Credit: Photo by Firdouss Ross on Unsplash

News organisations face many headaches. Usually, these revolve around weighing up priorities and making difficult decisions.

At FT Live’s Future of News event last week, three editors at major news organisations discussed how they have had to rethink their publications' revenue models.

Content monetisation disputes and the shift to events

Alessandra Galloni was appointed editor-in-chief of Reuters just two months ago. She is the first woman to occupy the role in the company’s 170-year history.

She quickly got under the cosh as Reuters wanted to move towards a paid subscription model. But this would mean breaching the contract with its long-standing business partner Refinitiv, so the idea was shelved.

Reuters has a 30-year contract with Refinitiv to supply content to the financial data provider, which also used to be part of Reuters' parent company, Thomson Reuters.

"There’s a historical alliance there, it's not just a money flow," says Galloni. "It's important for us to be very close partners with them. Talks with us and them are ongoing with the aim of everything getting back on track."

Galloni said that the proposed subscription website is still in beta - with Refinitiv's support - and the aim is to make improvements for the final version.

The website will be an important part of its future strategy around the media events business which, like many other news organisations, has been thriving throughout the pandemic. Reuters had planned this foray pre-pandemic by acquiring an events company in late 2019.

It pressed ahead with the plans, notably putting on Reuters Next in January 2020. This included a whole host of renowned global leaders and forward thinkers, including the likes of Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and many others.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, we were worried about [the media events business]. We had a number of physical events planned that clearly couldn’t go ahead," she continues.

We became a digital-first publication thanks to the pandemic.Maurizio Molinari

"But the conference business has been going very well, the online events have had huge audiences. Reuters Next went way beyond our expectations and other [events] thus far have been hugely popular."

Same content, different audiences

La Repubblica is an Italian daily newspaper that has built a strong print readership since being founded in the 1970s.

It has a daily circulation of 140k readers, just ahead of its 134k digital subscribers.

"In reality, we became a digital-first publication thanks to the pandemic," explains editor-in-chief Maurizio Molinari.

"We are now giving more importance to digital-first. We are organising our day, the newsroom, the meetings, to give more relevance to digital content than print products: it's a big change."

The publication is now discovering the variety of audience it has: the majority of its print readers are (predictably) white, middle-aged men. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of its social network followers are women, with more than 50 per cent of them being below 40. 

"What does this mean?" Molinari asks. "The same newsroom is producing content which, if you put it on different platforms, you get a hugely different audience.

"The challenge is making the [newer] audience interact and bring women and youngsters especially to the website, and to the print product. It’s a fantastic challenge."

Around 80 per cent of its funding comes through advertising, but the pandemic has exposed how vulnerable that source of revenue is. The aim now is to build "an intellectual community" where journalists and readers "work for the same company" - in other words, to have a reader-first model.

Stick or twist?

The clue is in the name: The Sunday Times has a very particular audience.

"The Sunday papers are a real thing in the UK, people go out and buy them," says Emma Tucker, editor of The Sunday Times. "They're an event."

The title has a weekly circulation of 650k. But together, The Times and The Sunday Times have 500k digital subscribers. Despite the success of the print paper, Sunday is also the peak of digital performance, with significantly better traffic and subscription conversions than any other day in the week.

Despite this magnet of readers, in the back of her mind, Tucker knows that digital is the pathway to long-term growth. The pandemic "crystallised" this challenge, but also forced the publications to act.

"What do you do with this big legacy brand? However much you know all your future growth is in digital, I couldn't just neglect the print side because it occupies this unique position in Britain," she says.

Part of the mission now is to ban any notion of a 'Sunday reader'. Tucker says that for the organisation to grow, they need to shake off these traditions and take a wider view.

"The Sunday Times reader is dead as far as I'm concerned, long live The Sunday Times readers," she explains, emphasising the plural.

..we know it works to write about solutions too.Emma Tucker

That is because, like La Repubblica, it needs to distance itself from the stereotypical middle-aged, white man target audience. In fact, it has been proactive in launching a Women Readership Project to increase and secure long-term women subscribers.

This has shown that the types of stories commissioned have a big impact on who clicks through and subscribes. Tucker said that younger and diverse audiences, in particular, were more interested in context, analysis, case studies and human stories. Women are especially hungry for constructive stories with solutions proposed to the problems mentioned.

For example, it has done a lot of investigations into social services that are too proactive about taking away babies with bruises. The plan is now to look into constructive solutions to this very prominent interest area. After all, subscribers pay for stories they cannot get anywhere else.

"We're trying to broaden our appeal because we know it works to write about solutions too," says Tucker.

Her view of the future sees print as a premium product, "an appointment" and "a change of pace" for the most diehard fans.

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