Though digital is now fully the focus in most newsrooms, it has been challenging for media organizations to shed the traditional newsroom culture and organization that developed before the digital world changed everything. Even in newsrooms that have undergone extensive transformation, print is still the ghost in the digital machine.
This is especially true in how news is compiled and presented to audiences. Though newsrooms have been working steadily to transform to the needs of digital and the expectations of their audiences, organizational structures have been slow to change.
Go to any news website, and you will find the traditional sections — news, sports, business, culture, and others, as well as a central news feed, aggregated from the various sections where visitors land when they arrive.
Analytical tools that measure user behavior and more sophisticated marketing research may usher in a new era in which news is not passively presented in sections but created and curated for different target groups. These groups can be segmented by their various profiles based on data and research — habits, lifestyles, professional careers, political leanings, relationship with the product and more — with different content offerings for each audience.
Focusing on target groups would allow for a wholesale reconsideration of how news is presented by serving a package of different stories from different sections to the customer based on knowledge gleaned from socio-demographic information, market research, user data and by asking for their preferences.
Once you have defined these segments, you can provide content that appeals to their specific needs. This is happening in some organizations, but for the most part, it is not yet deeply established. It is generally implemented by small sales teams that aim to increase subscriptions, convert free users to subscribers and attract new paying customers. These activities are generally secondary organizational activities, with no responsibility for the main editorial focus, which relies largely on a “one size fits all” mentality with a traditional section-based and topic-based organization.
If we were to extend this approach across the entire editorial offering, the organizational structure toward the audience would be entirely different.
Firstly, you would need people responsible for each target group to look at the data and then make decisions about the appropriate content. These target group heads would choose and present content based on the target interests and how they consume their news. The target group heads would select content from the different sections and determine the appropriate platforms for their target group.
So, for example, you could have someone responsible for the engaged core reader. And there is someone responsible for the new readers who haven’t bought the subscription but are interested in the product. Or for people who primarily read your product to get ahead in their jobs. You can define and organize the content around these groups and tailor the digital offering. The technology allows you to personalize the offering for each of your groups.
It wouldn’t mean all the content would be different for each target group, of course — if the brand stands for something, they come for the core content and want to find it repeatedly. Most stories would be appropriate for all groups, but a certain percentage would differ, as would the platforms where this content would be found.
With this approach, the target group heads would report directly to an editor-in-chief who needs a strong data background, has already worked in collaboration with the sales and circulation departments and fully understands the different target groups.
The target group heads would have to understand their content group very well and pick the pieces of content specifically for them. Each of those responsible would curate the content differently. The same goes for the different platforms and formats. For example, for Generation Z, you wouldn't put things on the website; you would put them on TikTok or Instagram. It isn’t only what you provide but how you present it to the audience.
It isn't about creating something entirely new but about collating, curating and knowing the audience. It is about segmenting based on that knowledge and giving the target group heads and audience teams more influence in content creation and over the platforms. The organization would no longer be about a website editor but instead consist of five website editors or five mobile editors. These people would say, “When this content comes in, it belongs with segment X,” and would be responsible for getting it to the correct audience. When a new potential customer comes along, the main story might be different than for someone who is already a customer.
So, this would be the next stage, where you get away from the traditional sections to the more audience-focused ones. You might keep the sections in the offering but go beyond this approach and hand-pick relevant content for the target group. It is not about replacing the section heads but redirecting the content.
News organizations have been talking about being audience-centric for a long time. This approach is truly audience-centric. I call this approach “Newsroom 5.0”, the next big step for digital newsrooms. For Newsroom 1.0 to 4.0. learn more here.
And finally, more good news: With the wider availability of Large Language Models and ChatGPT functionalities, target group-specific content tailoring will become affordable.
Dietmar Schantin, Ph.D., is the founder and principal at the IFMS Media Consultancy in London, United Kingdom and Graz, Austria. He can be reached at email@example.com or @dschantin. Dietmar Schantin is a renowned figure in the media industry, having transformed the editorial and commercial operations of various media brands across the globe, including The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and the Handelsblatt in Germany. He is an expert in business strategy, technology and organizational strategies. In 2012, he founded IFMS Media LTD after serving as the executive director of WAN-IFRA, a global association of news publishers. With a Ph.D. in economics and technology, Dietmar has focused on business strategy development and transformation throughout his career. He frequently speaks at international media conferences and is a familiar face on jury panels for digital media awards. Currently based in the U.K. and Austria, he is recognized as a trusted voice in the media industry.
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