Research and a new working group helped Nine newspapers win younger subscribers, putting the theory into practice during last month’s federal election.
Publishing audience development director Aimie Rigas and newsletter editor Mex Cooper say in an INMA blog that engaging younger readers is a challenge most newsrooms face.
“The average age of news subscribers skews older across the world, and social media is increasingly the main news source for younger consumers,” they say. “The longevity and success of media outlets is dependent on not only attracting a younger audience but convincing those readers of the value of a news subscription.”
Newsrooms of the group’s Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, WAtoday and Brisbane Times asked what they wanted, and why young readers – the biggest cohort of those open to pay for news – weren’t paying during a research project by the audience insights team.
Research showed 14 barriers young people had to paying for a metro masthead subscription. “There were more than 133 barriers, and none of them necessarily stood out,” they said, the unexpected result showing multiple, highly individualised barriers to paying. Eliminating just one or two barriers would be unlikely to drive a shift in conversion.
While reasons were diverse, there were common themes, and the research showcased the breadth of the brands’ offering – demonstrating value, experimenting with story formats and improving distribution.
Establishment of a working group coincided with Nine’s awards-nominated ‘minds wide open’ brand campaign, which championed the reasons to pay for Nine’s journalism, particularly to younger readers.
Executive editor Tory Maguire asked the group to tackle the key themes of the ‘why not pay’ research and experiment with solutions. An invitation to the working group was open to staff in the target age demographic.
“We ended up with more than 20 participants from around the newsroom, as well as members from our product, marketing, research and sales teams,” say the duo.
After sharing the research insights with them, a brainstorm followed in which group members sorted their ideas into short, middle, and long-term solutions. Then a vote saw group members using chef kiss emojis to upvote their five favourite ideas, before the team set about tackling the lowest hanging fruit.
“It was clear from the very first session that our working group members knew what they wanted and were keen to share their views,” say Rigas and Cooper.
The group has since met fortnightly and welcomed new members as participants spread the word about how much they and the newsrooms were getting out of it. Topic editors from across the newsroom were invited to sessions to listen and learn.
They say the working group has enabled younger team members to share their ideas and criticisms freely, and encourages more open discussions. “Editors are invited along to content-specific sessions to help brainstorm ideas at the conception and commissioning stages of planning.
“This has led to low-risk experiments, and we can get immediate feedback on content and ideas from this target demographic. Importantly, we hear views from across the business and not just journalists.”
"One of the outcomes of this project has been that the technology editor’s role has been given a new focus to cover internet culture. Additionally, an off-platform working group was established to develop a strong and attractive visual style for our brands on social media.
There is now active recruitment of younger and more diverse voices for our opinion articles, and we are doubling down on our TikTok offering.
“The future subscribers working group provided so many insights, ideas, and feedback that it became clear there was a role for someone to use its findings and recommendations to drive an ambitious strategy to grow our audience and tailor our content and its distribution to meet the needs of younger audiences.
“Sophia Phan, the Sydney Morning Herald’s deputy digital editor, became our growth content editor. Australia’s recent federal election was an example of how her role and the working group now help shape our coverage.
In sessions in the lead up to the election, the group discussed what they wanted from news coverage. Phan was an integral part of the mastheads’ election planning, commissioning, and strategy. Many of the group’s recommendations were brought to fruition, including:
-explainers on the voting and political system;
-a visual style specific for election stories on social media platforms;
-an insight into the journalists covering the election; and
-specific polling of young voters.
The future subscribers working group continues to grow in size and influence in newsrooms. New members have joined, and editors actively seek out the group’s advice and feedback.
“By listening to the younger voices that intimately know our journalism, we have been able to produce and share content that is authentic to our brands while tailored to the needs of a younger audience who will be our future subscribers.”