,” Steve said.

Friend and colleague Simon Jeffery joked that it was a bit of a joke to print it out. Fortunately, Peter sent me the code so I didn’t have to type it all out.

It was a moving farewell not only to me but also to colleagues Bobbie Johnson (in absentia in San Francisco) Mercedes Bunz, Laura Scothern and Stephen Brooke from the Media Guardian and the technology desk. Thank you to everyone at the Guardian who I worked with over the last few years, with a special thanks to Steve and everyone else on the Media and Technology desk who welcomed me so warmly during my brief sojourn last year and who really made feel a part of the team.

UPDATE: I meant to mention that Peter made this lovely tag cloud which not only displays the tags but links to my articles on those topics using a service called Tagul. He used it to create a 2009 end of the year tag cloud of people in Guardian articles.