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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged local newspapers

Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Pål Nedregotten, Executive Vice President, Amedia AS, Norway

Pål Nedregotten

Ameida is a local business – although there’s a concentration around Olso, they don’t have titles in major Norwegian cities. And they had fine reach – but reach was never enough. Digital ad income would not fund local journalism as they’d known it. In April 2014, they launched single sign-on across all their newspapers, as part of a two step plan:

  1. Start with their paying print subscribers, 480,000 of them, who were paying significant amount of money for access. They wanted to convert them into digital subscribers. Then they needed to help them build a digital habit, in preparation for a print frequency decline. The hope? This would reduce churn.
  2. Turn that into growth – bringing in new subscribers.

Interestingly, each subscription comes with 5 user accounts – it’s a household subscription. Once you have logged-in users, you can capture richer data. And thus, you want to give anonymous users a reason to register and sign in. Move people up the value chain.

How to do that? A subscription layer – a paywall by any other name. Between 40 to 60% of articles are in the subscription layer. Getting the level right required some experimentation: hey needed to get above 30% before it really took off.

From reader to subscriber

They now have 527, 729 subscribed. They’ve put on about 3000 in the last week. That’s 12.9% of all Norwegians over the age of 15. In total they have 800,684 registered users.

But: are they using the sites?

  • The highest logged in 249,000 daily, and around 360,000 weekly.
  • They’re selling around 300 digital subscriptions every day.
  • That shoots up during campaigns. A Black Friday sale led to 4,600 subscriptions. There’s no signs of growth slacking off yet.
  • They have 130,664 digital only subscribers – and that growth curve is accelerating.
  • They’re not seeing print cannibalisation.

Will it pay enough?

Editors and journalists are trained in arguing and gut feelings. And that made it hard to persuade them that they can charge more than Netflix. And they could. And then they said they couldn’t charge more than Spotify – they could. 149kr to 229kr per month seems to be the right spot. The circulation income is trailing the sales – but it is clearly growing.

87% of digital sales are done on the online edition. They don’t have local sales guys – it’s the journalism that creates the sales. 64% are new customers, and the digital customer average age is below 50 – and crawling downwards

Retention is all about the right content

If people read you, they stay (at about 80% relation rates). If they don’t read you – they’re gone after 20 weeks.

So, they started classifying and analysing stories – and found that they had high readership and low volume content types, and high volume and low readership content. They were producing the wrong sorts of content – and that news was unwelcome in the newsrooms. This was the result of producing for print. If you’re assigned four pages of culture, you fill four pages. So, they changed the workflow: do content for digital first, and then build the print product out of that.

The paywall balance is really important. They’d never have this growth without the free content. The more people read the freedom content, the more they’re likely to subscribe.

They’ve stopped distributing analytics that hasn’t been worked on. They remove “fly by” traffic, that will and can never convert.

Last year they were Norway’s largest producer of live football. 347 matches streamed live, with one camera and one voice. That will be 364 in the 2nd division this year – they have exclusive rights. They’re broadcasting 1st division bowling – 12 subscriptions. 88 subscriptions on a youth football tournament, Local lifestreams convert really well.

Back in January the first newspaper crossed the “more digital than print subscribers” milestones. The same month one newspaper became profitable from subscriptions only.

Key Lessons:

  1. Put the reader first
  2. To deliver this value must be important enough to get it done.
  3. That means letting go of other stuff. Prioritise.
  4. Give clear goals and use progress monitoring
  5. Communicate values
  6. Don’t be afraid to charge
  7. The value is good journalism: the tech just enables it.

Analysis

Probably the most important things in this model are:

  • Experimenting with the balance of free and paid content
  • Using analytics to reshape the content balance

This level of proactive content management work to understand the audience needs and obsessively reshape their business to support it is vital to building a vibrant local news ecosystem. However, Amedia moved before the financials became too constraining – too many local publishers didn’t. But the message is clear: be ruthless on focusing on the right amounts of the right content for people – and they will pay. But the free content is critical in getting them in.

David Higgerson, quoted on Hold The Front Page:

Lincolnshire Live and Cornwall Live follow the same model of hyperlocal news on a county-wide platform as the recently launched Essex Live, Kent Live, Gloucestershire Live and Somerset Live.

