Finally it has arrived. Our new website of the Institute for Media Strategies is online! Come and have a look around. This blog will be transferred to the Institute page.
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Thanks to everyone who has read my articles here and I hope you will continue doing so on the new website.
While dozens if not hundreds of newspaper publishers around the world began charging for their digital content in the past year, thousands more are in the process of deciding if they should charge, and if so, how to go about it. Should you charge? If so, should you charge for all content or only some content? How should billing be done? When asking such questions, there are four major areas that should be considered before a publisher makes a decision: Audience, Content, Platform, Paid-for models and systems and Payment type.
We should start by answering the question: What is the quality of our website audience? While we might sometimes try to impress our advertisers with the number of unique visitors we have coming to our site each month, the UV number is not a good gauge for deciding whether to charge for digital content because often the majority of these visitors are fleeting and they come to our site only a few times per month. When you talk about monetising, then these “occasional” (2-3 visits a month) and “fly-by” visitors (once a month) are not relevant. Instead, we need to focus on our “regulars” (one to two visits per week) and “fans” (more than two visits a week). Traffic-wise, the minority of visitors really provide the most traffic to most websites, and this is something we must take into account in trying to determine how many potential customers we are likely to have.
In order to charge for content, publishers must also have a steady and substantial supply of content that is not freely and easily available elsewhere. People simply will not pay for something they can get free by making a couple of clicks with their mouse. For example, people are more willing to pay for niche content, databases and archives than they are for articles about current affairs or features. Likewise, people will pay for something that perceive to have added value. For example, if we look at Slide 2 below, we see consumers find added value through better quality (additional scope, more tailored, greater depth, quantity), or if paying for something makes it more convenient (easier to access, for example).
In the recent past, publishers mainly considered only their websites when they considered charging for digital content. However, in the past year, we have seen huge growth in both the numbers of people buying tablets and mobile smartphones in many parts of the world, and each of these platforms are expected to see strong growth levels continue for the foreseeable future. A good paid-for digital content strategy needs to also address delivery and pricing to these platforms.
Paid-for models and systems
Two basic paid-for models are currently in use at various publishing houses. The first is the subscription model, which is the most popular and can be broken down into four types: Site subscription (where a user must pay to access the website at all); Metered access (where a limited amount of material is free, after which point a subscriber must pay); Premium Access (separate content bundles) and Apps download (these also involve separate content bundles). The second is pay-per-use or pay-per-article. Related to this is the consideration of which forms of payment to use. Invoice? Credit/Debit card? PayPal? Clickandbuy? Ultimately, the form of payment needs to be a solution that is flexible (so the customer has a choice), where data is secure and private. Furthermore, the transaction should take place quickly so the user has instant, or nearly instant access to the content he or she is paying for, and there must also be some form of customer service in case of difficulties.
Lastly, the issue of pricing needs to be carefully decided, and studies have been done on this topic. For example, Boston Consulting Group interviewed more than 5000 people in nine markets (including the US, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) found that while people say they are willing to pay for news online, most of them are not willing to pay very much for it (around US$ 5 per month).
Until recently, newsrooms had workflows that focused exclusively on print and were optimised for a once-a-day publication schedule. The newsroom routine was often based on a 24 hour rhythm, where every morning the “counters were reset to 0”. In many cases the result was that there was very little focus on planning beyond the next scheduled edition, as stories were often perceived and treated as “breaking news.” In addition, everyone involved in the workflow process frequently had to wait until late in the day for pages to be closed or other decisions to be made leading to bottlenecks in the editorial workflow.
However, if you pick up almost any newspaper in the world and flip through the pages, you’ll find that the vast majority of the stories are actually not “breaking news,” such as plane crashes, or natural disasters. The same misconception happens around “exclusives,” such as a major investigative article or series or the famous “scoops.” In reality, those special story are the exception and without being overly scientific, but based on dozens of conversations with news executives around the world, in many cases stories in both categories combined occur less than 5 percent of the time.
If we put those two thoughts together, we get two key dimensions – one, “Is something really breaking news or not?” and, two, is “Is a story exclusive or not?” Real breaking news is when nobody could possible foresee or expect that event. Real exclusivity only exists if it is 100 percent certain that nobody else has access to a story or can publish it earlier.
If we take these two dimensions – exclusivity and breaking news – we can begin to create a simple story matrix where we have four different types of stories, and all articles in a publication fall into one of these four types (see fig. 1).
The first type would be “breaking news and exclusive,” . This is something that is obviously very rare because, taking a plane crash as an example, not even this kind of occurrence is rarely exclusive. This category is really for those rare scoops that happen for many news organisations perhaps only a few times in a year such as the MP expenses scandal in the UK that was revealed by the Daily Telegraph a few years ago.
