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April 7, 2014, 11:30 a.m.

We need to talk: 26 awkward questions to ask news organizations about the move to digital

The senior vice president of strategy at News Corp has some ideas about how to determine how outlets are really managing the disruption of their businesses — and newsrooms.

Here are 25 awkward questions (and one counter-question) that I wish media reporters/critics would routinely ask of editors and mainstream news organizations, each year. These might be uncomfortable, if truthfully and publicly answered, but even if you “no comment” your way out of that query, the questions might actually help spur newsroom leadership to focus on what really matters. In no particular order of importance, here is a starter kit of questions:

1 What percentage of your digital audience is accessing your brand/journalism only on mobile phones? (Not to be confused with tablets — and don’t settle for a “We have so many millions of digital visitors each month” answer.) What was that number a year ago?

2 Approximately how many journalists are there in your newsroom globally, from the top editor to the full-time-equivalent temp? Of those, how many are part of a dedicated mobile team? And, in that mobile team, how many are focused on phone products and not the tablet?

3 Approximately how many developers (front-end and back-end) does your news organization have? Of those, how many are dedicated to mobile? Can you break down that developer number by phone vs. tablet?

4 For newsrooms with pay models (hard walls, subscriptions, or meters), what percentage of your total unique visitors last month were paying customers?

5 For newsrooms that bundle print+digital subscriptions (almost all mainstream newsrooms these days), can you tell what percentage of your print subscribers have even registered on your website or mobile app so they can access digital content for free as part of their print subscription?

6 How many paying subscribers (digital-only or print-bundled) actually visit your site or mobile products each day? What do they represent of your daily average digital readers?

7 Who formally owns the goal of increasing the number of visits from readers who already pay but don’t come to your digital offerings more than once or twice a month?

8 What has been the change in pageviews per visit on your website year-over-year? What is that number now?

9 What percentage of your total advertising revenue is now digital? Of that, what percentage is coming from phones (again, not tablets)? If you can answer this, then compare that percentage against your answer to No. 1.

10 When was the last time your news organization came up with an advertising innovation that has been sold more than five times to customers in the past 12 months? What was it and can you point to specific use cases?

11 Is there an advertising innovation team in your news organization? Who are its members and how does it work?

12 What is your average advertising sell-through of ads that you sell directly for your website? What is that sell-through for your mobile phone offering? (Particularly for those that have just started digital paywalls.)

13 What percentage of your print ad sizes are also available in your tablet edition?

14 What is your digital subscriber churn rate? Is your new acquisition of paying customers ahead of the churn? And by approximately how much?

15 Can you list the five most important, written, newsroom-wide performance measures on which news staff is evaluated annually?

16 How is the performance of your standards/public editor/ombudsman, if you have one, actually measured?

17 How many people from the newsroom are listed on the publication’s masthead, especially at print publications? Of those, how many are women? How many are non-white?

18 Assuming most of your masthead people are likely to have been journalists for at least 15 to 20 years, if not more, how many of them have spent at least three to five years in pure digital roles, either in your newsroom or outside it?

19 Of the top operational newsroom editors and managers of your homepage, mobile, video, graphics, and visuals teams, how many are on your masthead?

20 What percentage of your total monthly digital audiences (unique visitors) are from outside your primary home country/market?

21 What percentage of your total paying customers in digital are from outside your primary home country/market?

22 Who owns the daily decisions on what content is free or behind the wall on your products? (This applies even for so-called “hard” walls.) Do these owners have any goals for paid customer acquisition?

23 Where did your last five U.S. newsroom departures go? Where did your last five U.S. newsroom hires come from?

24 Of your masthead editors, how many have accompanied your ad team on a sales/ad relationship building call in the past six months?

25 What percentage of your digital audience comes — and goes away — between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.? What time is your first major morning news meeting?

Happy answering. Unless, of course, you want to pose your own question: Isn’t it time Corporate stops asking such awkward questions in the first place?

Raju Narisetti is senior vice president of strategy at News Corp. He has previously served as managing editor of The Wall Street Digital Network, deputy managing editor of the Journal, editor of WSJ Europe, managing editor of The Washington Post; and founding editor of India’s Mint newspaper.

POSTED     April 7, 2014, 11:30 a.m.
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