Forma en que the christian science monitor replanteo su misison pensando en sus lectores
Last year, The Christian Science Monitor totally changed its digital operations. It refocused its daily reporting into a subscription-supported daily news digest called The Monitor Daily. The Monitor bills the news digest as a unique look at the news, providing readers coverage of the world that they won’t be able to get elsewhere.
To try and live up to that promise, the Monitor had to revamp its culture and its workflows to produce high-value coverage and emphasize the need to convert readers to subscribers. This week in Solution Set we’re going to look at a few of the processes the Monitor changed to make this possible. Even though the Monitor is a global news organization, any news org that’s going to ask its readers to directly support its journalism can learn from the Monitor’s approach.
Solution Set is a new weekly report from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network. Every Thursday, we take an in-depth look at one neat thing in journalism, share some lessons you can take away, and point you toward other excellent resources. (You can catch up on our first four issues here.)
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- The Challenge: The Christian Science Monitor had to rethink its operations as it relaunched its digital presence as a paid daily briefing, called the Monitor Daily.
- The Strategy: The Monitor invested in the tools it needed and also took steps to communicate the importance of culture change to its staff.
- The Numbers: The Monitor now has 8,500 paying digital subscribers, with a goal to hit 10,000 by the end of March.
- The Lessons: By putting its mission — serving paying readers with unique journalism — at the core of its decisions, The Monitor has framed its work to support its business model.
- The Future: The Monitor plans to introduce more analytics tools to help staffers better target and convert subscribers.
- Want to know more?: Learn how other organizations, such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Dallas Morning News, undertook similar challenges.
Now, let’s dig in a little deeper:
Last May, The Christian Science Monitor revamped its digital strategy. It launched The Monitor Daily, a daily paid news digest. Each issue contains five stories, along with an introduction and comments from a Monitor editor who guides readers through the issue. The Monitor still publishes a weekly news magazine as well.
The Monitor’s previous digital strategy had been built around scale, chasing traffic through Google News and search platforms. As a result, the Monitor tried to produce lots of online stories that would rise to the top of the search rankings.
But with the move to the Monitor Daily, the outlet recalibrated the types of things it covers online. With only five stories per day, it can’t cover everything. Instead, the Monitor tries to offer a one-of-a-kind perspective on the world that readers can’t get anywhere else. “If we don’t deliver on that, then we’re not delivering what we need to attract and keep the kind of membership (we need),” managing editor Amelia Newcomb told me.
A recent issue, for instance, featured stories about:
- President Trump’s approach to trade with China.
- California Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy
- English-speakers’ rights in Cameroon and how their treatment reflects the larger trend of minority rights in Africa
- The changing role of Jordanian women in that country’s workforce
- How a co-ed hockey team made up of veterans is helping them fight hopelessness
Each issue also includes an editorial from the Monitor’s editorial board, one religious story, and a photo story. The Monitor also produces a daily audio edition as well.
Months of testing and research led to the ultimate decision to move to the digital subscription model, but once that decision was made the Monitor had to work to cultivate a culture and workflow on both the editorial and business sides to support the new model charging for online coverage.
Monitor associate publisher David Grant told me the paper had to address issues of “heart” — its editorial coverage — and “mind” — its approach to the business side in order to maximize its chances for success with the new venture.
On the news side, the Monitor had to think how its coverage could stand out.
“The thing about dealing with a subscriber base is that they pay you money and you’re accountable to them,” he said. “While the industry has long said that we’re accountable to our readers and we care about them, when those people are really directly responsible for the vast majority of your revenue, you better be committed to serving them.”
And on the business side, it needed to get to know its readers better so it could convince them to subscribe:
“Right now when readers show up at most news websites, it’s like if you walked into a bar every week or a restaurant every week and you saw the same waiter and they never remembered your name or remembered everything about you,” Grant said. “You might like the food, you might like the experience, but it’s a little weird that you show up every day and that news organization doesn’t know anything about you ever.”
To maximize the relationship with its readers, the Monitor began thinking about its conversion funnel — how to take readers from being occasional visitors to its site to paid subscribers.As a result, the paper has invested in customer relationship management software, SalesForce, and built pathways within the system to track and target readers.
But beyond new tools, the move has required a change in mindset. Instead of running one-off campaigns, the Monitor is now constantly pitching readers and selling its value to them as they interact with its various products.
