The Frankfurter Rundschau, based in Frankfurt am Main, publishes daily with two regional issues, one national, an online version, and an e-paper. Thomas Kaspar is responsible for the technical platform of fifty news portals involved in that. It's a task that demands a significant amount of energy and enthusiasm, but based on his presentation, at least, Thomas Kaspar has no shortage of either.
"Think of the smell of freshly cut grass. Everyone loves fresh green grass, and I say that I know that's what the customer wants, so I develop a department that deals in green grass. Only then, you notice that nobody wants it. Unfortunately, this is the situation of many media brands, where they say they know what the customer wants."
How to provide value for different user types
Kaspar's point was that the days of editorial going on gut feeling or declaring they 'know their readers' is outdated and based on wishful and simplistic thinking. "True user-centric publishing is not so easy as there are so many things to consider."
In today's newsroom landscape, the old practice of 'feeding' the users must change. But that change involves more than paying lip service to the idea of putting the customer at the center of the process.
"The old strategy was to have the content at a hub from which it was disseminated across various channels – handing out the grass to the sheep – but what if the sheep don't want it? Now we say we have to put the customer at the center and construct the story to 'feed.' You have different production desks in a newsroom and a vast content pool with a lot of journalists that can produce content daily. You decide what is relevant and exciting, but that's not the end of the story."
"Once you had a situation where a husband and wife would divide up their printed newspaper by sections and then happily read different bits. Change those sections, and you change their lives. Now that story is more complicated."
"There are still classical readers who only read the paper. Then there are those with e-paper who also like to handle the medium, so, for example, it matters if a tablet story is in portrait or landscape mode. Then you have the fact that some are users of paper and e-paper, some use e-paper and online, and some only consume online. So how do we adjust the newsroom workflow to provide value across that range?"
How important are KPIs for your newsroom workflow?
Announcing that you like fresh grass and so, therefore, your customers will do too is too simplistic. The answer has to be careful monitoring, but it is still commonplace to find editors choosing their 'feed' by gut feeling and not by key performance indicators (KPIs). "Time and time again, we find editors and reporters have no product manager to tell them this is your KPI."
KPIs don't mean indigestible statistics. To work, they have to be carefully selected to reflect your goals and user habits. "Publishing KPIs include how often a piece of content is opened up, how much of it they read, but also be things like how much did they learn? We quickly find that highly active users behave completely different from others and so the question becomes how do I convert readers from one group to another. How do I help them along a progression from anonymous readers to registered known readers, for example.”
Knowing when to repurpose your content
Part of the key to this is not just breaking users into segments but understanding their behavior and how it changes throughout the day.
Kaspar cites the example of the New York Times who "found they could reuse 80 percent of content if they did so by intelligently targeting mood sets, times of day, and so on."
He also concluded that the only way to deal with this complexity was by utilizing 'Cross-functional Editorial Teams' with an engagement team that measures retention. "Every journalist needs to know what target they are working towards and some things work, and some don't."
As he concluded, the audience asked him if this means that journalists must also now be technology specialists. He didn't feel that was necessarily so, and in an excellent return to his opening image of meadows, he added that in any team, no matter how analytics-driven, "you need people who create, and dream, and share. Who like to hold the dandelion, puff the seeds into the air and say, 'I have an idea.'"