The second sector would be “breaking news – but non-exclusive,” which would be for events such as natural catastrophes, high-profile resignations, murders acts of terrorism, and so on.
The third cluster would be “exclusive but non-breaking news,” and this category would be for investigative pieces where we can plan and decide when to publish it as well as political scandals and exposures
And the fourth category is non-exclusive and non-breaking news, and this covers the vast majority of stories.
If we look at these four categories and try to get a feeling for percentages, we could say that breaking, exclusive news would account for about one to five out of 1000 of all the stories that are published every month.
Investigative pieces in relation to all the stories that are published are maybe one to two out of 100. The same is true for breaking, non-exclusive stories, which are also roughly ten to two out of 100. That leaves for the last sector non-breaking, non-exclusive stories. Between 96 and 98 per cent of all stories published in a daily newspaper are in this category.
We have seen that many news organizations are that are built around the exceptional three categories, which concern two to five percent of the stories. Decision-making is done very late and planning is very often not done because too many stories are being treated as breaking news and/or exclusive articles.
Since the vast majority of stories are not in these categories, editorial should look to optimising the workflows and structures in order to distribute those stories faster and more efficiently, allowing more time to deal with the truly major stories on all platforms and breaking news when they occur.
The majority of non-exclusive, non-breaking stories can be planned in advance to a certain degree. Not everything of course, there can always be surprises or last minute changes, but these are usually the exception. We know roughly what is going on when press conferences, sports events, elections or other events come up.
Take something like a football game, which has been scheduled for weeks or months, and is often treated as breaking news, in regards to planning and decision making for particularly for cross platform coverage. It is mainly the score and a key moments in the match that really qualify as breaking news. Much of the surrounding (background) story, such as why the game is important, how a positive or negative result will effect the team’s standings and so on, could be contemplated and planned at least in some degree in advance. The same is true for many press conferences or court cases. We usually know much of the story in advance.
If there is a surprise, then we can always change it, but certain decisions can be made very early in the day or the week and therefore, the whole process can be made smoother, generating more time and mental space for the newsroom for more structured and creative planning processes.
With this type of matrix in mind, it is also easier to decide what is going to go online, or digital, because what is going online is still very often held back. But for many reasons, everything that is non-exclusive, should find its way to the fast channels as soon as possible because if it’s non-exclusive, then someone else will publish it, and we’ve lost potential audience.
On the other hand, if a story is something that is exclusive, then we now have more time to make this decisions about when to break it or and through which channels. But again, in the majority of the cases (perhaps more than 80 percent of the time), it makes sense to put articles on the digital channel first, in order to be first and alert the reader. Spending more time on thinking through and preparing content for print for the next day could then offer a different angle and greater depth and colour to the piece.
With the story matrix in hand, newsroom managers should then consider the next level, which is planning further in advance. Many editorial meetings today are still primarily focused on “What stories are we working on for the upcoming edition?” and involve discussions about how to treat those stories often only for print.
Ideally, editorial meetings should cover what stories are being worked on for at least the next three days and include making decisions about how to treat these articles and where as early as possible. Once a newsroom gets in this kind of the rhythm of planning for at least two days past tomorrow, stories can be carved out in better ways, research can be started earlier and the quality of the coverage on all media can improve.
Traditional newsroom workflows rarely offer the flexibility that is needed today to distribute news and information on a variety of platforms throughout the day. Accepting that most of the stories are not actually breaking news and / or exclusive might be difficult for any newsroom, but it is reality after all. We can use this fact to improve the quality and the efficiency in the editorial operation by streamlining the “standard cases,” put more energy into the “exclusive” stories, handling planned stories more creatively and cover breaking news even better.
Often when we ask newsroom executives around the world “Is your newsroom operation working in an integrated way and are your journalists telling stories across platforms,” the reply is “Yes, of course. We are fully integrated, and everyone is working across media.”
However, after asking a few additional questions, we find out the reality is often more along the lines of “We want to be integrated,” or that “Our print journalists don’t write for online, but they all sit in the same room.” So it seems that a lot of publishers want to be modern, embracing the digital world and think and work in an integrated way, but in truth most newsrooms still have a ways to go before they really are.
Pit Gottschalk, former editor-in-chief of the German newspaper “SportBild”, and now Head of CEO’s Newspaper Office at Axel Springer AG, developed an evaluation and measurement concept that uses the Newsplex’s “three types of newsrooms” (please see this blog entry for more information about newsroom 1.0 to 3.0) to describe the convergence and integration level of an editorial operation.
