The data-driven newsroom: Using metrics tools to grow readership and subscriptions revenue


The insights shared below are the product of a special masters session of the GNI Subscriptions Lab, where we invite expert practitioners from among the ten participants, or from other organizations, to speak on a key important topic relevant to subscriptions success. 

Data has become a key tool in newsrooms to inform what content drives reader engagement and loyalty, and revenue. Many publishers are using data tools to help grow subscriptions, and there are plenty of tools and platforms to help them do it.

In early October, Breaking News Editor Ellen Fishel and Director of Audience and Analytics Kalani Gordon from The Baltimore Sun, Assistant Manager Editor Denise Gee and Editor Mike Connelly from The Buffalo News, and Executive Editor Mitch Pugh from The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., engaged in a conversation about several tools their teams are using.

The discussion was part of the Google News Initiative (GNI) Subscriptions Lab, a nine-month partnership with Local Media Association (LMA) and FTI Consulting to help newspapers find a sustainable path forward with reader revenue strategies.

Metrics for News

This web analytics tool provides data points to help newsrooms understand content. Metrics for News offers several capabilities, including customizable dashboards, performance tracking and engagement scores.

Source: Metrics for News

The Baltimore Sun and The Buffalo News use Metrics for News and regularly discuss its data in editorial meetings to talk openly about story performance, diving into the why of the poorer performing articles to examine what would have made a story better.

Metrics for News and other tools have provided surprising insights, including not only helping teams decide what to keep doing, but what to stop doing.

For example, Metrics for News data revealed to The Baltimore Sun that new restaurant business announcements weren’t fruitful. Fishel said a competitor dominates the market with scoop stories about new restaurant and business openings, and instead of trying to compete, the team decided to stop writing these articles and focus more heavily on stories with which readers are most engaged.

“One observation we’ve taken away from Metrics for News is when we’ve been trying to force things too much, the readers can tell a lot of the time,” Fishel said. “I think what Metrics for News has showed us is that there is a point where that can go too far,” she said, adding that data shows readers only want updates on a high-performing trending story when there is substantial new information.

Gee from The Buffalo News said her staff finds most value in the Overall Engagement Score, which breaks down views per story, average reader time spent on article, social interaction rate, subscriber views per story and the number of local readers engaging with an article.

“That’s where you start to get, across all of your stories, a much better sense of what is working over time, or not,” Gee said.

Parse.ly
As an analytics tool, Parse.ly can drill down what is happening moment-by-moment and over time with story traction. The tool includes:

  • Platform tracking: See where audiences are visiting the website from (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, mobile)
  • Engagement: What stories readers are engaging most with, such as text, audio or video
  • Immediate and historical analysis: See real-time engagement statistics, as well as what has been happening over time
  • Historical reporting: Reports that show how stories do over time

“They tell us different things and I don’t think we can live without either [Parse.ly or Metrics for News] tool,” Connelly said. “Metrics for News lets us look at and combine journalistic factors with an easy-to-understand index that is a more sophisticated take on how a story does. Metrics for News is what is really driving our coverage assessment. What do we do more of, what do we do less of and what do we do differently to engage better with readers?”

Source: Parse.ly

Pugh at The Post and Courier said useful data from Parse.ly includes the number of unique visitors, time spent on articles and the percentage of returning visitors.

“We want reporters to write stories to create the behavior that we want to see in our audience,” he said.

Mather Listener

This digital analytics tool Mather Listener includes information to help customize a reader’s experience. Key capabilities include:

  • Audience analytics: How readers are engaging with the website, as well as reader content preferences
  • Content economics: Predictive strategy to identify what content, authors and articles bring in the most revenue
  • Digital advertising and revenue tools: Shows advertisers who they reached from ads on the website and other services to inform targeted campaigns

Source: Mather

Pugh said one feature that is most useful at The Post and Courier is breaking down audiences into engagement groups (e.g., subscribers, enthusiasts, fanatics and drive-by readers). This capability allows him to see granular data about individual users for targeted campaigns.

For example, if a regular subscriber that visits the site on average four times weekly begins to visit the news site only twice weekly, the team can begin to implement retention strategies to keep that subscriber engaged with content, he said.

Pugh said another useful insight is analyzing audience groups’ behavior, such as why some groups behave like subscribers but aren’t paying for content. This information can help create campaigns to encourage subscriber readership, he said.

“We think this is a powerhouse data tool for us,” Pugh said, adding that the data is dynamic to drive the newspaper’s audience revenue.

Key Takeaways

The tools mentioned in this article are only a few of the many metrics platforms available. Choosing which platform to use depends on an organization’s business and editorial goals. Be on the lookout for more conversations about digital data resources as part of the GNI Subscriptions Lab.