Building Loyalty, Converting Readers- Editorial's Role Must Diversify

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I just received a suggestion for a session at SIPA Annual 2018 called Content Is Now Everyone's Business. How true.

"I'm finding myself telling reporters, 'You drove subscriptions,'" Rick Berke, executive editor of Stat, a health care industry news site started two years ago by Boston Globe Media Partners, said in a recent Digiday story. "This is the new world we're in. They like it. I don't say, 'Do this story because people will subscribe.' You want them to think about the quality of what they're doing and not get caught up in the numbers. But we're looking at the data to see which are most popular."

The article talks about reporters warming to the idea of paywalls and seeing themselves more as product developers than writers. Subscriptions for Stat cost $299 a year, and "the newsroom is highly aware of what kinds of stories drive" that, Berke said. Neil Chase, executive editor of the Bay Area News Group, went even further. "Now, we're saying to everybody, 'We are the business side,'" he said.

Editorial roles are certainly changing. When I worked at The Washington Post, we couldn't appear on TV or radio or take a picture. Today, journalists are hosting podcasts and speaking at webinars and conferences. Their content is driving new events and sponsored reports. They're talking to data and analytics people daily about what their audience is most interested in. They're just more involved.

Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications, wants editorial to understand that there is a budget and KPIs that need to be met. "I don't want to shield our editorial team from financials. Everyone should know where our potential is and feel a part of that success... Editorial needs to be the ones knowing what's going to happen and understanding the needs of your audience before they even do."

In an excellent series on Nieman Lab called Predictions for Journalism 2018, Kim Fox, managing editor of audience at The Philadelphia Inquirer, also speaks to the idea that content needs to drive revenue, even using the term, "editorial ROI."

"Newsletter editors will continue to build the type of one-to-one loyalty which helps feed our audience funnels, converting casual readers into the type of loyal ones who will help sustain our work," she wrote. "...whether your business is ad-based, membership-driven, or a paid model, 2018 will be the year in which audience teams are expected to use [every tactic] in concert to contribute to the bottom line..."

Niche publishers know that they have to diversify their revenue sources. Fox addressed that as well.

"The beauty of diversification is that it means not putting all of your eggs in one basket," wrote Fox. "It will encourage teams to broaden their skillsets, think creatively about various ways to get to the goal of sustainability and sharpen their discipline of setting goals and measuring them."

In an interview with Folio:, Allison Adams, the new chief subscription officer for SourceMedia, said one of her first moves in the job was to talk to the editorial team and say, "please, don't hesitate to bubble ideas up, set up meetings with customers who have mentioned they'd like to see something different. It's very much an open-door policy."

In other words, think beyond your previous silo. A couple years ago, Tom Standage, a longtime deputy editor at The Economist in London, said that ideas for new products should come from the newsroom, but it's tricky because the people whose support is needed to put them into practice—commercial and technology—don't report directly to journalists.

"You need to have bumblebee people, who are given permission to roam freely on both sides... and talk to different people," said Standage.

We heard one of the best lessons in how a product developer thinks editorially at SIPA Annual 2017 from Anne Holland, co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily. "...We were looking at veterinary practices, medical, mergers and acquisitions—all different industries to decide who are we going to serve next. And who's hungry? The primary thing is, 'Who is unserved?' Who's hungry for what we're really good at doing? There was no financial information [in the marijuana industry], no legal or financial news service that was doing a good job. 'We can do that.'"

A debut at #302 on Inc.'s fastest-growing private companies in America list proved her right.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…