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“Tremendous benefits to news media companies”: How publishers are placing data at the center of their decisions

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“While every publisher is drowning in data, only half have a roadmap — and I’ve yet to find a publisher who is totally happy with their strategy,” writes Earl J. Wilkinson, Executive Director and CEO, International News Media Association (INMA) in the foreword to a new report which attempts to fill this gap. 

The report, The Benefits and Risks of Media Data Democratisation, shares learnings and case studies from the 2021 Audience Analytics Accelerator – a joint project by the Meta Journalism Project and the International News Media Association (INMA) in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). 

The eight-month-long program had 15 publishers from six Latin American countries. It was designed to help news publishers transform their online business by learning to work with data in new and creative ways.

To develop a strong digital strategy, it is necessary to understand how you can become more important for your customers and, for that, you need to place data at the center of your decisions. This means using data to drive discussions, deep dive on insights, and develop and test hypotheses. 

Claudia Gurfinkel, Director, Latin America News Partnerships, Meta

87% skeptical about data

However, placing the data at the center of decision-making can be a formidable cultural challenge. 87% of INMA members at a recent Smart Data Initiative meet-up identified dismissive culture as the single biggest barrier. “Skeptics sometimes worry that data and metrics will undermine professional judgment and artistic creativity, limit the autonomy of workers, and potentially lead to lower-quality output and less satisfactory work,” notes Greg Piechota, author of The Benefits and Risks of Media Data Democratization. The report recommends a process of data democratization that is aimed at empowering journalists, marketers, and product leaders.

Rutgers Professor and author of the book, All the News That’s Fit to Click, Caitlin Petre, suggests providing journalists with less raw data and more insights based on data. This would help build trust and acceptance, she says. 

“Develop the data-driven culture”

Portuguese publisher Público, which began its digital transformation in 2015, understood the importance of buy-in from the different teams. 

“The goal was to face the daily needs and the daily questions of all the teams and to explore and integrate the data to deliver manual reports,” said Elisabeth Fernandes, Head of Analytics and Audience Insight, Público at INMA’s Product and Data Summit in October 2021. “In the long term, the goal was to work in the data vision, develop the data-driven culture, and build automatic reports.”

“We had a lot of conversations with the editorial teams, subscriptions department, and the analytics [department] to understand what they want from the data,” she added. This helped the analytics team deliver actionable information to each person and department. They also started having more meetings and focus groups as well as daily, weekly, and monthly newsletters for team members to help them become more comfortable and effective at working with data.

It’s really important to communicate and to help the people understand what to do with those KPIs.

Elisabeth Fernandes, Head of Analytics and Audience Insight, Público

That accomplished, the publisher was able to focus on evolving and enhancing its strategy. The automatic reports went on to include information to improve engagement and acquire more readers among others. 

“We deliver content by group like the main hours, the main content that this kind of reader likes to read, which day of the week,” said Fernandes. “All this information was really useful to change the mindset of the newsroom and all the sections of the newspaper.”

Source: The Benefits and Risks of Media Data Democratisation

“One area that’s too often overlooked”

“Data offers tremendous benefits to news media companies, but one area that’s too often overlooked is its importance in creating a more customer-centric business,” writes Piechota.

High performing firms according to Rohit Deshpandé, author, Developing A Market Orientation:

  • Know more about customers and have deeper insights than competitors about their needs. 
  • Use insights to out-compete others in serving customers. 
  • Motivate employees to innovate around the customers’ needs.

“Making media customer-centric, impactful, and financially sustainable, depends on employees listening to customers, learning and adapting, and forming a culture to handle this change,” concludes Piechota.

Start getting closer to your customer and keep in mind the customer is why we are doing these things. We want them to be satisfied.

Riske Betten, Digital Director, Mediahuis, Nederland

The full report is available at INMA:
The Benefits and Risks of Media Data Democratisation