David, I don’t think hyperlocal means what you think it means. Sites for entire counties are pretty much the opposite of hyperlocal – even if stories are “hyperlocal”. Or, in this case, “local”. It’s missing the point of a niche site for a niche community.

The problem with local newspapers:

John Robinson notes that his local paper is much slower than Facebook and Twitter, often reporting local stories two days after it appeared on social media. What’s the solution? Not sure there needs to be one. The news is getting where it needs to go. Maybe what’s needed is a purpose for a professional news organization.

There is no point in me buying my local newspaper. Given that the journalists actually lift stories from the local Facebook groups, it’s just a printed archive of days-old news at this point. And their website sucks.

Johnston Press has clearly mastered the art of buzzwording more than it has the art of social media:

“Twitter users are much more engaged with news brands,” he said, so the network’s place in Johnston Press’ social strategy is “to get the virality started”.

That sound you can hear is me banging my head repeatedly against my desk.

Kevin Anderson:

For too long we’ve been trying to find a market for the same products that we used to deliver in print, and that just won’t work. We can’t simply write that local council story the same way that we used to and hope that social media will be enough to market it. I’m really not sure that those incremental, process-based stories actually engage audiences. Instead, we need thematic stories and engagement opportunities that tackle big issues in sticky ways.

This is written in the context of local journalism, but I think it pretty much applies to all journalism. The era of just doing what we used to do, published digitally and marketed on social media is drawing to an end.

The interesting stuff now is figuring our the new forms of journalism that really take advantage of digital tools.

Schrödingers Cat Lite

There’s a weird triumphalism is the air this morning, as Hold The Front Page points out that Claire Enders’ famous prediction five years ago that half of the UK’s local newspapers would be dead by now:

Obtaining a precise figure for the number of local newspapers that have closed since the start of the recession in 2008 is not easy, but whatever the exact number, it is clear that her initial estimate of 650 has proved way off-beam.

Our own estimate, based on the stories we have covered on this site, is that there have been just over 100.

That’s not to say that we haven’t lost a lot more local newspaper journalists, as the survivors have brutally cut back… But the core argument is correct: the number of closure has not been as high as predicted.

The thing about predictions, though, is that they have something rather Schrödinger’s Cat about them. One of the points of that thought experiment is to explain that, in quantum physics, when you measure something, you change it. And to some extent, that’s what’s at work here. Enders’ predictions were based on the prevailing situation. Essentially: “if things stay the way they are, then we’ll lose half of our local newspapers”. Of course, things didn’t stay the way they were. As Paul Linford’s piece acknowledges:

Her comments, which were taken at face value by many in the business world, set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry during which the defining media narrative about the local press became one of irreversible decline.

And so… people changed things. So, while her predictions didn’t come to pass, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t incredibly useful.

Image by Kent Wang and used under a Creative Commons licence

Fascinating insight into Kevin Anderson’s first few months back in a newsroom:

When I landed in my new job as executive editor of two newspapers in Wisconsin, I had to prioritise what I would do, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would really be able to start my community platform strategy for months, possibly not until the autumn. But then my communities surprised me. Many people I met said they wanted more from the newspaper. I was honest with them and told them that they wanted the same thing I wanted, a vibrant newspaper. To achieve that, I told them I would need their help, and I was concrete on how they could help.

Kevin is a smart chap (and a friend), and what he realises very clearly is that the solution to the problems afflicting local media is not to “do more with less” as so many journalists characterise it, but to do different things.

And doing different things requires letting go of some of the old things you used to do. Many journalists seem to find that hard, so what you really need is strong, intelligent leadership from the top. Looks like Kevin’s providing that. It’s good to see a genuine digital innovator like him leading a newsroom again.

853:

Greenwich Council has finally come clean and admitted its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, is signed off by leader Chris Roberts… “to ensure political neutrality and to protect the borough’s reputation”.

Council-run newspapers and magazines are not journalism, they’re propaganda. They will not fill the gap left by failing local publisher business models. This is why the hyperlocal movement — for all its struggles and false starts — is so important.

