UK news publisher DC Thomson has amassed 25k paying subscribers, 18 months into starting a digital-first strategy.

To attract paying audiences to titles such as The Press and Journal and The Courier, every person in the newsroom took on a new job, said Richard Prest, DC Thomson’s head of content development.

Reporters are now grouped in mini-publisher teams that produce content for specific audiences with a user-first mindset. For example, the publisher found that food and drink content is often most read during the weekend, so that is when the team now publishes it.

Read also: 'Actionable user needs' make for more efficient newsrooms

Similarly, deeper investigative pieces, like video documentaries, did particularly well when released during the evening or on a Sunday night when people had more time to watch them.

Unlike Reach Plc, which launched minimum page view targets for its reporters, DC Thomson measures success with engagement metrics. It has developed its own approach called Quality Reads which looks at scroll depth, mouse movements and average reading time, allowing reporters to see how their content is being read or viewed.

In addition to engagement, Prest and his teams look at interaction time, assisted subscriptions and page views. But the Quality Reads score is the most important and widely used metric in the newsroom.

"Success, though, can’t just be measured in metrics," he says. "Witnessing changing behaviours is key. We are seeing increasing collaboration with specialist areas who work with the newsrooms, graphics, SEO, AV, data, insight and social."

Cross-team collaboration is central to success and teams often discuss the best ways to structure their content, so it is more effective in terms of engagement.

Human transformation

As media advisor Lucy Kueng recently said, "digital transformation is a people transformation masquerading as a technological one." At DC Thomson, changing the mindsets was as important as introducing any new tools.

Prest says that the whole newsroom got on board with the digital transformation plan, as it was considered the best way to futureproof DC Thomson’s quality journalism.

"In a change like this, you have to be quite humble and patient, especially those leading people," he says, adding that the team also sought advice from publishers in the US and Europe who had been there before.

"I was a print editor, and had worked in print all my career but was asked to help lead the transformation which meant re-learning everything I knew."

A digital transformation journey is full of obstacles but Prest says they are often a result of overthinking and fearing to fail. An antidote to this energy-sapping mindset is taking the next step and learning from its successes and failures.

"Insight, data, product, social and audience specialists provide incredible support, ensuring that our content, subscription, and product offerings are all aligned with our audience’s wants and needs," he concludes.

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