“Campaign mentality is that I have a group of newsletter subscribers and now I want them to do something else,” Grant said. “Journey mentality is you show up, I know where you came from, I know what you read on the site, and I know the propensity of people like you to do the next thing that I want you to do, which is subscribe, take a different email newsletter, or take a free trial of our site. I want to put you on a trajectory to that.”
The Monitor similarly redesigned its newsroom to redefine beats and change editorial processes emphasizing a reader-first approach to journalism.
The newsroom was restructured into “pods” with eight different editors — covering areas from Europe to science — overseeing teams of reporters. While it sounds like a traditional desk system, the pods were conceived with the idea that they would have more independence.
“We try to have a certain degree of autonomy so we can keep things moving and they have the ability to move ahead with things without getting stuck on needing approval from the deputy editor or this, that and the other thing,” Newcomb said. “The idea is that each pod has its own little ecosystem, but then we have this larger ecosystem of all the news editors being aware of what each other is doing.”
Morning news meetings were also restructured. Held every day at 9:30 a.m., the meetings are open to the entire staff where staffers talk through their approaches to each story. It also helps editors who are writing the intros to the daily briefing better understand the coverage.
“It’s not that we didn’t have a daily news meeting in our previous iteration, but it was just for editors,” Newcomb said. “This is an effort to really get everybody thinking across their interest groups and helping each other to work through ideas.”
The Monitor appears to be having some success with its Monitor Daily subscription offering. It currently has about 8,500 Monitor Daily subscribers.
Its overall goal is to reach 10,000 subscribers by the end of its fiscal year in March. (“It’s going to be very close whether we hit it or not, but we are well within that ballpark,” Grant told me in an email this week.)
And Grant said the Monitor’s ultimate goal is to get to 30,000 subscribers to be truly sustainable.
A subscription to the Monitor Daily costs $11 per month or a one-time payment of $110 for an annual subscription.
“So every 10,000 subscribers is (about) 1 million bucks,” Grant said. “We went from effectively zero, or very low, just a couple hundred thousand in digital subscriptions to 1 million in one full year — we will feel very good about that once we get to the finish line.”
• Make the mission part of your workflow: The Monitor has overhauled its pitch process to make sure reporters are pursuing stories that are aligned with the news org’s mission. The pitches are maintained on a Trello board, and when reporters fill out the cards with potential story ideas they are asked to explain the larger value the story provides readers and why it’s worthy of being considered one of the five stories of the day.
Newcomb shared an example of a recent story about disability rights in Ukraine. Here’s what the Trello card for that story read:
Can having a certain kind of star power move the needle on prejudices? In Ukraine, people with disabilities have long lived in the shadows, but a new generation of disabled veterans wounded in the war against Russian-backed separatists is drawing public acclaim.
“It’s been an interesting process because it’s hard to get people to write those consistently, but when they do it really communicates that they know exactly where they’re going with the story,” Newcomb said. “The more we can execute relentlessly on that, the better we do in producing … the kind of stories we’re looking for.”
• Be patient: Change is a process. There are going to be bumps in the road, and it can take time to fall into a perfect rhythm.
With the package of five stories at the heart of the Monitor’s digital output, it has to think about how to create a digest that has the right mix of stories and an appropriate length and tone.
Learning to create the perfect voice for the Monitor Daily has required staffers to re-evaluate their news judgment. There’s only so much space in each issue, and they’re thinking about how they can have the most distinct coverage.
“There’s an awareness that this is where we think we can compete in the marketplace,” Newcomb said. “If this is where we think we can compete, let’s really stick to it and be pretty hard on ourselves in terms of asking does the story, does the package meet those standards? There are certain things you keep going back to that are your core touchstones. If it doesn’t meet those standards, then we don’t do it. That’s been the hardest part.”
• It’s a change for your readers too: While big changes like this can require staffers to evolve, they’re also a change for your readership as well. And news organizations must be aware of how their audience is responding and listen to their feedback.
When the Monitor launched the Monitor Daily, it changed its homepage to primarily promote the new offering. But it quickly heard from many of its print subscribers that the new homepage was making it more difficult for them to find the news they wanted to read.
“For all the talk of homepages are dead or homepages are alive, it stopped being theoretical and it started being that our core readers are really concerned about this and we have to fix it,” Grant said.
• Improve tools: As it continues to emphasize its readers at the heart of its business model, the Monitor wants to continue to improve its analytics and tools to help staffers on both the business and the editorial sides of the operation work to retain loyal readers.
An example: Monitor reporters get lots of responses from readers. It’d be helpful for them to know which readers they’re hearing from are subscribers, so they can then prioritize their responses.