Four visions of data journalism, moderated by Kathryn Corrick, digital media consultant

Bella Hurrell, specials editor on the BBC News website
Bella HurrellThe BBC specials team produces a whole range of added-value content for the BBC website. They’re becoming part of a visual journalism team at the BBC. Data journalism can be long slow projects, but not all of them. You should pick subjects that have a shelf life – road traffic accidents, unemployment, that sort of thing, Update the data and people will keep coming back. Make tools they will want to keep using.  Build sharing into it.

They did a project plotting road traffic fatalities through FOI requests – the map was the most popular element, because it allowed people to understand what the situation is where they lived. They also visualised some of the most interesting data – for example, bikers are 21% of fatalities, compare to 1% of traffic. They liveblogged every accident on one day to bring publicity to it, to help amplify the data and give it more life. It was really popular and followed nationally. Their military deaths in Afghanistan gets traffic every time there’s a new death. Their unemployment tracker gets updated monthly and gets s ready stream of traffic. 

Visualisation helped bring a dry subject like the Eurozone debt web to life. They had comments open, and responded to the issues raised. “People really appreciated it”. They key seems to be a double-whammy of personally applicable information that is also globally relevant. 

Claire Miller, senior reporter and data journalist, Media Wales
claire millerFrom global to very, very local… The bread and butter of what Media Wales do is government data. The focus is still stories for the paper, so they’re reacting to what is released by government, and finding stories in that. Beyond the day to day, it’s a lot of FOI data used to create stories. With FOI you can get the data you want at the level you want. For example, she asked exactly when and where all the parking tickets where handed out in Wales. They visualised it using Tableau. A&E visits by location, not surprisingly, increased nearer the hospital you lived, and that showed up well on a map. Mapping empty homes allows quick identification of hotspots.

With open data, more and more stuff is being published, so there’s lots of potential.  

People look for specific things, as uses of the data store show – local elections, the Olympic torch relay and sport. Education bubbles along all the time… They ended up making their own Olympic Torch map, because they couldn’t embed the official one easily. It went crazy. It was the most popular thing on the site. Wales lacks the same easy access information on school performance in the UK. Media Wales gathered everything they could find, gathered it into one app, and let people access it. 

And anything with rugby in it is popular…

Damian Kimmelman, CEO, Duedil
Damian-Kimmelman.jpgEverything that consumes electricity will inevitably be connected to the internet. And that means it will leave a data trail. And they are, in his words, “data whores”. 

Duedil is a site for examine the state of companies using available data (Martin did an excellent write-up of their Hacks/Hackers talk). They’ve had acquisition offers for £20m –  and they’ve turned it down. They’re still seed funded. And they’re still finding new ways of making data more interesting and useful. They’re planning on launching a facility called lists. Create your lists of types of companies, and use the data to find new ways of tagging, categorising and analysing the companies. But they need more information. Mapping the companies around your social graph – will that show whose companies have changed dramatically over the last few years? 

Heirecrchy of needs for data: it needs to be clean – deduced and usable. It needs to be findable – and linked. 

Users need to know the provenance of data – who touched it, who keyed it in? Did the accountant make a mistake? The more people touch data, the more imperfect it. It’s important to understand the authority of a dataset. 

James Ball, data journalist working for the Guardian investigations team
james ballHe’s a reporter, dammit Jim, not a designer. Whatever you’re trying to do – there’s a dataset you can buy, open, assemble or FoI. But that’s a bit like saying there’s someone who knows the key to your story – how do you find them? He wants to challenge the idea of “from data to story”. 

There’s all sorts of caveats when you’re using data from surveys and censuses. Investigating the stat used as the basis of a Diane Abbot comment piece lead to exposure of a biger story – one disproportionate rise in young black male unemployment – which hit the front page. Sometimes readers will simulate investigations – people claiming in comment threads that the vacancies claimed in jobs centres are not real, or zero hours contracts, or the like. They tried to scrape the relevant data from a government site – but it had protections in place. So he had to FOI it – and got the data, albeit heavily encrypted (but the phoned the password over). It was very messy, inconsistent data. 

This wasn’t a story from digging around in data. This was questions from the readers and a comment piece which they could answer with data. Do you ring around your sources and ask them for a story? If you’re doing that, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t do that to data, either. Talk to humans, look at news, and then ask the right questions of your data. This argues for not having data journalisms in silos. Don’t just keep them in offices looking at spreadsheets…