20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
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2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Power to the people (on your audience team)

“These future bridge-builders and rock stars are already working in most newsrooms. They just need the freedom to take off a few hats, get some training when needed, and be empowered to make meaningful choices that lead to change.”

2020 will be the year audience development teams get the power and respect they need to produce real growth at digital news organizations.

At the News Revenue Hub, we’re lucky enough to have a bird’s-eye view into nearly 50 different small- and medium-sized news organizations around the country. Often, these newsrooms are the only outlets that provide in-depth news and information to their local communities or entire regions. Or they’re going deep on critical, high-impact issues like criminal justice, climate change, or education.

Whether an outlet is nonprofit or for-profit, locally or nationally focused, they’re all motivated to reach as many news consumers as possible — to fulfill their mission to inform the public, and to sell memberships, paid subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorships.

Regardless of their business model or tax status, constantly cultivating audience at the top of the funnel and inspiring loyalty and financial support at the middle and bottom is critical to a news organization’s existence. And the people charged with producing that growth — the audience development teams — are just as critical.

Until recently, we haven’t seen audience development teams empowered or given influence the way writers and editors are — or business development teams, for that matter. But it’s the audience development folks who are charged with finding, attracting, and keeping readers on news sites long enough to become loyal and start paying for the journalism. The most successful audience team members have a complete understanding of how the organization works; they also oversee and interpret a treasure trove of data and analytics about what people are searching for, what stories they like, and what stories are missing that special something that draws readers in and keeps them coming back.

One reason this is happening: News orgs have realized that audience can’t be an afterthought, just another task on the list for staffers wearing multiple hats and juggling myriad responsibilities ranging from posting and running ads on social media, to writing newsletters and appeals, to managing the entire website. And this forest-for-the-trees work leaves very little room for anything meaningful, including intentional product development, reader-first UX, and SEO that casts a wider net.

Having helped run a small news organization for many years, I know multitasking is hard to avoid but it also comes at a cost. More often than not, that cost is stagnant audience growth and permanent-seeming plateaus in member and subscriber revenue.

Over the past year, we worked with a cohort of Hub partners to peel back the layers and identify what was causing these plateaus in newsrooms, and it always led to the top of the funnel, where sluggish traffic stifled email signups and, ultimately, donations. Most of the time it also led to a dead end when looking for the people charged with executing a specific strategy to grow and develop audience. Instead, audience development was everyone’s job and no one’s job at the same time.

This will change. Newsrooms will dedicate talented, well-trained people to doing audience development work — full-time. And they will be given a seat at the executive table to ensure their strategies are hardwired into the org chart and workflows. In high-functioning digital newsrooms of the future, everyone will work on audience in some capacity, but there will be dedicated audience pros with authority in the newsroom. These people will understand the newsroom inside and out, navigating internal politics, roadblocks, and more. They’ll also understand their readers innately and advocate for them from within. They will adeptly serve as the all-important bridge between business development and editorial, collaborating with both teams to ensure editorial content serves the audience’s needs, and the audience, in turn, feels inclined to support the service.

In digital newsrooms of the future, audience teams will connect consumers with the journalism. If something’s not resonating the way it should, they’ll help evaluate whether it was a failure of understanding the audience or of framing. They’ll repackage and redistribute content when it’s not reaching as many as it should, and they’ll get feedback when it misses the mark. Editors will welcome their insight and advice — driven by data and empathy — on headlines and story tweaks. The business team will constantly seek their advice on how to craft fundraising messaging that resonates with readers.

These future bridge-builders and rock stars are already working in most newsrooms. They just need the freedom to take off a few hats, get some training when needed, and be empowered to make meaningful choices that lead to change.

When that starts to happen, the return on investment will be undeniable. That’s also when we’ll start to see transformational and sustainable growth in small digital newsrooms that can deliver a big impact.

2020 will be the year audience development teams get the power and respect they need to produce real growth at digital news organizations.

At the News Revenue Hub, we’re lucky enough to have a bird’s-eye view into nearly 50 different small- and medium-sized news organizations around the country. Often, these newsrooms are the only outlets that provide in-depth news and information to their local communities or entire regions. Or they’re going deep on critical, high-impact issues like criminal justice, climate change, or education.

Whether an outlet is nonprofit or for-profit, locally or nationally focused, they’re all motivated to reach as many news consumers as possible — to fulfill their mission to inform the public, and to sell memberships, paid subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorships.

Regardless of their business model or tax status, constantly cultivating audience at the top of the funnel and inspiring loyalty and financial support at the middle and bottom is critical to a news organization’s existence. And the people charged with producing that growth — the audience development teams — are just as critical.

Until recently, we haven’t seen audience development teams empowered or given influence the way writers and editors are — or business development teams, for that matter. But it’s the audience development folks who are charged with finding, attracting, and keeping readers on news sites long enough to become loyal and start paying for the journalism. The most successful audience team members have a complete understanding of how the organization works; they also oversee and interpret a treasure trove of data and analytics about what people are searching for, what stories they like, and what stories are missing that special something that draws readers in and keeps them coming back.

One reason this is happening: News orgs have realized that audience can’t be an afterthought, just another task on the list for staffers wearing multiple hats and juggling myriad responsibilities ranging from posting and running ads on social media, to writing newsletters and appeals, to managing the entire website. And this forest-for-the-trees work leaves very little room for anything meaningful, including intentional product development, reader-first UX, and SEO that casts a wider net.

Having helped run a small news organization for many years, I know multitasking is hard to avoid but it also comes at a cost. More often than not, that cost is stagnant audience growth and permanent-seeming plateaus in member and subscriber revenue.

Over the past year, we worked with a cohort of Hub partners to peel back the layers and identify what was causing these plateaus in newsrooms, and it always led to the top of the funnel, where sluggish traffic stifled email signups and, ultimately, donations. Most of the time it also led to a dead end when looking for the people charged with executing a specific strategy to grow and develop audience. Instead, audience development was everyone’s job and no one’s job at the same time.

This will change. Newsrooms will dedicate talented, well-trained people to doing audience development work — full-time. And they will be given a seat at the executive table to ensure their strategies are hardwired into the org chart and workflows. In high-functioning digital newsrooms of the future, everyone will work on audience in some capacity, but there will be dedicated audience pros with authority in the newsroom. These people will understand the newsroom inside and out, navigating internal politics, roadblocks, and more. They’ll also understand their readers innately and advocate for them from within. They will adeptly serve as the all-important bridge between business development and editorial, collaborating with both teams to ensure editorial content serves the audience’s needs, and the audience, in turn, feels inclined to support the service.

In digital newsrooms of the future, audience teams will connect consumers with the journalism. If something’s not resonating the way it should, they’ll help evaluate whether it was a failure of understanding the audience or of framing. They’ll repackage and redistribute content when it’s not reaching as many as it should, and they’ll get feedback when it misses the mark. Editors will welcome their insight and advice — driven by data and empathy — on headlines and story tweaks. The business team will constantly seek their advice on how to craft fundraising messaging that resonates with readers.

These future bridge-builders and rock stars are already working in most newsrooms. They just need the freedom to take off a few hats, get some training when needed, and be empowered to make meaningful choices that lead to change.

When that starts to happen, the return on investment will be undeniable. That’s also when we’ll start to see transformational and sustainable growth in small digital newsrooms that can deliver a big impact.

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