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Credit: By Financial Times on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The Financial Times is developing a new digital data dashboard to help journalists and editors in the newsroom better understand their audience and how people interact with stories on the website.

The tool, called Lantern, will be available early next year and it will integrate audience data collected across the entire organisation, which already exists but usually serves business or commercial purposes.

Using Lantern, anyone in the newsroom will be able to find out how their story is doing in real time, but also how the audience engages with it in the longer term.

"Now more than ever, it's not just about being digital-first, it's about being audience-first," Renée Kaplan, head of audience engagement at the Financial Times, told Journalism.co.uk.

She said the FT's approach is to measure the engagement around individual stories, rather than focus on the overall interaction on the website.

"We are still using page views, but are also trying to measure things like the time spent on an article, what exactly a reader will do after they've clicked on a story, if they stay on the website to consume more content, whether or not they share it, comment on it or interact with any other elements on the page."

At the Financial Times, audience engagement means "getting our journalism in front of more audiences, and more of the right audiences," said Kaplan, who has been in her role for six months.

Now more than ever, it's not just about being digital-first, it's about being audience-firstRenée Kaplan, Financial Times
"It means shifting the perspective of traditional broadcasters, which was to some extent a monologue, to understanding and knowing more about our audience."

The FT's audience engagement team sits at the heart of the newsroom and its 11 members hold a variety of roles, from social media editor and producer to non-journalistic roles, such as data analyst and marketing manager.

This structure has allowed the team to tap into the vast amount of audience data collected by the company across other departments, and bring back those insights into the newsroom to "encourage a culture of editorial decision-making that is actually informed by what we know about people".

Kaplan said the FT is not aiming to simply grow its audience, because operating on a paid content model means "sheer reach is not relevant to us".

"We're interested in targeting people who are likely to not only consume the content, but come back and consume more."

Over the summer, the FT restructured its metered paywall to allow readers to take out one-month digital subscriptions at the price of £1.

But how much can you find out about a person's news consumption habits in 30 days? "Quite a bit", explained Kaplan.

"Whether you've got a longer subscription or a trial, in order to sign up for it, we already know a little bit about you.

"That knowledge informs how we're serving what stories, on what platforms and in what formats, and we're trying to put in place structures that allow us to leverage audience insight even from that short term behaviour."

Aside from growing the audience both on the website and on social platforms, the team is aiming to build an "audience-first" newsroom, where this principle is an integral part of how journalists commission, produce and distribute their stories.

When the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris last Friday, the editorial team and the audience engagement teams in London and New York worked together to distribute not only real-time news stories about the event, but also resurface a higher volume of recent ISIS-related stories on social channels and make them available for free.

One of them was an interactive series from October on how oil finances the ISIS operation – posting it again on social media brought nearly 15,000 click-throughs in one day, Kaplan said.

"Over the course of the weekend, 25 to 30 per cent of all traffic on FT.com came from social and that was, in part, due to very close coordination between the teams."

In a Polis lecture at the London School of Economics last week, FT editor Lionel Barber said "the print-centric newsroom is no more".

"The future is text-plus: an exciting combination of words, graphics and image tailored for the age of social media, where readers can comment, recommend and share our journalism across platforms and national boundaries," he said at the event.

"Text-plus" stories have been a frequent presence at the FT recently. In June, the outlet used wearable devices to report on the use of such technology in the workplace and created a bespoke Facebook page for the experiment.

"For the first time ever, we actually worked on creating and feeding a social media community, and we used it to crowdsource information, stories and input from people, which we then looped back into our traditional content," Kaplan said.

Inspired by that initiative, the FT launched a new Facebook community called 'Tech meets money' during the Web Summit in Dublin at the beginning of November.

The group, which targets technology entrepreneurs and investors, has since grown from 70 to 946 members.

The FT will aim to answer any questions people in the group might have around the different aspects of setting up a technology business through a series called The Start-up Toolkit, which will be published on the outlet's Tech Blog.

"We have a ton of content that's very naturally relevant to tech entrepreneurs and a tremendous amount of context from the investment world, but we don't necessarily reach a younger, more tech-oriented audience because there's so much competition with free content out there.

"So this is a way to not only directly target a community of younger, tech-savvy readers on Facebook, but actually to get them to let us know what they want, what is relevant to them, what questions they have and respond to that," said Kaplan.

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