Hello, and welcome to the first full paid version of this newsletter. This is very much a passion project for me, and those brave few of you who have been my pioneer members are greatly appreciated! Please let me know what you think…
- There’s plenty to learn from outside our industry about audience engagement
- Community work is a key component of a paywall strategy
- So is rethinking the style of content we produce
The old is new again at news:rewired
I enjoyed most recent news:rewired greatly, somewhat to my own surprise. Despite what looked like an underwhelming line-up from the agenda, the actual content was really worthwhile, and I took a decent amount away from it. A couple of weeks on, I’ve had the chance to digest it properly, and here’s what I think matters:
Paywalls and Audience Engagement are deeply linked
The speeches that topped and tailed the session were more connected than they might have appeared at first glance. Rouven Leuener’s fairly technical talk
dug deep into the evolution of their paid strategy - what they call a paygate rather than a paywall. This was a very
useful session: too often people see a paywall as an end state, rather than an evolutionary process.
Businesses in the B2B journalism space have had successful paywalled business for over 20 years, and it’s good to see mainstream news finally catching up with that.
At the flip end of the day, Kathryn Geels’ talk shared some of the learning from the Engaged Journalism Accelerator
. This was a “softer” talk, but one which complemented the earlier one beautifully. There’s some useful stuff in there about language, commitment and R&D. However, one interesting point that wasn’t explored deeply, but which a few of my readers picked up on was this:
Don’t just look at how journalists engage - look outside. There’s plenty to learn from social innovation around the craft beer movement, for example.
We journalists have a deeply myopic view of the world, sometimes. Many other businesses have had massive experience in community management that we just don’t pay attention to. The gaming companies have a couple of decades of managing community interactions on their forums and Facebook pages, but we rarely learn from them. (More on that in Engaged Tweeting Time below.)
Escaping the bubble
Since the Facepocalypse, it’s been clear that owned & operated community engagement is going to be a strong part of the audience development mix going forwards. This isn’t rocket science: if you’re going to have direct customer relationships, you need to have customer service. And many of the most successful reader revenue driven operations look as much like membership clubs as transactional businesses. The Times and The Guardian are both good — if very different — models here.
But we need to look outside our own bubble for good ideas in this space. That’s something I’m hoping to do in future editions of this newsletter.
As for the rest of the conference, yes, there were the normal “tech fetish” session: we had a session on smart speakers, which pretty much proved that you shouldn’t bother right now
unless you have plenty of money to spare. And the inevitable blockchain session was baffling even to some off the brightest journalism minds in the room. I gave up trying to blog it, but Emily Yarwood took on that thankless task for journalism.co.uk
But the underlying message was a good one: we won’t get through this rough patch in the history of journalism by just throwing up a paywall, and calling it job done. Once we commit to serving an audience we need also to commit to rethinking our content strategy about what that audience responds to. That’s going to be a big challenge: ideas like solutions journalism
clearly resonate with people — especially those who are willing to pay — but go against so much of what has been the conventional wisdom about successful journalism.