This month, USA Today became the last American national daily newspaper to transition to a digital subscription model. Historically, the publication’s online content has always been free, but with this change, the publication joins countless others in solidifying a global industry trend.
Marc Tracy wrote for The New York Times, “USA Today’s shift to a digital subscription model, which comes after the rest of Gannett’s roughly 250 daily newspapers already made that change, signals the definitive end of an era when newspapers relied primarily on advertisements in its print edition for revenue.”
Now, combined revenue models that pair digital advertising and digital subscriptions revenue have become essential for success in the emerging news media ecosystem. These models, however, require more sophisticated technological tools and knowledge in order to skillfully harmonize teams, upskill journalists, and manage customer experiences. Publishers today must leverage their tech experts to set their brands up for long-term success.
Publishers must prioritize tech teams & tools
Publishers who become more open to ways technology can serve them will be in a strong position to build their internal teams and offer audiences better online experiences. Publishers must more proactively prioritize strategies around both actual tech use and the kinds of team members they hire for tech expertise.
A 2021 Reuters Institute study shared trends for the future of the news publishing industry that highlight this central importance of technology and tech experts:
- Three-quarters (76%) of our sample of editors, CEOs, and digital leaders say Covid-19 has accelerated their plans for digital transition. Business plans include more remote working and a faster switch to reader-focused business models.
- Driving digital subscriptions was rated an important or very important revenue focus for 76% of our sample, ahead of both display and native advertising. The reverse was true when we last asked the question in 2018. E-commerce and events were the next most important priorities, with revenue diversification set to be a key theme. Publishers say that, on average, four different revenue streams will be important or very important this year.
- Our survey also shows the critical role played by product managers in coordinating and shaping digital innovation. More than nine in ten (93%) say the role is important but less than half (43%) say it is well understood in their company.
- Media companies are betting on AI as a way of delivering more personalised experiences and improving production efficiency. Over two-thirds (69%) of our sample say these technologies will have the biggest impact on journalism over the next five years, ahead of 5G (18%), and new devices and interfaces (9%).”
As these trends take root, it will be critical for publishers to proactively bring the best tech tools and tech teams together to develop and serve their products: it’s no longer about just having the best journalistic content or advertising strategies. With digital advertising models like AI-based targeting and a whole host of digital subscription options on the rise, maintaining a forward thinking, tech savvy approach to all aspects of the business is more essential for publishers than ever. Leveraging the right technology in their favor can help publishers improve diversification of products and the ways they sell them.
Whether considering the right elements for a tech stack or the best ways to analyze subscriber data, publishers must also utilize tech experts who can manage choices like best-of-breed use and create or adopt trends. Additionally, tech experts can keep teams trained and prepared to pair tech knowledge with other industry skills. OMS product manager for Lineup Systems, Neil Rigby, says “Businesses have a wealth of knowledge internally – technology in the digital age remains just a tool – you require the talent and expertise to use it, or change it… and teach it.”
There’s no question the world has become more tech-reliant than it ever was, and audiences–especially younger readers–have far more curated expectations of digital publishers. The right tools and tech experts can keep media organizations ahead of these demands and enable brands to thrive well into the future of online news media.
Tech experts can bridge silos through knowledge sharing
As media organizations become even more dependent on digital technologies to monetize their products, all aspects of content, marketing, sales, subscriptions, and advertising are now connected. Editorial content decisions can impact digital advertising spend, and reader data collection can impact both ad and subscription revenue strategies. Despite this, many media organizations still aren’t thinking in interconnected ways internally, and this is partially due to a lack of know-how. Siloed teams lacking integrated technological skills are now a liability for news media publishers…but tech experts can help bridge those gaps.
Journalist Gillian Tett writes, “Professions seem increasingly specialized, partly because technology keeps becoming more complex and sophisticated, and is only understood by a tiny pool of experts.” As publishers continue to diversify the sales side of their media channels, often under the same roof–whether through print, digital, or broadcast–subject matter experts are increasingly key for harmonizing siloed teams, working remotely in contemporary times.
While some amount of skills segmentation will always be necessary, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing around tech can help build organization-wide collaboration and sharpen decision making across departments. When teams understand the various technological pieces driving change in their industry and specific roles, they will be able to communicate in more seamless ways at every stage of product development, sales, and brand growth. Publishers who rely on their tech experts to help end the tyranny of siloed newsrooms will see this knowledge sharing result in more dynamic products and deeper reader insights over time.
Adaptable team members are more important than tech skills
While proactively purchasing the best tech tools, hiring key tech experts, and harmonizing team knowledge around tech evolutions are all critical, publishers must focus on hiring the right people who can keep up with the accelerated pace of change in the digital journalism industry.
Publishers need people who can trust subject matter experts and understand their message as things change; this means hiring teams with the necessary soft skills to adjust and evolve with the technology over time. Becky Frankiewicz and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic write for the Harvard Business Review:
“Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology, and more about people. You can pretty much buy any technology, but your ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential…Sure, the recruitment market is hot for cybersecurity analysts, software engineers, and data scientists. [But] there’s an even bigger need for people who can be trained in the next wave of IT skills…
Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them. Our own talent development philosophy is to combine this dual focus on potential for soft skills, and knowledge for hard skills: we select people with high learnability (people with a hungry mind) and match their interests to in-demand skills, while understanding that those hard skills may soon become outdated — so the key is that their curiosity remains intact. Technical competence is temporary, but intellectual curiosity must be permanent.”
As publishers’ step into the (often unknown) future of digital news media, they must rely on tech experts and highly dynamic, integrated teams to serve readers the best experiences of their digital journalism.