By Eleanor Katharine Yeo
The discussion was moderated by Abhishek Marla, Customer Success Manager of Chartbeat, Asia. He was joined by Korey Lee, VP of Data in South China Morning Post, Hong Kong; Chung Lyn-Yi, Supervising Editor of CNA Digital, MediaCorp, Singapore; Christopher Lim, Digital Editor of The Business Times, Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore; and Dominic James Loh, Head of Commerce & Optimization of REV Media Group, Malaysia.
Audience is key
All the panelists echoed one sentiment: Driving audience engagement and loyalty have always been central objectives for any news organisation. Loh, Head of Commerce & Optimization at REV Media Group, shared that his team’s strategic goal for the year was to “focus on building loyal users.”
In a similar vein, Lim, Digital Editor of The Business Times, Singapore Press Holdings, noted “People read [us] because of the value [we] provide to them”; as such, it is imperative that news organisations employ concerted efforts to create user-centric and value-added content, which can in turn build user retention and loyalty to ensure such news organisations can continue serving their readers.
With the advent of the digital age, it is becoming increasingly clear that news organisations can, and should, leverage data tools to optimise audience engagement and retention. Lee, VP of Data at the South China Morning Post, emphasised that the use of data tools is a key means for furthering user understanding. By “building personas, modelling cohorts and better understanding and deepening behaviour data,” Lee said, he believes his organisation can “provide a customised experience to [their] end-users.”
Chung, Supervising Editor of CNA Digital, MediaCorp, concurred, stating it is important to empower journalists and content creators alike to analyse data and use such data as a feedback mechanism to adjust their modes of content outreach as needed. Such practices could then signal the brand’s “clear value proposition” to users, who would “feel [more] at home with” a brand that tailored content and outreach efforts to each user’s interests.
When discussing best practices for accessing and interpreting data in the newsroom, the panelists offered varied perspectives. Loh drove home the importance of data consolidation for efficient and easy access, stating that, “Data consolidation is key to this era. Bringing all data into a single source, and having that single source of truth, is really powerful.”
Adding a caveat to this discussion, Lim pointed out that, “There is no single source of truth; there are multiple sources of truth that you then have to synthesise, depending on the problem you’re tackling.”
While the two panellists differed in ideation around data consolidation, the common thread in the two lines of thought is clear – there is a real need for data streamlining for easy reference and analysis. Only then can journalists and content creators make use of such data tools in real-time to modify and improve their content outreach to end-users.
Envisioning a post-pandemic media landscape
The pandemic era has undoubtedly stressed-tested the existing culture and practices of newsrooms. For one, it has thrown into sharp relief the problem of news fatigue – feeling worn out from the constant, endless stream of news, often negative, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a point that Chung makes salient, highlighting that, “The pandemic has made me more aware of anxiety, not just within the newsroom but for our audience, because it’s this never-ending train of bad news.”
Against such a backdrop of news fatigue, then, news organisations face an increasingly uphill task of user retention and loyalty.
“How do we make sure that we are not associated with numbness and news fatigue?” added Chung. She said her newsroom has been actively adding “enough soft stuff in there…we have all this evergreen content to help you regain your sanity and have a pause. It’s really important for reader retention that you don’t get more of the same.”
Marla, Customer Success Manager of Chartbeat, agreed with this approach. “The best way to avoid reader fatigue is to offer them different types of content they would still like, so they can stay on longer, and you can keep them engaged and retained.”
The pandemic has also called attention to the need for revamping communication structures and data culture in news organisations. After all, there might be more pandemics or natural disasters in the future, and organisations need to be ready.
Lee said the pandemic had tangible impacts on his organisation, particularly in their awakening that, “We really needed to come up with new and better ways to improve communication, define important metrics, and make sure any outliers or issues were highlighted to the teams, particularly to the newsroom on a regular basis, especially…[when] working remote or in and out of the office.”
Similarly, more specifically with regards to data culture within newsrooms, Loh added that, “The pandemic has really accelerated a lot of data and digital activity…which is great – it’s really the direction and natural place to go moving forward. We see editorial teams definitely being a lot more receptive to data, wanting to understand more about their users. So it’s really pushing things forward.”
More data-centric newsrooms
Taking these two viewpoints in tandem, it is clear that news organisations are gearing up for more data-centric feedback mechanisms in the newsroom going forward. This can not only expedite the cultivation of user understanding but also help guide their content output and outreach strategies to build user retention and loyalty.
It’s important to note that too much data may hinder the very process of expedition and efficiency newsrooms are seeking.
As Lee said: “Data paralysis is a real problem, when you just throw data at everybody…Data is key, but it has to be accessible data to avoid data paralysis.” Only when journalists and content creators “feel empowered to act on the data” by applying it to experiment with different kinds of content formats, can they deliver value to end-users “without fear of incrimination or recrimination.”
About the author: Eleanor Katharine Yeo is an undergraduate student at Barnard College of Columbia University, New York. She is a senior editor in the Columbia Political Review, the university’s undergraduate publication for student work in the field of political science. In her free time, she enjoys hunting for hidden food spots with friends.
Edited by Bill Poorman: Bill is a US-based editor, writer, journalist and media producer. He lived in Singapore for six years until 2020.