All told, our team at the American Press Institute worked with journalists and leaders at nearly 100 local news organizations this year in our mission to help them become more audience-centered and innovative organizations.
Those partners included newspapers and digital startups, public radio stations and local TV stations — organizations large and small.
We helped news organizations reinvent beat structures, focus content strategies using better analytics, transform their workplace cultures, learn new skills, generate more revenue from readers, and excel at the best journalism that holds powerful officials accountable.
We’re looking to reach even more news organizations as we head in 2018, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight four of the major challenges we’re helping publishers confront, and how you can get involved:
- Culture & skills: How to transform the people and culture in your workplace to enable innovation and growth
- Reader revenue: How to get more people to support and subscribe to news
- Understanding audiences: How to use analytics to make your journalism more engaging
- Accountability reporting: How to grow audience loyalty through accountability journalism
1. How to transform the people and culture in your workplace to enable innovation and growth
API works on transformation, not training. We don’t just drop into newsrooms for a day and tell you some things you ought to do. We are hands-on partners in the long process of implementing organizational change and transforming a culture.
In 2017 we did this in many ways, led by our Director of Newsroom Learning Amy Kovac-Ashley, and there are lots of programs or resources you can take advantage of in 2018…
Assess your organization’s culture and skills. API offers unique, custom services to help news publishers assess their internal culture and staff skills, and then make changes that can help them innovate and iterate faster.
We’ve worked with seven local newsrooms since the program began a little more than a year ago, spending a couple days listening, asking, studying and assessing the culture. We’re able to pinpoint your unique issues with employee workloads, diversity, management, balancing legacy vs. digital priorities, what to stop doing, and much more. We then report back to newsroom leaders and work with you on a plan for change.
Another tool in our kit is the newsroom skills assessment — API worked with eight newsrooms this year to survey their staff and assess what the newsroom knows, what they want to learn, and what some individuals might be able to teach their peers. We then work with newsroom leaders to help identify and fill knowledge gaps, including by leveraging existing staff through peer-to-peer coaching. The result is a newsroom with the skills and focus to meet the company’s strategic priorities.
This combination of skills and culture — providing the right tools and creating the right workspace to use them — builds the foundation of a thriving modern news organization. Contact Amy to get involved.
Better News — a resource for news innovators to learn, plan and do. This fall we launched BetterNews.org, a new site gathering all the best knowledge and advice about the key issues regarding news, audiences, revenue and leadership. Users can master everything from email newsletters to advanced analytics to building revenue through live events. The site organizes and explains information in ways optimized for practical execution – informed by change-management theory practiced in the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative at Temple University. We’re a partner in this program, sometimes called the Table Stakes project, which helps news publishers learn how to adapt more effectively through by mastering performance-driven change techniques. The Better News site includes best practices and case studies curated from many sources around the web and publishing, as well as new and original content. We’re collaborating with leaders in different fields to keep this updated and growing — and it’s all free. Check out Better News to bootstrap your progress on key challenges.
Sending expert coaches to help you with a transformative project. With a new grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, API has resources to send experts to help you plan and execute a key initiative. We can work with you to understand and sharpen your goals and then identify a coach from within the industry who can advise and teach you new skills to help meet them. Coaches may make an in-person visit or advise from afar, depending on a newsroom’s needs. Contact Amy if you have a specific, discrete challenge in your organization where short-term outside guidance could help.
Connecting and empowering the “changemakers” in news organizations. API’s Changemaker Network links up innovators with others who have similar jobs in newsrooms across the country. We are creating a peer network that enables API and the members themselves to support the learning and effectiveness of people working on analytics, internal training, newsletters and podcasting. The network touches more than 60 people in more than 30 newsrooms since we started in early 2017, and it will keep growing. Contact Amy if you have an interest in joining a group.
2. How to get more people to support and subscribe to news
Newspapers big and small across the country are facing an opportunity — news consumers are increasingly open to paying for some of the news they rely on.
API is helping publishers seize that opportunity and grow their reader revenue.
We’ve invested in groundbreaking research about who pays for news, and why. Two reports were published in 2017:
- “Paying for news: Why people subscribe and what it says about the future of journalism” describes who subscribes to news. Based on in-depth formative interviews with news consumers in three cities and a nationally representative survey, the study finds that slightly more than half of all U.S. adults subscribe to a news outlet.
- “The 3 types of news subscribers: Why they pay and how to convert them” uses human-centered design to empathize with users and uncover the values and motivations underlying their habits. Most significant of the findings: We identified three news subscriber “archetypes,” each with distinctly different mindsets.
More research and resources on reader revenue are coming early in 2018, including a partnership with more than a dozen companies that will yield a study of thousands of people who recently subscribed to a local newspaper, giving insights to publishers so they can acquire more paid subscriptions.