The concept is based on an analysis of the cross-referencing strategy between the different channels and the analysis of the newsroom organisation. The analysis of the cross-referencing strategy deals with the “front-end,” or the “audience flow,” of the editorial operation. How good is cross-referencing between the different platforms and cross promoting? What kind of cross promotion is done? There are more than 20 different categories of cross-references and the analysis looks at the quantity and the type of those.
The analysis of the newsroom organisation, on the other hand, focuses on four significant aspects in an organisation: culture, tasks, people and systems. To evaluate the degree of integration and convergence in the “back-end,” or the “work flow,” a questionnaire is used to understand those four aspects. This questionnaire covers topics such as journalistic practice, newsroom management, working organisation and convergence.
Looking closer at the “back-end” and the four organisational aspects, the first component deals with “culture.” What is the culture of the newsroom in terms of media integration? This takes into consideration the whole behaviour pattern, the thought pattern, the belief system, and the shared values. Does the newsroom believe in media convergence? Is there a vibe of “Digital is part of our future,” or is it “The Internet is bad and needs to be banned”? This area also includes the organisation’s informal culture.
The second part is “tasks.” These are simply the roles, the job descriptions, the responsibilities in the newsroom, and they are different in these three different systems. Here is a simple example: In newsroom 1.0, a journalist is only responsible for writing a story for the paper, whereas in 3.0 it would be to tell the story across different platforms and to write different versions, or to build the print version upon the online version.
The third component is “people.” Here, the analysis examines the areas of skills and knowledge. Are the journalists capable of thinking across media? Many print journalists traditionally focus only on words and pictures, but are they also capable of thinking in terms of moving pictures to determine the best way to tell a story?
The fourth and final area is “structure and systems.” The systems are not solely the technical systems, but also the management systems and include the processes and organisational structures as well as the leadership and the management of incentive systems for example. Are there incentive systems in place where the journalist benefits from the fact that he is a multiple-media journalist?
The evaluation results in a “CTPS factor,” which lies between 0 and 100 percent and describes the status on the path between newsroom 1.0 and newsroom 3.0.
Combining the quality of the cross promotion strategy at the “front-end,” and the status of the four aspects of organisation in the “back-end,” provides an indication of how far we are on this path between total separation and integration.
A transformation process from a separated, or traditional, newsroom to an integrated one is an overwhelming experience. There are hundreds of issues that have to be taken into consideration. A structured analysis helps publishers to focus on specific areas. For the newsroom executives it is easier to define the points of action for the newsroom and to say, for example, “We need to focus on skills. The culture is right, but we don’t have the people who can do it, so we have to educate them,” or “The workflows are not right yet because we are still focusing too much on the print workflows.” And re-checking later allows for progress to be measured.
Finally, it’s great to benchmark the organisation with others to learn from them. This has already taken place for 59 newspapers in Germany in 2010. The benchmarking network was of course anonymous, but the data can be used to see where other publishers, which are for example of a similar size, are on the “road to integration.”
If you want to get your newsroom convergence check-up, please contact me in firstname.lastname@example.org. Newsplex offers this service to its members.
Many reorganisation projects in the last years have shown that changes in a classical newspaper newsroom are a necessity and not an exception. Adapting and reorganising outdated processes and structures to meet today’s demands frequently enable major improvements in product quality as well as the performance capacity of newsrooms – both print and digital.
Today it is generally accepted that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for how a newsroom should be structured and how it should work. The industry has also largely ceased the practice of uncritically copying concepts from other publishing houses and applying them with only minor modifications at their own operations. Publishing houses now recognise that each newsroom needs its own, tailored solution in order to optimise content quality and the performance of the newsroom.
Besides the classical projects that focus on integrating digital and print newsrooms, in the years 2009 and 2010 growing numbers of more extensive projects, i.e. the integration of multiple titles or media brands in one newsroom, have started and are in part already completed. These projects seek to develop an organisational solution for supplying different print media and digital platforms with content from a pool of writers and editors. The scope of such complex projects varies such as integrating newsrooms for a morning and evening edition of one title, or creating one newsroom for a number of different titles, some of which may address various target audiences. In all cases, content was produced by separate teams in the past.
Which models have publishing houses considered for such tasks and subsequently implemented? Some years ago, Die Welt group in Berlin pioneered multi-title newsroom integration. At present there are two further examples in Europe for establishing an integrated multi-title newsroom: the Ringier group in Switzerland with the titles “Blick”, “Blick am Abend”, “Sonntagsblick” and “Blick.ch” as well as Archant Regional of Archant Ltd. in the United Kingdom with the regional titles “Evening News” and “Eastern Daily Press” in Norfolk.
