Digital Transformation in Journalism and News Media

August 5, 2021 By: Alex Torres

Today, 86% of Americans read the news on their digital devices, meaning that paper newspapers are becoming artifacts of the past. For media and journalism companies, it’s not a question of whether they will survive–plenty of them are thriving in our digital first world. Instead, these companies need to formulate business models that support the future of online news. Digital transformation in journalism and news media, then, focuses on how companies surface and leverage insights from reader data to deliver relevant news and a standout user experience. 

Before the internet’s heyday, newspapers and magazines like The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the LA Times were competing for attention and subscriptions. They endeavored to offer compelling stories about sports, culture, politics, profiles, and other areas to build a loyal readership. Such publications have now caught the attention of well known tech leaders such as Jeff Bezos (who purchased The Washington Post) and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (who purchased Time Magazine).

The early 2000s saw the rise of websites like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, digital-first publications that drove traffic to their sites by leveraging social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and entertaining content that went viral. 

As paper-based news fell out of fashion, more people were also driven to the websites for legacy publications as well, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the New Yorker. In fact, the Wall Street Journal started charging readers for online access to their news stories back in 1996, when dial-up internet and brick-sized cell phones were considered cutting edge technology. 

Social media and Google search has dramatically reshaped the way people access news. The digital revolution shifted distribution horizontally, meaning that audiences determine the stories that are told–at least if news organizations want to drive profits. At the same time, social media platforms have been criticized for their outsized control in how news is distributed, such as when Facebook manipulated the algorithm to drive their own profits at the expense of left-leaning publications like Mother Jones.

Data-Driven Content Strategy in Digital News and Media 

Successful news and media companies leverage digital platforms like Quantum Metric to generate insights into reader behavior, which is important for driving both content decisions and closing advertising deals. 

To survive in the digital-first economy, news and media companies must continue striving towards data maturity, especially first-party data. This requires building a data-driven strategy that re-imagines what skills, technology, and types of data are necessary to drive revenue. 

Both subscription and advertising-based business models require digital news and media companies to pay close attention to data. By engaging in revenue diversification, digital newspapers and media companies can continue developing products and services based on customer data and user behavior.  

Analyzing audience engagement data enables digital newspaper and media companies to increase direct-paying relationships with readers, as well as boost reader retention. This approach drives long-term value (LTV) and spend, which means higher conversion rates for paid products and higher overall revenue per reader. 

The Reader as Consumer 

Readers are not just looking for news; they also want a standout omnichannel user experience across digital devices. 

The challenge for media and newspaper publishers, then, is to ensure that the user experience is as frictionless as possible so that readers can complete their subscriptions without a hitch (more on that later!). The user experience should be optimized so that readers enjoy the look, feel, and navigation of the news platform, both on browsers and mobile applications.

Successful digital publications have framed their news as a product, and their readers as consumers, thanks to the shift towards subscription and non-ad-based revenue models. When it comes to subscriptions, pricing, and promotion, digital newspapers need to optimize their pricing and paywall strategies, with careful attention to user behavior.  

Business Insider and The Information, both tech media startups, have discovered how to make money by doubling down on the subscription model. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A push at Business Insider to develop a subscription business flourished in 2020,” despite the impact from Covid-19.

Think of the trend as a shift towards direct-to-consumer, much like how brands such as Nike have bypassed the middleman to sell directly to consumers online. 

Advertising Revenue

While subscriptions have become more important in the industry, news and media companies still generate much of their revenue from advertising. But for ads to work in the digital-first world, advertisers also need to have a solid understanding, backed by data, of who their readers are and what interests them. 

Insights into the audience data can help drive audience-based advertising strategies. This way, media and newspaper companies have a firmer grasp of which advertisements are most appropriate to share with readers–based on their actual behavior. 

Advertisers can also optimize prices based on the unique behaviors of different audience segments–Gen Z readers on mobile devices will likely have different interests than older millennial readers perusing the news on their desktops at work.

Today, Quantum Metric has become a part of the digital transformation in journalism and news media. If you’re interested in learning how The Telegraph, Europe’s first daily web-based newspaper, bolstered the online version through real-time customer signals using Quantum Metric, take a look at our case study.

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