To that end, the Monitor wants to equip its reporters with data to show how their work — whether it be a story in the briefing, a podcast, or whatever — helps attract subscribers.
“They can’t look at their dashboard and see, hey my newsletter got 10 more subscribers this week off the story I did. That was really good, maybe I should do more of that. We haven’t been able to show them and give them credit for the good work they do on the acquisition side,” Grant said. “That’s what’s next.”
• More $$$: The Monitor is looking at other ways it can get readers to directly support its journalism, and it is planning on rolling out other offerings later this year.
Want to know more?
• Nieman Lab reported last year on the thinking behind the Monitor’s decision to launch the Monitor Daily. It wanted to create a product that was “calm and fact-based and fundamentally constructive.”• The Dallas Morning News totally revamped its newsroom operations in 2016. Poynter took an inside look at that process.
• Earlier this year, The Philadelphia Media Network — made up of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com — followed in the Morning News’ footsteps by reorganizing its newsroom and launching a pay meter. CJR has a deep dive into PMN’s approach. (The Lenfest Institute, which produces Solution Set, is the parent organization of PMN.)
• The Membership Puzzle Project put together a toolkit to help outlets think about how they can design their work with readers and members in mind.
• Additional resources on how to maximize consumer revenue can be found on Better News, a resource from the American Press Institute that’s part of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative.
Inversionistas de provincia recuperaron un periódico de una cadena nacional y ahora el próximo paso es recuperar los lectores
This is a story all of us hope has a happy ending. But even its authors only have so much control.
Two summers ago, a group of four investors bought the largest paperserving the westernmost part of Massachusetts, the Berkshire Eagle, as well as a collection of Vermont papers, the Bennington Banner, the Brattleboro Reformer, and the Manchester Journal.
Newly rid of Digital First Media and its cost-cutting ways, and now owned by people with real ties to the county, the Eagle newsroom was reinvigorated. The new owners laid out a guiding strategy — if you build it up, they will come back — and promised to stay in the business of local news for the long haul. Producing better, local-focused news, and more of it, they surmised, would be the straightest path to bringing back subscribers, raising more revenue — more to invest in digital products and, finally, sustainability.
“It’s been so much fun,” Eagle executive editor Kevin Moran said to me when I first visited the newsroom at the end of December, as we did our Sorkinesque walk-and-talk through its Pittsfield headquarters and lingered in front of the bright basement room that houses the presses. Moran, a Berkshire County native, is also the chief content officer of New England Newspapers Inc., the group that includes the Eagle and the Vermont papers. “With layoffs, it was just really difficult to tell people. It was so difficult, because you knew everyone cared about the work as much as you did. It’s a joy now to be able to expand our capacity and cover the area in a way we’ve never been able to before.”
The excitement was infectious. But I’m not a disinterested party: I grew up in the Berkshires, near the Vermont border. My parents still live there, as do some of my high school friends. As a teen, I wrote letters to the editor that got printed. My parents clipped the sports pages where I appeared somewhere in the back of a team lineup. I felt worldly listening to our nearest NPR affiliate, WAMC in Albany, mention new Berkshires concerts or art exhibitions. When I went away to college, the Berkshires began slipping away from me, a blip on my Facebook whenever a friend would share a local crime story.
From afar, the work of bringing back thousands of lapsed subscribers and adding on new readers in a county with a steadily declining, aging population of fewer than 130,000 people goes beyond my own imagination. At a distance, I hear about all those now-closed department stores at the only mall nearby that would advertise in the Eagle when they were still open, and wonder how it’s possible to sustain a print product.
But I’m not the one doing the work. The importance of what’s happening at the Eagle and across the Vermont papers goes beyond personal nostalgia. It’s an attempt to answer a question that will be asked a lot in the coming years: Can a local newspaper be revived by shuffling off a chain owner and becoming truly local again?
BerkshireEagle.com lets you read three stories before hitting the paywall, and a digital-only subscription costs $13 per month — the same price as digital all-access plus the Sunday print edition. (The site blocks anyone going the incognito browser route.) In the past month, social referrals accounted for 22 percent of online traffic (almost all of that, Facebook, where the Eagle page has about 40,000 followers). 30 percent is direct traffic to the site.
Sunday print circulation for the Eagle is just above 17,000, according to the latest 2017 Q3 figures available through the Alliance for Audited Media (it’s indeed inched upwards in the past year). Ten years ago, it was over 30,000. (Full disclosure: Wracked by guilt, I became a digital subscriber during the course of writing this story, sending the Sunday edition to my parents’ house.)