Ringier AG, founded in 1833, is one of Europe’s largest publishing houses and publishes internationally more than 120 magazines and newspaper titles, produces more than 20 TV programmes and operates some 80 websites and mobile platforms. In addition, Ringier owns 11 printing plants in Europe. Ringier’s Blick titles have long been major players in the popular press market in Switzerland. In 2009, a project was initiated with the objective of running the three newspapers and the online portal with a common, integrated newsroom.
One of the most important challenges for this concept was, and still is, the question of how the synergies in a joint newsroom can be utilised, while at the same time retaining the identity of the individual titles. Although all newspapers include the word “Blick” in their titles, there are in part major differences in target audiences, topics, journalistic styles as well as content orientation between the titles. In order to resolve this potential conflict as effectively as possible, core teams have been formed for each title consisting of two to four editors for some desks. Members of these teams are a chief editor responsible for the title concerned as well as other roles, such as designer, managing editor and production specialist who are decisive for the characteristic properties of the title.
Most sections in the Blick group are fully integrated, and each editor is responsible for producing contents for each title. Depending on the job assignment, this can be for just one product, or a story is produced for one title and adapted as required for other titles. But in order to retain the ‘DNA’ of a title at section level, some sections continue to have editors specifically for certain titles who produce contents exclusively for one title. For example, this solution is put into practice at the politics section. This type of hybrid system allows both: to use the synergies of a large-scale common newsroom and at the same time retain the specific brand characteristics of a title, i.e. the specific style concerned.
The second recent example of a complex reorganisation is located in the east of England. In Norfolk County, Archant Regional publishes two daily newspapers and their corresponding websites as well as a series of weekly titles. The “Eastern Daily Press” is a morning quality newspaper for city and rural regions. The “Evening News” is published early in the afternoon, features a popular style of journalism and has more focuse on urban areas. In this case, the objective was that a common newsroom should supply multi-titles with content at the same time ensuring each brand gets the requsite focus. This is made possible by each daily brand their own “brand editor” who is also responsible for the digital version of their title.
The different sections are fully integrated as regards titles and platforms, there are no longer any section editors working exclusively for just one title. In order to optimally supply the news-driven titles for both print and digital by using the existing newsroom resources, even the “fast-moving” news sections works with exceptionally intensive content planning. Although the news sections process large volumes of the latest content, a lot of content is based on plannable events, such as press conferences and other fixed events. With this hypothesis as a basis, the positions of a “planning senior content editor” and a “day senior content editor” were called into being.
As the titles of these two responsible positions indicate, the planning senior content editor focuses on planning content for both titles and the newsroom resources on a day by day, weekly and monthly scale. This information is fed to the daily senior content editor as he bases his activities on the daily execution of tasks for both titles and their websites and sees to it that the titles are up-to-the-minute. Both senior content editors report to the brand editors.
This relatively new structure has been used already to prepare content generated by a number of events in an integrated newsroom for both titles in completely different ways. It has been possible in Norfolk to retain the specific characteristics of the titles concerned. Both titles benefit from a much larger pool of editors than before, something that is reflected in the diversity of topics, increased creativity and number of new ideas.
These two examples from Switzerland and England demonstrate that, by carrying out a careful analysis of existing work processes and structures, it is in fact possible to avail of synergies without this necessarily leading to a title losing its characteristic properties and a drop in quality. It is obvious, however, that the way in which the newsroom works changes radically, as in both cases, the editor in-chief no longer has exclusive access to the newsroom resources. Instead, a type of internal agency for specific topics is created. The difference and most important advantage compared to classical news agencies is that the responsible editors for a title.
If the differences between the titles become too significant in relation to target audience, market orientation and editorial concept, then the synergies will be only very minor and the risk of confusing the titles quite serious. But in many cases the advantages could be possibly greater than the drawbacks and constitute a possible answer to the continuously increasing cost pressure.
We published two special reports about those projects. Please send me an email or contact my office (email@example.com) to get copies. Thanks.
Today’s economic situation demands that news publishing houses must work as efficiently as possible. For medium to large publishing companies producing several titles and brands on print and/or digital, far greater efficiency can be achieved through the establishment of a newsroom where, to a large extent, a group of journalists creates content that can be used across all titles and brands.
A smaller group of top journalists can be kept separate with each working for just one title, perhaps in areas such as politics or sports so that each brand retains its unique characteristics or “DNA.” In addition, the content judgement and selection process is a crucial component of a title’s DNA, so there is a need for a brand-responsible editor and perhaps a small group of additional editors for each title to set the tone of the given publication.
