World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Even newsrooms ‘without the muscles’ of global brands can adopt ‘strong’ data strategies

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Even newsrooms ‘without the muscles’ of global brands can adopt ‘strong’ data strategies

With better understanding and analysis of user data, newsrooms can boost subscriptions, maximise audience engagement, personalise user experience, and much, much more. And it’s not just the big players that are doing it.

“Interestingly enough, we have seen small publishers without the muscles of the global news brands implement quite impressive data infrastructures and tech stacks at a very low cost,” says Damborg.

“If the determination and decision power is there, you can build the needed functionality out of existing SaaS services in a flexible and decentralised IT infrastructure.”

WAN-IFRA recently caught up with Damborg to hear some more insights on building a strong data culture in a newsroom.

WAN-IFRA: How would you describe the "starting kit" or minimum of tools needed by newsrooms to start making more data-informed decisions?

Steffen Damborg: First and foremost, you need your readers to register. Unless people are logged in they will seem like a new user to you every time they delete cookies, use private mode, change browser or visit from a new device. We all have multiple devices and delete cookies every now and then, so it is almost impossible to gain the necessary insights without establishing a more direct connection with your readers.

So, we think that it is an important strategic decision to make, that we want to focus on identification and relation building towards our digital readers.

Then, we can start talking about the implications with regards to the needed “starting kit”. You need systems for identification (single-sign-on system). You need to be able to control what your users have access to (rights management system). And, you need to store the data the users create while visiting your media. With these basic tools, you can start crunching your data both in real time and for predictive purposes. For this, you need a data management platform and employees with the right data analytics competences.

A number of publishers are developing in-house tools and dashboards. When does that make sense?

To build or to buy? This is indeed a very important question. The rule of thumb is, if you are a first-mover and/or your business model is so complex that no generic system with reasonable adjustment can do the job, then you will have to build it yourself. But today, there are plenty of good data tools and visualisation tools out there sold primarily as software as a service. So, in my opinion, I would buy this part of my infrastructure and use the saved money for improving my product offering. The quality of the content and the user experience is by far the most important part of a reader revenue strategy.

Do you have any advice for managing the cultural change associated with transitioning to a more data-informed and data-driven newsroom in terms of training, communication and KPIs?

Firstly, to create behavioural change, the transformation process must be purpose-led, experience-centric and inclusive. This requires a company wide acceptance of the need for change and a clear vision to communicate. Secondly, you need to train your talent across departments: editorial, marketing, and sales. Cases from Axel Springer Verlag and Helsingin Sanomat show that very few KPIs shared across departments can create organisational alignment and create the buzz needed when changing your business approach, and hence give you extraordinary results.

Have your seen any common challenges or issues so far with the initial "implementation" of GDPR on newsrooms, or is it too early to say?

Good point. Actually, I think it is too early to say. Most European publishers have invested heavily in being GDPR compliant from day one. The biggest challenge so far is the huge room for interpretation. When the legal experts differ in their standpoints regarding the interpretation of GDPR, it is difficult and extra costly to build your new data handling flows and procedures. And, then there is the question about non-EU publishers. They must also comply when operating in Europe and since the Internet has no borders almost all media are at the end of the day global media. So, in theory, you must comply or block traffic to your webpage coming from Europe. We have seen many publishers choosing this path in the first month after May 1st.


Simone Flueckiger's picture

Simone Flueckiger


2018-09-30 23:47

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