All four NENI newspapers officially left DFM in May 2016, and by the end of October of the same year, they’d shifted entirely off DFM’s technical infrastructure to its own, including adopting a new CMS. (The necessarily hasty technical transition alone was a huge pain, by all accounts.) Under new owners, the Eagle has been quickly adding to its newsroom, whose staff count is now 40. Including editorial staff from the Vermont papers, that’s 60 people. It also shares reporters with the Vermont nonprofit VTDigger, which pays half the cost of a reporter at the Brattleboro Reformer and the Bennington Banner, and shares content with the newspaper group. Whereas under DFM many sections were replicated, there’s now almost no shared content between the Eagle and its Vermont sister outlets, Moran told me. (I checked this myself; comics were the only overlap.)
As anyone working in local news is painfully aware, DFM still owns prominent but struggling local news organizations like The Denver Post and papers in the Bay Area News Group and Southern California News Group, which are currently laying off staff. The media group itself is owned by a secretive New York hedge fund, whose hedge fund-y enthusiasm for cost-cutting is at odds with the community-focused mandate held closely by journalists working at papers it owns.
“For a long time, our readers were accepting and expecting less and less of the paper,” said Eagle publisher Fredric Rutberg, a retired county judge and one of the four original investors who purchased the Eagle, when we spoke in his office last month. (Two of the four, Stanford Lipsey and Robert Wilmers, have passed away since the sale.) “The key to more subscribers is increasing quality, and I think in that respect, our goal of increasing quality is a credible one.”
There’s no specific subscriber goal, though “sure, we may have ideas in the backs of our minds,” Rutberg said. “But we’re trying to do something that’s not been done, which is to bend the circulation curve backwards. So it’s difficult for me to say exactly how fast you can turn it, and even whether you really can.”
The Eagle is among the 97 percent of daily or weekly papers operatingin the U.S. that have circulations under 50,000, according to Editor & Publisher data. But among newspapers that have moved from national chains to local ownership, it’s one of a handful. In Utah, the Huntsman family bought the the Salt Lake Tribune from DFM, a sale announced the day before the Eagle’s. In Alaska, the experiment went awry, and the Alaska Dispatch News went bankrupt: “I simply ran out of my ability to subsidize this great news product,” majority owner Alice Rogoff said last summer.
“I live in Santa Cruz, where we have a DFM-owned paper. And the interesting thing is, if you talk to people, even the most civically involved people, they don’t really know who DFM is. All they know is, their paper got worse,” newspaper analyst and Lab columnist Ken Doctor told me, when I asked for some national context about the Eagle’s new path. “The idea that an individual or small group of smart, caring people have decided, ‘What’s been happening is wrong, these papers are important, and we’re going to try doing it right’ — it’s so contrarian at this point that we have maybe fewer than half a dozen papers that have moved in this direction.”
“I think it’s important to be able to understand if this can work, and if it does, how much money does it take to make it work, and whether it can serve as a model,” he said.
Moran and Rutberg fanned out recent editions of the Eagle during my newsroom visit, cracking light jokes about the organization’s new drone capabilities (“The Eagle flies now,” “we’ve elevated our coverage”). A few months ago, national press became interested in the county, in large part because of a controversial proposed sale of beloved pieces of art in order to finance a museum’s overhaul. One of the Eagle’s mandates under new ownership has been to bulk up its arts and culture writing, and the museum saga coverage has certainly been unrelenting, with dozens of pieces so faron all facets of the issue. This past summer, the Eagle introduced a colorful, bulked-up new 12-page weekend features section called Landscapes, expanding its former lifestyles section.
“Everything in it is local except the New York Times bestseller list,” Moran reminded me, with an almost practiced enthusiasm that comes from having done a lot of outreach on the paper’s revival. “The paper was skinnier before, but now it lands with a thud on your doorstep. It’s funny what a little investment can do.”
Every section is getting a similar full re-evaluation, Moran said, most recently sports, which now has added features like high school athlete spotlights, a type of story conducive to Facebook-sharing. The section-by-section reworking process is now internally known as “landscaping,” and will take place at the three Vermont organizations as well. This revamping moves the other way, too. Last year, the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal held a sports gala celebrating local high school athletes with Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas as the special guest, selling tickets to and sponsorships for the event. The Berkshire Eagle sports department will test the events model this coming June, according to Moran. The outlets together also launched a sponsored, tourism-focused GoShires VT app, which they’re hoping to expand as well.