In most other areas, however, multi-title publishing houses can utilise synergies among their various titles, which have traditionally employed multiple people covering the same topic areas. Likewise, each title usually has several editors processing the same wire stories.
With all of this in mind, the question then becomes: How far can we go? How far should we go? Essentially, there are four basic models a publisher can choose, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The first, let’s call it the “separated model,” is that everything is kept as it is. Each brand has its own editor in chief and teams of journalists. The advantage is that all of your editorial forces work for one brand. They have a clear focus on the brand, and the editor in chief has control over the whole editorial process and resources. The disadvantages are there is likely to be double-work being done across titles, and the editor in chief can’t easily access specialists from the other titles. This is the traditional model used by most publishers.
The second possibility is the “semi-pooled model,” where parts of the sections are pooled, but a few key people in each section are still dedicated to the individual titles. The advantages here are that you can utilise the pooling effect, and because of the pool, the overall staff size available to any one title is larger. At the same time, the identity of each title can be maintained by keeping those dedicated key people. The disadvantage is that it can be tricky to define the title’s identity and, consequently, to find out who the key people are to create that identity. And, since it is a matrix organisational structure, it is often a challenge to manage it. Finding the right mixture of pooling and dedicated allocation is a balancing act and unique to the publisher and its brands. A few newspapers in the U.K. and Switzerland are working on implementing a semi-pooled model.
The third possibility is a pooled model where more or less everyone is working for all titles. Here, the advantage is that you have the most resources, and the synergies are used in the best possible way. The disadvantage is there is a danger of the titles becoming too similar and losing the individual DNA. This model has been effectively implemented by Germany’s Welt Gruppe, and Denmark’s Nordjyske Medier has taken this approach since 2003.
The fourth and final model is a mixed version of the above three models on different sections. For example, the sports section is fully pooled whereas the politics section is completely separated and financial news is semi-pooled.
It should be obvious that multi-title publishing houses must move away from the separated model to one that uses at least some degree of pooling. The traditional method is simply too expensive. However, as with newsroom integration, there is not a one-size-fits-all model that can or should be adopted by everyone. Ultimately, which model or version of models a publisher decides to embrace needs to be based on what is best for its audiences.
As difficult as it might be to believe, the current crisis offers news publishers some important opportunities. First, because it was a long time in the making (steady circulation declines, for example, have been well documented for decades), many publishers have already been thinking about how they could change for some time.
In recent years, IFRA has had many discussions with publishers about changing their newsrooms to not only integrate digital but also to make them more customer orientated and more efficient. However, since the print business was still generating strong profits until fairly recently, decisions on actually making future-oriented changes were nearly always postponed. Today, there is no longer any reason to delay them. Indeed, now is the time to take action. Publishers must once and for all break away from the traditional daily print cycle and learn to truly embrace a more platform-agnostic approach.
Likewise, most advertising departments can benefit from major restructuring that puts the customer and his or her success first and foremost, both digitally and in print. Despite the lingering question of “How can we make money with online?” we have seen few real changes in the behaviour and attitude of advertising departments. Until now, most have remained focused solely on print, with online part of the upsell, i.e.: “If you buy this print ad, you also get an online ad for a little surcharge.”
An awareness of online as its own media where publishers can earn money has not been established apart from a few well-known exceptions, such as Schibsted, which started years ago to take online seriously as an advertising media. In the rest of the world, it has been: “We have print. Print is where we make money.”
Consequently, the mindset and sales approach for advertising have long centred on print. For example, the rules of how print advertising is sold have typically been applied to online, but we know from research that the size of an online ad does not have the same importance for the reader in terms of factors such as ad recall, as it does with print. Online, context and frequency are more relevant for the ad recall and impact of a campaign. Naturally, this has an influence on how ad packages are designed and priced.
As with the newsroom, it’s therefore now time to move the processes, the offered products and services and also the management structure in advertising sales beyond print to firmly include digital.
Lastly, the crisis also offers the opportunity for many publishing houses to develop their internal management and leadership skills. In the past, especially in newsrooms, journalism skills rather than managerial ones have largely dominated. While journalism skills are obviously of great importance in newsrooms, the lack of strong leadership and management skills have left many unprepared to cope with the changes that now must be made.
News publishers can actively fight against this crisis by taking strong, decisive measures to make their newsrooms more efficient and reader oriented and their advertising departments more customer oriented. While there are no “magic bullet” solutions, one way out is to finally reach decisions and start planning and implementing the changes that are necessary.