How Asian publishers are transforming their newsrooms and driving digital revenue

2020-12-23. From employing cutting-edge methods to derive and understand audience data to setting precise North Star goals to catalyse organisational transformation, five Asian news publishers share key lessons from WAN-IFRA’s inaugural Newsroom and Business Transformation Asia programme.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | December 23, 2020

Above image: Bisnis Indonesia

By Sherwin Chua

From June to November 2020, 11 Asian news publishers attended the first-ever, online Newsroom and Business Transformation (NBTA 2020) programme organised by WAN-IFRA, supported by the Facebook Journalism Project, and helmed by programme leaders George Brock and Grzegorz Piechota.

Here, five publishers from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan share the key takeaways from the NBTA 2020 programme that have helped them implement and accelerate their newsroom transformation projects.

Bisnis Indonesia: Develop a holistic reader-engagement strategy

For Maria Benyamin, editor-in-chief of Bisnis Indonesia (BI), getting advice from the programme leads in developing a holistic reader-engagement strategy to drive her publication’s subscriptions made NBTA 2020 an invaluable learning experience.

Following the advice of Brock and Piechota, her publication executed a content audit, adjusted its prices, improved its payment systems to minimise friction, started a marketing campaign, re-evaluated its social media engagement tactics and launched a daily email newsletter for readers.

“Over four months, we have seen our subscription rates increase more than fourfold. Plus, we found that email newsletters are very effective for incentivising reader registration and driving traffic to our website,” said Benyamin.

Kompas Daily: Define a North Star goal and communicate distinctive value

Image: Kompas Daily

Sutta Dharmasaputra and Fidelis Novan Terryan, respectively the deputy editor-in-chief and general manager of marketing communication at Indonesia-based newspaper Kompas Daily, described the importance of setting a clear North Star goal and communicating their publication’s distinctive value as two key takeaways from NBTA 2020.

“We used what we learned to define our company’s North Star goal more clearly and communicate it to our staff. We also used this to plan all our strategies for 2021 and beyond, and have begun aligning the aims of our departments with the company’s overall business objectives,” said Terryan.

According to Dharmasaputra, the presentations from editors of international publications on how to better communicate a publication’s distinctive value to readers and delivering on a brand promise were immensely insightful.

“Those discussions helped us think about our digital subscription model, how to drive subscriptions by better understanding our customers’ journey through data, and how to more clearly communicate our value proposition to readers, such as through email newsletters and social media, at every step of their journey,” he added.

Manila Bulletin: Set clear, measurable targets and incentivise staff

Image: Manila Bulletin

For Johannes Chua and Rey IIgan, editors at the Philippines-based newspaper Manila Bulletin, two lessons stood out: establishing clear and measurable targets, and developing incentives to motivate staff to work towards them.

Based on the discussions during NBTA 2020, Chua and Ilgan said they had worked with their publication’s management and editors to develop a set of targets that measure the success of their publication’s efforts in becoming more audience-centric.

Furthermore, their publication set up a data analysis team that provides weekly reports to editors on the digital performance of the articles produced by their sections and suggest measures on how journalists can engage with the data and improve their work.

Chua added that his publication has also introduced a system of incentives to motivate staff to meet those targets: “We learned that it was important to frequently reward individuals and teams who have successfully met targets, and who also evangelised them, because it motivates everyone in the organisation to work harder towards common goals.”

Sin Chew Daily: Build up data competencies and break down silos

Image: Sin Chew Daily

Wong Shau Meng, assistant general manager of audience growth at Malaysia-based publication Sin Chew Daily, emphasised that discussions on developing digital competences and breaking down silos within the newsroom have been pivotal in helping his publication improve its digital transformation strategy.

According to Wong, the ideas discussed during NBTA 2020 about designing experiments, using the right tools and drawing the right conclusions from the data convinced him and his colleagues of the need to develop better data competencies.

“We realised we have a lot of data but it was not very well organised. We will be implementing those ideas to improve our data capabilities,” he said.

The importance of breaking down silos and improving cross-functional collaboration within the organisation also impressed Wong.

“We started a project to drive online audience registrations that involved various departments, such as the editorial, digital and social media teams. And I am glad that there is more inter-departmental coordination and support now,” he said.

United Daily News: Acquire and use audience data

Image: United Daily News

For Katherine Kuan, vice-president of convergence at Taiwanese publication United Daily News, learning how to acquire and use data to develop editorial products and services that meet audiences’ needs was the highlight of NBTA 2020.

Kuan explained that she and her team used lessons from the programme to apply RFV (recency, frequency and value) analysis to examine the types of financial news that her publication’s readers prefer.

“We put into practice what we learned and distinguished our readers who read financial news by segments, and found that a large number of our readers were interested in articles on personal finance and personal insurance, and they were willing to pay for these stories,” Kuan said.

Through that process, she and her team gained a more granular understanding of readers’ preferences and habits in each segment, and will be producing more articles that meet those demands.

For Kuan, the main benefit of NBTA 2020 was learning how “to scientifically figure out the audience’s needs and address them, and not relying only on one’s instincts.”

Newsroom and Business Transformation Asia (NBTA) 2020, organised by WAN-IFRA and supported by the Facebook Journalism Project, was the first training and coaching program of its kind in Asia. Designed to accelerate transformation in Asian news companies, NBTA’s five-month-long curriculum supported senior editorial and commercial managers in developing an editorial vision, business strategies, integrate product plans and newsroom processes. Eleven Asian news publishers from six countries participated in this inaugural program. They were: Bangkok Post, Bisnis Indonesia, Kompas Media Nusantara, Lianhe Zaobao, Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sin Chew Media Corporation, The Business Times, The Edge Communications (Malaysia), The Jakarta Post, and United Daily News.

About the author: Sherwin Chua is a PhD candidate at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, whose research focuses on media innovation and journalism. He is also a freelance journalist who covers digital transformations occurring in journalism. His articles have been published by WAN-IFRA, Nieman Journalism Lab, and The Splice Newsroom. He was a former editor and journalist in news media and publishing, and taught journalism and mass communication courses at a polytechnic in Singapore.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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