The Better Journalism Initiative: How better journalism propelled digital subscription growth
Overview of this campaign
Amedia’s "Better journalism initiative" aimed at improving the journalism in our 63 local newspapers. The ultimate goal was to conclusively demonstrate that better journalism leads to more satisfied readers, and that we then would see:
- increased subscription sales (i.e. delivery of journalistic value that attracts new customers)
- increased digital subscriber base (i.e. delivery of journalistic value that retains and grows total customer base)
This work started with two immediate goals:
- To understand what characterizes valuable journalism for existing and potential subscribers
- To understand what characterizes good editorial workflow, supporting the production of such valuable journalism
To this end, we analyzed 11,300 subscriber-only stories, and broke the data down into number of stories produced per category, as well as number of subscriber page views per story.
This analysis demonstrated that:
- Popular categories in the newsroom were among the least popular with our paying customers - especially Culture and Local politics
- Some of the least popular categories in the newsroom were among the most popular with our paying customers - e.g. Local business, Urban development and the Housing market
The data crucially did not show that the categories were unpopular with readers - but clearly indicated that we were covering them wrong.
We then produced a set of testable hypotheses about how to improve the quality in given categories and organized a project with a small set of newspaper pilots. These worked tightly with Amedia’s central editorial development team. Each newsroom was given a set of hypothesis-driven recommendations on improving the measurable value of their journalism.
This was complemented by improvements on the analytics and reporting/dashboard side.
During the test, we measured impact on the hypotheses, while closely watching the production process to determine whether improvements in production flow could aid better journalism.
Results for this campaign
Almost all pilots saw marked increases in effect, more than doubling readership per article in several categories.
- Politics, when reduced to a conduit for politicians’ opinions, were rarely read. But when focusing on impact of policies, it was among our best-read categories.
- Culture, when merely reporting upcoming events, book launches and artists visiting, were rarely read. But when focusing on storytelling or using hard-news criteria, readership increased dramatically.
- Systematic coverage of Local businesses and Housing market led to a marked increase in readership.
- Fresh photos has a clear tendency to lead to more reading than archive photos.
Simultaneously, the qualitative study on the work processes in the newsrooms found that many newsrooms purporting to work digital first in reality were almost wholly governed by demands set by print.
- Customer-oriented newsrooms with a digital workflow performed far better than their print-oriented counterparts. Stories were read far more by subscribers in the first group than in the latter.
- Print-focussed storyline planning and workflow tools represented active hindrances in producing journalism being read by subscribers. E.g. planning four culture pages in print did not equal four pages of valuable coverage - which was dramatically demonstrated when these stories were put online. This manner of planning merely emphasized quantity over quality.
All learnings were systemized into clear recommendations. Our central editorial development team worked closely with newsrooms to implement the changes.
- More than double the amount of readers within Culture
- More than double the amount of readers within Local politics
- 40 newsrooms voluntarily changed to a digital-first workflow
- Growth in subscribers from 480,000 to 507,000 (5,6%)
- Growth in digital subscribers from 110,000 to 160,000 (45,5%)