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Newspapers are the New Startups

Traditional publishing is changing. We’ve seen for a while that print publications are figuring out the proper transition to digital and we see another case today with Newsweek abandoning print to go fully digital in 2013. At Parse.ly, we’ve had the privilege of experiencing this transition period first hand and have even helped publishers work toward a successful digital future. One such example is Press Enterprise, a daily newspaper in California that was actually the inspiration for this post. 

Andrew McFadden, Manager of Innovation & Business Development at PE.com, recently published an article on INMA.org (International Newsmedia Marketing Association) leading with the idea that traditional newspapers must, in a sense, become startups if they are to take advantage of the opportunity digital publishing presents. But this means a complete culture change which is not exactly easy. Regardless, it’s a challenge that PE and many others have embraced. 

McFadden speaks of the difference between reporting and analysis which hits quite close to home with us here at Parse.ly. In the days of print, reporters would research a story, write it, submit it to their editor, and their story would show up at the doorstep of millions of readers the next day. There was no real data to analyze. The only significant metrics to be aware of is total circulation of the paper and revenue. But this does nothing to inform them of how their audience responded to their content. Reporting on digital distribution goes deeper, but the flaw with traditional “reporting” is that it tends to be an end of month look back at “how we did.” What’s missing from this is the analysis to answer the what, why, and how of it all.

So this is where news organizations need to innovate. Lucky for PE.com, they happen to have a Manager of Innovation to take a top down approach in implementing new technologies, processes, etc. Most other organizations are not this lucky. In these cases, where does the innovation come from? Well, it has to come from everyone. Journalists need to understand that the distribution model has changed for digital and there is work to do after the story it written. There are innovative ways to research, publish, market, and optimize. This is where analysis over reporting is truly powerful. To illustrate, here’s a quote from Andrew McFadden’s article that appeared on INMA.org on October 1, 2012.

So, about a year ago, we began looking at analysis level solutions to help our news editors create journalist-level dashboards. We joined ArsTechnica.com, The Atlantic Monthly, and Mashable in a Parse.ly private beta. During that year, our newsroom has shifted from looking at pages viewed per month to assessing referral traffic, and then timing posts based on what we know will maximise our success.

By bringing the data to an incremental level where action can be taken, we’ve been able to take advantage of what users are currently doing on-site so that we can build what we call a “leading indicator advantage.” The result is that we’re guessing less, working from real data more, and yes, seeing better overall monthly results on those monthly reports. 

The key here is that anyone in the organization can access Parse.ly Dash analytics. We were quite careful not to create another analytics product that requires an analyst to make sense of the data. From our perspective, we think of each journalist as building their own startup / brand. The publishing process has evolved from simply researching and writing an article that goes to print to now add in basic performance analysis, marketing, social media, and general content optimization based on historical and realtime metrics. With analytics technologies like Parse.ly hard data is easily transformed to actionable insights that ultimately allow media companies to have a more integrated approach to the entire publishing process. 

Integrated approach to publishing = Success in the digital age

What type of innovation is coming next you ask?

  • Deeper integration between staffs and less segmentation
  • More forecasting and predictive analytics
  • Constant innovations around consumption, delivery, & measurement
  • Audience building at the author level, not just corporate level

We’re starting to see a lot of great changes as technologies improve and cultures change. But to get back to why newspapers should operate with a startup mentality…startups are fun. The opportunity to take full ownership, learn new ways of doing things, succeeding, failing, persevering, leading, and everything else that comes with the territory is absolutely an amazing experience and fully gratifying.

John Levitt, Director of Sales & Marketing

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