Former Editor-in-Chief Olsson Olsén, who has temporarily stepped into the Editor’s chair following the departure of Aftonbladet’s Editor-in-Chief, Jan Helin, in December, says the leadership change will not derail the Swedish news brand from continuing to roll out extensive newsroom change.
In an interview with the World Editors Forum, she spoke about the changes in working methods and newsroom organisation that are designed to enable Aftonbladet to deliver a uniquely personal experience to its audience.
The new data-driven newsdesk comes with an entirely new media platform; a strategic tool that enables reporters to follow their stories’ online performance in real-time.
“Journalists and editors use the tool to understand what content is engaging right now,” said Antoaneta Nikolaeva, Head of Online Analytics at Aftonbladet. “They [reporters] adjust related article links based on the statistics, add additional content such as videos, promote related paid content or further boost the article in social media.”
The changes eminate from the Aftonbladet report released late last year and modeled on the New York Times strategic report. At the heart of the change process is a philosophy to be mostly mobile by 2017.
The new platform is in various stages of roll-out across titles of its parent company Schibsted. It involves modules of tools and processes labeled CREATE, ENGAGE, CURATE and DISCOVER.
The Schibsted Media Platform
The CREATE-module, launching at Aftonbladet in May, is a publishing tool which introduces algorithms that will “govern the priorities”. These suggest stories according to news consumption that make content as relevant as possible to the reader. A user who reads a lot of football, will be proposed football-stories, on top of the main stories. It also enables much more re-use of existing content on the site. Svenska Dagbladet, a sister newspaper has worked with these algorithms since May last year.
ENGAGE, the analytics tool that is already in use, gives reporters access to real-time metrics, directly on their mobile. Together with online analysts, that now sit in the newsroom to support editors, each member of staff is expected to take instant publishing decisions based on these statistics.
Pageviews are used as the main metric to check popularity of an article. But, as Nikolaeva states, “pageviews solely do not tell reporters if their content is engaging or if it’s read.” This is why the following real-time engagement metrics were added:
Reading time – shows at what point in an article readers loose interest. Olsson Olsén says that at least half of users leave before reading one-third of a piece. “When reporters see this, they can immediately act to extend overall engagement time by inserting a picture, changing the headline, or adding additional links to other Aftonbladet pages,” she adds.
Recirculation – the percentage of users continuing to another article. One of the priorities is to recommend articles to keep readers within the website.
Social Metrics – the amount of comments, shares and likes on social media.
According to Nikolaeva, reporters are not currently evaluated based on the statistics of their stories. “It is used as an insight tool. Our goal is to create a data-driven newsdesk. We believe that data and better understanding of our website visitors’ behaviour can lead to higher quality journalism.”
The risk of only producing content that generates engagement is an issue that comes up all the time in the newsroom, said Olsson Olsén. “We need to be careful because it could hurt the brand, but we haven’t seen this development yet.”
The CURATE and DISCOVER modules are internal tools that help staff create packages on certain subjects using specific tagging. It makes it easier to find previously written articles and allows exploring content from media companies all over the world in one flow.
The pursuit for user data
With the implementation of the new media platform, obtaining user data to personalize content is high priority. Aftonbladet currently has more than 11,000,000 unique visitors per week. A remarkable 80 percent of those come directly to the website. All visitors are tracked using cookies.
Having readers log on allows for more advanced tracking. But, as a free newspaper, there is no real incentive to register. At the moment around nine or 10 percent of the audience signs in, which includes subscribed Plus members. “In our dream world we would like 100 percent of our users to be logged in, so we know things about them,’ said Olsson Olsén.
Aftonbladet is currently developing and additional tool to track more activities, for example when readers purchase of Plus, follow a reporter and so forth.