4 Graphs to Rethink Your Editorial Strategy in 2016

14 January 2016

Nic Newman

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Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute, University of Oxford looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities for newsrooms in 2016.

Nic Newman will be speaking at the GEN Summit 2016 about news brands and distributed content. You can find details of the session here.

News organisations enter 2016 worrying about digital revenues in a world increasingly affected by ad-blocking and the rise of distributed content. They are also keeping an eye on the future with plans for online video, new immersive storytelling and Virtual Reality.

130 senior digital leaders from more than 25 countries, took part in our Reuters Institute survey focussed on key industry challenges and opportunities. The survey forms part of a more detailed look at the rapidly changing media and technology landscape published by the Reuters Institute this week.

More online news video is on the way with 79% of respondents saying they would be investing more heavily in 2016. Key reasons cited include more consumer interest in visual content, higher advertising premiums and more native distribution opportunities within platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. 

What are your company’s plans for online video this year? 

Macintosh HD:Users:nicnewman:Dropbox:Screenshots:Screenshot 2016-01-05 16.59.42.pngSource: Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016, n=118 (excluding don’t knows)

From the survey: 

(Some quotes are not attributed to allow full honesty. See full methodology note at the end)

“Producing great, digital, visual, mobile-oriented video and animation is becoming cheaper and can be integrated easier into newsroom workflows. 2016 will be the year when visual content becomes really scalable.”

Anita Zielina, Editor-in-Chief New Products, NZZ 

While some media companies are creating new product and innovation teams around video, many former print groups remain cautious about the level of investment and expertise required. Any moves but they are unlikely to be as bold as the huge investments in video from digital born brands like Buzzfeed, Vice and the Huffington Post over the last year. They been experimenting and learning to master vertical video and other new formats - using data to understand how to make video go viral. We can expect to see the results of these investments play out over the coming year.

Over half of respondents surveyed said increasing levels of engagement (54%) would be top priority in 2016, although in most cases this was often balanced with a desire for  reach.

Top strategic priorities for 2016

Macintosh HD:Users:nicnewman:Dropbox:Screenshots:Screenshot 2016-01-05 17.01.12.pngReuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016 n=123

From the survey:

“We saw record of numbers of readers coming to us in 2015. In 2016, our biggest opportunity is to turn that interest into a more deeply engaged audience

Julia Beizer, Director of Product Washington Post

The focus on engagement is partly related to the increasing need to drive quality traffic that generates revenue rather than just big numbers - but the move to distributed content has also focussed minds on how to engage users using new third party tools (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, Apple News and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages).

For all these reasons, many big publishers are investing in better analytics and understanding of data. Over three quarters (76%) of respondents said that it would be critical to improve the use and understanding of data in the newsroom this year. Many have recently set up audience engagement teams – or have plans to do so.

How important will it be to improve the use data in the newsroom in 2016?

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Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016 n=123


Around two thirds of publishers who responded to our survey (65%) had deployed Chartbeat in their newsrooms to provide real time feedback. 15% were using NewsWhip, a specialist tool for understanding how content is performing in social media, and almost half (45%) had also built their own home-grown systems to help understand how content was being used.

Despite the challenges, not all respondents were as downbeat as might be expected about their business prospects. Around a quarter (22%) said they were more worried – mainly those without solid digital revenues or who relied on digital advertising. Those with paid content or varied business models tended to be less worried (20%). Another 50% said they were no more not less worried than last year 

To what extent are you worried about your company's digital revenues?


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Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016 n=119


To some extent this data reflects the steady progress many publishers have made in generating digital revenues, but it also indicates a lack of urgency still felt in many European countries (like Austria and Switzerland) where consumer behaviour is changing more slowly and print revenues remain strong.

Even so, a number of respondents expressed particular concern about the new dynamics of mobile where making money is tougher than via the desktop web and much harder than print.

From the survey:

“Mobile audiences grow at pace but the dynamics of mobile advertising are different to what we've experienced before. What growth there is in the market is being won by Google and Facebook”

“More than half of our visits are on mobile as of 2015. But revenue is lagging. [The challenge is to create] distinctive and differentiated experiences on mobile that customers are willing to pay for.”

Innovation of business models

In the light of the above, across our respondents there was a strong consensus on the need to diversify revenue streams to replace declining advertising revenue. Respondents talked specifically about moving the focus away from page views and display ads in 2016. 

From the survey:

The key challenge is...

“Finding new ways of diversifying our product landscape to enlarge our business model – getting beyond full subscription packages and ad revenue”

“Developing reliable revenue streams for mobile audiences, and diversifying revenues to contingency plan against increased ad block usage”


Mounting problems around online display advertising mean we are likely to see a burst of innovation around alternative journalism business models in 2016 with membership, crowd-funding, micropayment, events and e-commerce all on the agenda. That’s a change that’s long overdue but the transition to a more mixed model will take time and be painful for many publishers.

The need for agility and cultural change

Issues of cultural change figure highly in the thoughts of senior digital leaders as we enter 2016. In many organisations, the Chinese walls between product, commercial and editorial are being reviewed or even broken down. There is also a move towards cross-functional teams and agile processes - but delivering practical change is still a work in progress:

From the survey:

The key challenge is...

“Breaking down the walls between departments. On one side, the walls between technology, business and editorial. On the other side, the newsroom-internal ones: The walls between video, data, text, infographics, multimedia”
Anita Zielina, Editor-in-Chief New Products, NZZ

New tools such as Slack and HipChat are helping to break down silos. They are gaining ground in many organisations:

“This tool [Slack] has completely changed how my teams interact with each other, and has had a similar effect in the newsroom - completely through organic adoption rather than any specific concerted effort”

Overall we see a remarkable level of consensus around the key themes and trends in the year ahead. Leaders recognise we are in the midst of another big shift in news production and consumption driven by mobile and social media. Responding to that change will require not just strategic but fundamental cultural shifts in the year ahead - and that could be the hardest thing to deliver.


The full 11,000 word Reuters Institute Media and Technology Predictions for 2016 looks at vertical video, robo-journalists, social media for the workplace- as well as key start ups and technical trends to watch. It can be accessed here.

Join us at the GEN summit in Vienna in June where amongst other sessions, The Reuters Institute will be revealing the results of its annual consumer survey covering 26 countries this year and 50,000 people.


Survey methodology

130 people took part in a closed survey in December 2015. Participants were selected because they held senior positions (editorial, technical and commercial) in traditional or digital born publishing companies and were responsible for aspects of digital strategy. Job titles included Editor in Chief, CEO, Head of Digital, Chief Product Officer and Director of Video.

Some quotes do not carry names or organisations, at the request of those contributors.

Most participants were from organisations with a print background but around 15% came from public service or commercial broadcasters. Over 25 countries are represented in the survey including the US, Brazil and Japan but the majority came from European countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Finland and Spain.

Also from the Reuters Institute in 2016

Audience Data and Metrics in Newsrooms – launch February 2016
The State of Public Service News  – March 2016
What's Happening to TV News -  Spring 2016
Online News Video  – May 2016
The Reuters Institute Digital News Report - June 2016.