How much should journalists know about their newsroom’s business side?
Founded in 2014, Dennik N is an independent Slovak daily newspaper, with particular strengths in long-form journalism and political coverage. Dennik N’s revenue comes predominantly from online subscriptions. The publication has over 61,000 subscribers – some 1.4% of the Slovak population!
At Reinventing Media Forum 2020, Head of Digital at Dennik N Tomas Bella spoke about how the publication engages journalists in the business side of publishing. We picked four insights from his presentation.
1. Build tools that match your newsroom strategy
Dennik N developed a special tool that allows editors to see important numbers on their articles, such as the average time spent on reading the article and the conversion rate for each article (this is part of their Reader Engagement and Monetization, or REMP, set of open-source paywall tools – check it out).
Journalists are free to decide by themselves how to act on this information and managers are very careful not to give journalists too much analytics. This is particularly true for stats that might damage the quality of their reporting, such as page views numbers.
“For many years, we lived in a world where the business department was happy if the page views numbers were very high. This led people to produce clickbait. Authors and editors shouldn’t care about these numbers because it’s not relevant for their work,” Bella says.
2. Keep reporters’ eyes on the results
Each morning, Dennik N reporters receive daily conversion reports, which show how many subscriptions and how much revenue their articles generated over the last 24 hours.
Reporters also get weekly summaries highlighting the most successful and least successful articles. Bella notes that journalists are not specifically directed to write more on the topics that bring more subscribers; rather, they get access to additional information and can choose to which extent this data will inform their work.
According to Bella, successful articles that sell a lot of subscriptions are the ones that reporters themselves want to write, notably long-form interviews, analyses and investigations. As he puts it, there’s “a very big correlation between what we want to write and what readers want to pay for.”
3. One deep dive is better than a few superficial ones
Each year the team at Dennik N keeps growing (45 journalists worked in the publication in 2014, compared with 90 reporters now – that’s not counting a Czech sister publication launched in ).
At the same time, the newspaper is producing fewer articles, while each article becomes longer on average – the number of articles dropped from over 13 thousand in 2015 to some 8.2 thousand in 2019, while the average number of characters rose from 4.2 to 7.2 thousand in the same period.
Interestingly, it hasn’t been a thought-out strategy. “We never told anyone… [to] write longer articles… It’s kind of a natural thing that happens when people are just constantly looking at their numbers and performance and thinking: okay, I actually spent a lot of time on this article, but it had a lot of readers and conversions,” Bella says.
4. Shorter news, longer stories
With this background, Dennik N decided to focus on long and analytical articles, as well as on short news stories, even with just one-two sentences.
According to Bella, “Short news brings a lot of traffic, and long articles bring a lot of revenue.”
It makes sense to either break news stories that will attract a lot of people and quickly move on or to spend a lot of time working on a deep story no one has ever read before.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.