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The rise of bridge roles in news organizations
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Sept. 26, 2017, 4 a.m.
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A report out Tuesday from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looks at how and why legacy news organizations in six European countries (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the U.K.) are experimenting with new digital news products. Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen looked at 12 projects across the countries, speaking to a total of 41 editors and managers from the various publications.

Here are a few tidbits:

New ways to push premium content. Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat added “diamond stories,” which are only available to paying subscribers or those who register for a two-week free trial. Helsingin Sanomat already had a metered paywall, but it was relatively weak — five articles per week per device. “The ‘diamond wall’ is [a sort of] hard paywall that you cannot bypass by changing browsers or deleting cookies, or by coming from Facebook or [other platforms],” said Kaisa Aalto, head of strategy and business development. “[To read the diamond stories] you have to log in and be a subscriber. We also offer two-week free trial subscription deals. These trial subscriptions have been a great source of sales leads for us.” Following the success of the “diamond” project, Helsingin Sanomat created the role of content marketing manager, “filled by a professional with a background in TV broadcasting. She worked with journalists to use TV program promotion techniques to market forthcoming ‘diamond stories’ and other premium content.”

In order to encourage uptake of its mobile app IL, Finnish newspaper Iltalehti made the content that is normally paywalled free through the app. “Once their readers encounter the paywall on the website, they are asked to either become subscribers or download the app for free,” leading to a 63 percent increase in downloads of the app. The app now accounts for 40 percent of the newspaper’s pageviews.

Stories from humans, not algorithms. Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza launched an email newsletter that is sent out at 7 p.m.; each day, it consists of a different journalist’s “personal introduction and recommendations on the most important articles of the day,” and is meant to present readers with a wide range of perspectives. (At first it was only sent to subscribers; it’s now opened up to a general audience and has 22,000 subscribers.) “People confirmed that what they want from us, what they expect, is a product written specifically for them,” said Mateusz Szaniewski, head of social media. “Not just a ‘technical’ email with a list of links, but something more structured, something that can add value.”

German news channel n-tv was one of the first organizations to offer news on the Amazon Echo when it launched in the country in 2016. One key feature of its offering: the possibility of having some news read by n-tv’s own news readers. Julia Wegeler, head of digital products at n-tv, “considers this to be an asset that sets n-tv apart from other news outlets that only offer news ready by Alexa.”

N-tv is mostly experimenting with Alexa for experimentation’s sake; since it’s not generating revenue, the organization had to weigh how much it was willing to invest in the platform. “[Amazon] asked us to update the news every hour, and they monitor that,” Wegeler said. “But we are not such a big newsroom for audio only and we also have to work out how to monetize it. So you cannot establish a whole new team just for this purpose…Instead, we decided as a first step to take the RSS feed from our online news.” Users like the human-read news, and n-tv will add more of it next month.

Remember what makes you you. News organizations grapple with trying new things to reach younger audiences, while still maintaining their voice. “We wouldn’t be able to adapt the tone that some of the newer publishers do, for example, [when they use social videos to cover] certain political issues…We’re a neutral, impartial broadcaster. So we need to sort of stick to that identity on digital [platforms] too…But that’s not to say we can’t do things in a slightly more informal, different way compared to our TV output,” said Chris Achilleos, digital output editor at London’s ITV News. “That is the challenge, because we need to make sure that we’re relevant to the younger generation of news consumers who will not automatically migrate to watching TV bulletins when they get older.”

When France’s Le Monde began discussions with Snapchat about Discover, Snapchat encouraged the paper to simultaneously “preserve the newspaper’s editorial identity and focus on hard news stories,” even if they were aimed at a different audience. “I guess one of the key issues about this project is about our editorial identity,” said Nabil Wakim, director of editorial innovation at Le Monde (and a 2015 Nieman Fellow). “It is about making people understand your editorial identity, and playing with it in a way that allows you to fit well into the platform…I remember one of the first meetings, when they said that their stance is that, on Discover, news outlets have to be their true selves. They mentioned people from [other news organizations in the U.S.] wanting to look younger or cooler than they really were, and therefore being a little bit lame and off-topic.”

You can read the full report here.

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