Our new director of reader revenue, Gwen Vargo, also leads a working group of news publishers who share information and lean on API’s expertise and resources to support their efforts to grow their reader revenue. If you want to get involved with that effort in 2018, let Gwen know.
When the research and listening phase of this work is complete, we will be building a comprehensive set of tools and resources to help publishers grow reader revenue.
3. How to use analytics to make your journalism more engaging
API worked with 18 additional newsrooms this year to transform their regular web analytics into journalism insights. Our Metrics for News program combines custom analytics software and personal consulting from API’s team to help a newsroom better match its content choices to its audience needs.
The program provides unique ways of measuring “engagement” though indexes that blend many other metrics together into a single score. It also lets you track the journalism characteristics of all your content, so you can use data to learn how to cover stories differently and improve your beats. Some 70 news operations have used the program in recent years.
Some of partners using Metrics for News services this year worked with us to…
- Foster more awareness of analytics among their newsroom staff
- Communicate to their entire staff what metrics matter, how they are tracking engagement and how that fits into the larger goals of their organization
- Identify and create audience segments to track engagement of specific user groups (such as loyal readers, millennial audiences or subscribers)
- Create custom engagement indexes that choose a blend of metrics aligned with their organization’s funnel strategy
- Identify what coverage to stop doing across different beats
- Develop new content verticals and use Metrics for News to track their success
- Customize and interpret data from Metrics for News to help reporters constantly improve engagement
- Use insights from Metrics for News to develop their own internal analytics dashboards
Contact Liz Worthington, our director of content strategy, to learn how to get involved.
4. How to grow audience loyalty through accountability journalism
In an audience-centered news organization, quality journalism is the basis of the relationship with that audience. API continues to invest in helping journalists sustain and improve the most-valuable form: accountability journalism.
That includes a range of work from fact-checking to investigations to deep explainers — all of which are profoundly needed and appreciated by audiences. Analytics data tells us this accountability work is the most engaging content a local news organization produces, and is often the driver of subscriptions and loyalty.
Jane Elizabeth, director of our accountability journalism program, helped hundreds of news organizations study this type of work. Many began new or deeper commitments to accountability in 2017. She participated in 30 conferences, workshops and training sessions this year, reaching an estimated 2,000 people, and thousands more through livestreams, reports and shared documents.
She also produced guides and resources to help you get started or go deeper with fact-checking and accountability reporting, including materials and tutorials in Better News.
We described the road ahead for fact-checking in “The Future of Fact-Checking: Moving ahead in political accountability journalism” — a paper drawn from conversations at our summit of about 70 journalists, academics and researchers. It was one of the first events to closely examine the role of the media and political fact-checking in the historic 2016 election and set a path for the future.
We also gathered rich examples of how to present accountability journalism in more visual and creative formats, in our report “Improving accountability reporting: How to make the best of journalism better for audiences.”
Our online fact-checking course now has nearly 2,700 enrolled and is a self-directed way to learn both the basics and advanced aspects of this form of journalism. The free, 10-chapter course will be enhanced in 2018.
You can join the more than 7,000 others who subscribe to our weekly newsletter “The Week in Fact-Checking,” a collaboration with the International Fact-Checkers Network. It highlights tips and current events that are shaping fact-checking and politics. We’ll be refreshing the newsletter in 2018 as well.
Our fact-checking guidelines for newsrooms that want to improve or launch a fact-checking project have been used by 45 newsrooms around the country. Contact Jane to get a copy of the guidelines, which will be particularly useful during the 2018 midterm elections.
And if you’d like more help with taking your accountability journalism and fact-checking to the next level in 2018, please ask Jane about our new Accountability Toolkit, a tailored plan for your newsroom that includes six simple steps for improving engagement and trust in your best journalism.
Stay in touch
So much else happened this year at API. We continued to work on the challenge of improving diversity of news coverage and staffing, and we have new ideas and research coming early in 2018 about that. We are also advancing new ideas about transparency and building trust with readers.
We collaborated with 27 other news-innovation organizations and associations, knowing that we all fight the good fight and can do it best if we work together. And we personally met thousands of you at conferences like ONA, SPJ, JAWS, ASNE/APME, SRCCON:WORK and many more.
Our research showed you how to reinvent the social media team and ways to design newsroom workspaces for digital innovation. We gave more nuance to how partisanship relates to trust in the press and how people decide what to trust on social media. We showed how commercial and nonprofit newsrooms can work together to benefit and change journalism.
You can sign up for API’s Need to Know newsletter to stay in the loop on all our work and the other best insights we curate each day for news innovators.
Here’s to making 2018 a great year for you and your news organization. We hope API can play a part in that.