Value is the watchword

“Watch for intensified pitches stressing the value proposition: Exclusive ‘news that you can only get here.’ Trustworthy journalists. Reporters who have deep sourcing and deep knowledge of a crucial beat.”

“Value” may be the watchword for journalism in 2018.

Readers are being overwhelmed by a blizzard of news from more outlets than ever before. At the same time, more news organizations, desperate for survival as ad revenue shrivels, are shedding their timidity and charging for content.

How do publications dare demand that readers pay up, when readers have a dizzying array of options? The answer, of course: value.

Watch for intensified pitches stressing the value proposition: Exclusive “news that you can only get here.” Trustworthy journalists. Reporters who have deep sourcing and deep knowledge of a crucial beat.

This solicitation I got this week from The Economist is typical: “What if it were possible to cut to the chase and rely on one publication for insights, analysis and an assessment of what really matters? That possibility is a reality.” Their humble suggestion: Surprise, surprise, The Economist.

At STAT, we launched a premium subscription service (STAT Plus) a year ago as a pilot project for focused coverage of the biotech and pharma industries. We’ve been pleased with the results; it’s grown rapidly and steadily, and we’re selling more group subscriptions to institutions while continuing to draw in individual subscribers from a wide array of backgrounds. With that “value” notion in mind, we supplement our print and multimedia coverage with exclusive events, webinars, and live online chats with our reporters — which have proved a popular subscriber benefit.

Our metrics show that the readers most willing to pay for our journalism are clamoring for these three types of stories:

1. Analysis, analysis, analysis. They want reporters’ unique insights to help them prepare for upcoming events (a crucial clinical trial readout, a major medical conference) or to help them understand news that’s just happened. They’re eager, too, for analysis that helps them look forward and understand what’s next in drug development.

2. Scoops. Goes without saying that these are always popular!

3. “Hey Joe” stories. That’s what we have dubbed a category of more lighthearted — dare we say fun — pieces that present intriguing information a reader might want to mention to a colleague over lunch. These always do well with our subscribers; they’re a nice break from the endless flood of urgent news.

As much as it can be intoxicating to see a story picked up on Reddit or Drudge, those fleeting measures have been replaced by deeper questions about our readers: How long were they engaged? How many stories did they read? Did they come back to the site days, weeks, months later? Did they sign up for a free newsletter? And, most important these days, did they type in their credit card number and signal they’re willing to pay for quality journalism?

Journalism still revolves around those basic questions: who, what, why, when, where, and how. But in our newsroom, we’re increasingly focused on these questions: How can we help our reporters deliver first-rate journalism that’s worth paying to read? And how do we reinforce that value to readers, day after day and story after story?

Rick Berke is executive editor of STAT.

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