“Yes, we’ve been able to add staff. But it’s not just about numbers. It’s about added strength and quality. How many papers of our size, for instance, have an investigations team like ours?” Rutberg said. He proudly rattled off staff names like investigations editor Larry Parnass, investigative reporter Patricia LeBoeuf, new arts and entertainment reporter Ben Cassidy, managing editor for news Samantha Wood, education reporter and community engagement editor Jenn Smith, and editorial cartoonist Chan Lowe, who had been laid off from the Sun Sentinel in Florida, a Tronc-owned paper, in 2015. “We got someone from Florida. We got someone from the Des Moines Register. Maybe we’ll even get someone to come here from California.”
He also mentioned notable members of a new advisory board chaired by a former Boston Globe editor, Don MacGillis, many of whom have already come to the Eagle newsroom for brown bag lunches with staff. (New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert! Novelist Simon Winchester! Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s on the board, too!)
Promise aside, the Berkshire Eagle needs to serve an often overlooked county. The Boston Globe doesn’t reach that far west, and New York outlets don’t reach that far east. Online, the free iBerkshires.com covers council meetings and school closings and events.
It also serves a patchwork county, one that’s dotted with collapsed mills, well-trafficked museums, summer homes, and theater goers, and dealing with its own heroin and opioid crisis. Individual towns are proud, territorial. For a news organization promising breadth of coverage, breadth will be tricky, despite the relatively small population. Advertising is still “a significant portion of our revenue” and seven-days-a-week print is staying, Rutberg told me, but “the needle keeps moving in favor of circulation, the same way nationally it moves in favor of digital over print.”
Rutberg hosts frequent “coffee with the president” open houses throughout the county to meet Berkshire residents personally, talking to them about the Eagle’s improvements and the organization’s desire to really hear out each town.
“Word-of-mouth has so far been our most powerful form of marketing,” Rutberg said. “It’s been encouraging to hear that subscribers encourage others to subscribe, or re-subscribe. Because A, you subscribe because you get a good value. And B, because the paper’s important for the community.” (Unsolicited donations have recently arrived in the newsroom, which Moran and Rutberg have said will go to paying for a subscriber who calls to cancel for financial reasons.)
And reaching those who don’t already read the paper? “That’s the conundrum,” he admitted. The Eagle has tried to branch out with podcasts like its Accents series, which profiles immigrants who now live in the Berkshires, hosted by a local freelancer (the series is sponsored by a local credit union). The possibilities for new readers extend beyond permanent county residents, Rutberg suggested.
Could the Eagle come up with a paid-for arts and culture offering that can be targeted at the seasonal audiences who come for summer theater or for music in the area? Maybe a separate offering for “the Berkshire diaspora” — people who once worked there, lived there, went to college there, or, like me, grew up there?
“The connections people have to this place run deep,” Rutberg said. “And if we can come up with the right products — that sounds so silly, ‘product’ — well, that’s an exercise we should pursue.”
Johnston Press logra un record de ganancias en la circulacion de su periodico impulsado por un excepcional año del i paper
Total publishing revenues (total advertising and newspaper circulation revenue) from continuing operations were down 6 per cent year-on-year, rising to 13 per cent excluding the i newspaper.
The publisher said digital growth remains its “strategic priority”. It said digital revenues, including classified advertising income, was up 3 per cent (14 per cent excluding classifieds).
Unique visitor numbers increased 13 per cent to an average of 25.4m across all sites and average page views up 19 per cent, to 108m per month.
Newspaper circulation revenue was up 2 per cent, which the company said benefited from the i paper’s “exceptional” year.
The company said cash balances on 30 December were at £25m.
Circulation revenue for the i paper was up 19 per cent. Advertising revenues rose 26 per cent in the second half of last year compared to the same period in 2016.
Digital audiences for the i averaged over 1.4m unique browsers per month, up 45 per cent year on year, the company claimed.
Johnston claimed last year that the paper was making a £1m a month.
Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “A slowing down of top line decline is encouraging while further growth in our audiences and digital revenues, underpinned by additional cost reduction, and enabled us to maintain profit margins.
“In 2018, alongside our strategic review of financing options, we will continue to invest in the business, as we seek to accelerate digital growth further while reinforcing our offering of quality, trusted content across all platforms.”
Johnston announced 21 new editorial roles earlier this month, and stands to employ 30 BBC-funded local democracy reporters.