Editors at Nine Entertainment’s Australian Financial Review have brought a new meaning to ‘TED talks’ following the introduction of a new ‘topic editor dashboard’.
In an INMA ‘Satisfying Audiences’ blog, news editor Fiona Buffini tells how the innovation has helped teams at the Sydney, Australia-based national masthead get to know and better serve their audiences.
“The relationship started off slowly, but once we convinced the newsroom that TED had no intention of making us look bad – and could actually help us find more time for stories that mattered – things improved,” she says. “TED inspired conversations that were frank, surprising, and revealing.”
The newsroom tool helps reporters and editors see what stories are engaging readers well and which are not. The paper – which prides itself on being “the daily habit of successful people” – has become a digital subscription business, in which most revenue now comes from readers rather than advertisers.
Buffini says the TED introduction followed a pandemic-driven surge in new subscriptions, making it confronting to learn – as lockdowns started to lift – that just 40 per cent of the 100 pieces of journalism published every day, made up 80 per cent of what subscribers read.
TED has made it easier for commissioning editors to see which stories are working to engage subscribers, and which are not, “and using the data became a key part of our retention strategy”.
Buffini says editors spent two months using the dashboard and then reported back to their colleagues on what they found. At the same time, heads of publisher Nine’s audience, research, subscriptions and product teams shared information about who subscribers are, how they behave and why they are lost. They learned:
-Readers were least interested in incremental stories with little added context and that could be easily found for free elsewhere;
-More time needed to be spent crafting great online headlines, and on promotion, tagging and distribution; and
-That readers are hungry for advice and guidance on a variety of topics including what stocks to buy, how to get ahead at work and the best gadgets to buy.
“TED has started an ongoing conversation to rethink how we do ‘service journalism’,” Buffini says.
Among the variety of things a magazine editor learned was that he needed to be more selective with arts and culture stories, and that travel stories “work when they’re achievable and immediate”. He confirmed a suspicion that “fashion stories are really people stories” and that readers were interested in “winning in the business stakes, not the style stakes”.
A lifestyle editor is experimenting with more coverage of podcasts and streaming but also set a goal to commission more investigative, long reads after finding that “well-written, home-grown stories generally do better than buy-ins”.
Company editors plan to cut down on incremental stories with no clear investor angles, to rethink the approach to a single long-standing column, and sharpen up coverage of important but dense policy stories. “We have to make these important issues relevant to our readers and n
The tech editor dumped wire stories with no local relevance and has the team searching for the human, lessons, or wealth angles in start-up stories. More time is also being spent explaining complex topics such as start-up capital, Ethereum, and decentralised finance.
A markets editor experimented with new Q&A formats, and the personal finance editor tried out new home page images and repackaged print content into more digestible online pieces.
“TED helped the professional services editor demonstrate that subscribers loved to know about people moving jobs within the big consulting firms,” she says. “Readers managed to find those stories whether they were promoted on home pages or not – a finding that delighted the editor-in-chief, who could see a straight line back to the People in Business column the Financial Review used to print in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Editors across all sections found that having to articulate a strategy also generated lots of new ideas for evergreen content, including explainers, trackers, newsletters and podcasts,” she says. “Now we look forward to TED becoming a daily habit for successful journalists”