Good. Better. Best?

Media companies are aware that they need to transform their organisations, but it often takes an outsider to accelerate the tempo.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 3, 2015

At the session entitled “Good. Better. Best?” Tuesday at the World News Media Congress in Washington, D.C., two executives driving the leading edge of transformation in their companies offered an inside peek at how technology is revolutionizing their operations. Moderating the session was Ken Doctor, news industry analyst and author.

Two years ago, Troy Young took charge of transforming more than two dozen websites for Hearst magazines and online-only operations. He started by rethinking Cosmopolitan, their most well-known brand. The effort was not merely a reconsideration of content, but expanded to embrace all aspects of content distribution.

”Editors have to shift from just thinking about content to content distribution,” according to Young, who is now president, Hearst Magazines Digital Media.

By rolling out a new editorial approach and the use of data analytics, Cosmopolitan increased its digital audience to more than 34 million unique visitors at the beginning of 2015.

The success with Cosmopolitan enabled Young to replicate the model across 18 other brands in the Hearst portfolio. It took a year and a half to execute the plan, which involved simplifying nearly 100 content templates used across all their sites. Such efficiency allows Hearst to have more time to work on deeper features. Today, 20 percent of all digital content is shared across the websites. Efficiency is also key in minimising the marginal cost of moving content around Hearst sites globally.

The focus on content distribution also benefits the advertising side of the business. “The philosophy behind everything we do regarding advertising is around ‘shared spaces’— that means every piece of content can be tagged to brands to share it,” said Young. The close relationship between editorial content and tagged advertising content helps engage consumers and delivers a more satisfying user experience.

Journalism and engineering excellence

For Shailesh Prakash, Chief Information Officer, The Washington Post, USA, transformation is engineering. “Everything we do is about excellence in engineering and we were on this mission before Jeff Bezos came aboard. He just threw more gas on that mission!”

As Prakash explained, the goal at The Washington Post is to demonstrate excellence in both journalism and engineering. Engineers are so important that they are now embedded in the newsroom.

Focus on the twin goals of journalism and engineering excellence is generating an increase in the digital audience, according to Prakash. During the past 12 months, The Washington Post gained more unique visitors than any other news or information site in the USA. The digital audience includes 52 million unique visitors domestically and an additional 18 million unique visitors from outside the country. Half the total audience comes via mobile devices.

Prakash stressed the importance of measuring development. Two measures are key: First, backward-looking measures, signposts showing if you have achieved your goal, and second, lead measures, which indicate if your initiatives are likely to achieve your goal.

Recruiting, training and retaining a talented pool of engineering staff is necessary in this scheme. The Washington Post has hired more than 70 new staff for development in the past few years, and retrained about 40 percent of staff. Retention of talent, for example, is figured into the lead measures and compensation is partly based on that talent retention.

Unlike other news media companies in the USA, The Washington Post “has a big appetite to build our own tools to give us control and speed of development. Some say that is crazy, but it’s our philosophy,” Prakash noted.

Prakash sees future opportunities in realising the untapped potential of online video, big data, and virtual reality. “I believe that virtual reality will go mainstream in the near future,” he predicted.

– Jim Conaghan, Newspaper Association of America

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