Independent News and Media (INM), Ireland's largest media group, has undergone a period of strategic transformation over the past few years, trasitioning to online whilst building a "platform-neutral" newsroom.
The publisher operates four market-leading newspapers in Ireland: the Irish Independent, The Herald, The Sunday Independent and Sunday World. Their entire staff has been brought together to form one large newsroom, innovating as a team whilst still working on their individual publications.
Stephen Rae, group editor in chief at INM, explained to delegates of the World Editors Forum yesterday (14 June) that this change was necessary in order for Independent.ie to become the largest and fastest growing news source in Ireland.
"We have come from a position three years ago where we were very much behind the curve – our competitors were the major players in the digital market and we weren't anywhere near," Rae said.
"All newspapers were working in silos. If two guys fom separate Sunday newspapers met each other in the lift, they wouldn't talk to each other, which was a big problem because we knew that if we were to fight in the market as it is now, we needed to fight as one strong company."
Rae then implemented a combined newsroom – one which had all the INM staff working together on one floor, with individual sections for sports, news, business and production.
"All decisions in the newsroom are now made in the 'central hub', an area where content starts out before it is decided which newspaper it will feature in.
"We've also set up a special Innovation Hub on a separate floor, where journalists can come up with ideas that we can make happen, one being an agriproduct in the form of an app to launch later this year."
Stories can often float between titles, expecially between independent.ie and the print publications.
"For example, certain types of content, such as celebrity, lifestyle or crime, is produced in the morning by the online team, before it is reverse-published into our evening newspaper, The Herald – so that's free content for the paper."
INM has strategically invested in both new writing talent and new technology, which has contributed to its recent success – climbing from number three to number one in Ireland with 11 million unique visitors per month on independent.ie.
But the publisher is not satisfied with just that, and it is constantly looking for news ways to cover stories that can grow its direct traffic and reach.
INM has put a huge focus on mobile, creating even an internal app for editorial use, which it used to cover the Irish general election in February this year.
"We sent our teams out to 40 different count-centres, where reporters were able to input the results directly into this app, and then directly onto our website – we were able to beat all the broadcasters to publishing the live election results."
The publisher used the elections to experiment with other forms of coverage, creating podcasts with former prime ministers for the older demographic, and vox-pop style soundbites for its younger audience.
INM has also customised the homepage of independent.ie and tried out personalised push notifications.
"We had a very engaged rugby audience, so during the World Cup, we split the homepage into three formats which would change to suit the readers.
"From our data, we knew which sport they consumed, and sent out different types of push notifications based on this – it led to a huge increase in engagement and the open rates of our targeted push alerts increased by 300 per cent.
"This was down to the data science team and the journalists working together.
The publisher has also found success with user-generated content, seeing a huge response from the public when people were asked to send in pictures of themselves celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Irish revolution.
"We filled a special magazine with some of the 14,000 images that were submitted, which gave the publication a lift in circulation of 15,000 copies, a revenue uplift of £25,000 and an increase of £40,000 in sponsorship revenue."
Rae said that even though INM is telling stories on different platforms, the substance of the story itself remains the most important thing.
"INM is looking to continue to innovate, tell our stories, and make our content valuable once again.
"We would have traditionally seen our old competitors in print, TV and radio as the enemy, but I think we've got to increasingly look at them as allies. And we've got to collaborate – we can learn broadcast skills from them and they can learn the agility and nimbleness from us," Rae said.
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