The Google News Initiative has partnered with the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications to support an expansion of its new Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, a tool that aims to track and deeply understand the behavior of digital subscribers for local news organizations, according to a joint announcement today.
The partnership also includes support for Mather Economics, an Atlanta-based consulting company focused on subscription revenue in the news industry that supplies and manages data to power the Index. As part of the partnership, the Google News Initiative is providing funding and expertise to support the ongoing operation of the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index for at least the next two years.
The Medill Index, which launched last year, was initially developed with the support of a Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge Grant. The Index gives participating local news organizations detailed financial and readership metrics of their digital audience.
The Index tells news outlets which types of their content are correlated with regular readership and subscriber retention. It also measures revenue per subscriber, retention rate, readership by device and the percentage of subscribers who appear especially at risk of canceling. Significantly, the Index allows participating outlets to benchmark their performance against that of peers across the country. The Index also will benefit the broader industry through thought leadership on acquisition and retention of subscribers. With the support of the Google News Initiative, the Index is made available for free to news outlets that are invited to participate.
More than 50 news outlets are now part of the Index, with about 100 more expected to join in the first half of this year. Participants include large metro news organizations such as the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald, mid-tier outlets like The Idaho Statesman and Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call, and smaller markets such as the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette and Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat.
Medill’s Spiegel Research Center developed the Index in collaboration with Mather Economics. The Index is part of the Medill Local News Initiative, a nearly four-year-old research and development project at Medill designed to help bolster the sustainability of local news in the United States.
“We're excited to partner with Medill and Mather Economics to support this effort and advance the industry's success in digital subscription acquisition and retention,” said Ben Monnie, director of GNI programs at Google. “We believe the insights the study produces can also help strengthen the free business training programs — like the Digital Growth Program — and our award winning data tools — like News Consumer Insights – we offer the industry.”
Tim Franklin, senior associate dean and the John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Medill, sees the Index as a boost for both the participating newsrooms and the industry overall.
“As local news organizations increasingly rely on reader revenue to sustain themselves, the Medill Index is the perfect tool at the perfect time to help them better understand what’s motivating people to pay for local news,” Franklin said. “This Index is giving local news leaders tangible, actionable insights to grow their readership and audience engagement in their communities. Medill also will be closely monitoring the Index so we can inform the industry about what’s resonating — and not working — with digital local news audiences. We welcome the Google News Initiative’s support, and we’re happy to make this tool available for free to those invited to participate.”
Matt Lindsay, president of Mather Economics, is also enthusiastic.
“Mather Economics is fortunate to partner with hundreds of national, regional and local news organizations to grow subscription revenue through customer and content analytics, and we are excited to assist Medill in producing the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index with the sharing of standardized, benchmarkable digital subscriber data from participating newspapers,” Lindsay said. “Medill’s Index provides operational insights for decreasing subscriber churn, allocating newsroom resources, and increasing subscriber revenue. Mather helps publishers improve business performance in areas of need identified through the Medill Index.”
Jonathan Copulsky, Spiegel’s executive director, said the Google News Initiative partnership is expected to cover operating costs for the Index at least through 2023. Funding for Medill and Mather will total $500,000. Google also will further its collaboration with Medill in areas such as training for local news organizations. Franklin and Spiegel Research director Ed Malthouse have been presenting general findings from the Index at major media conferences and to local news executives around the country.
Participants in the subscriber Index are all U.S.-based now, but Medill and Mather aim to eventually expand it to Canada and other countries.
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