Digital Digest: Bringing the newsroom into the business of news

Historically, conflicts have existed between commercial and editorial

SINCE time immemorial, it has been a cardinal rule across news media organisations that there must be some conflict between editorial and the commercial section.

We have seen commercial arms of news media organisations waking up early morning, up in arms with editorial, lamenting how certain stories would have harmed potential and existing clients, mainly advertisers.

A classic example would be a situation whereby a negative story about a certain bank executive being placed just above an advert from the same bank.

The personnel running commercial arms of news media organisations do not take this kindly; they come down hard, ready to fight editors, armed with calculations on revenues lost.

Meanwhile, editors will be equally ready to school commercial teams on the integrity of editorial independence and how sacrosanct it is.

Editors, more often than not, do not budge explaining the duty, beauty and obligations of journalism to operate without fear or favour.

But many of these problems and tensions are a result of failure to primarily understand the core business of a publishing house.

Journalism is the core business and should lead the way; even money should follow journalism.

However, the situation becomes catch 22 because revenues are also important to carry the business forward and cash is the fuel for operations, which at times places editorial under pressure to publish advertisers’ friendly stories, which editors usually call public relations or PR puffs.

In this now largely digital world, where operations are supposed to be flawless, a divided company over how internal ways of running things, will fall, and fast.

From a Zimbabwean experience, rarely do publishing companies make it a point that everyone is acquainted with operations of the entire business.

Even interns will come, sit in a corner and figure out company operations on their own as days progress.

Journalists will come to the newsroom, go home after submitting stories and all they know are deadlines. For them, sending a prescribed number of stories is more than enough.

What comes after and who is helping bring revenue to the organisation is none of their business.

Curiously, commercial teams also display their own high levels of haughtiness towards editorial, to the extent of becoming so clueless about how the news gathering and dissemination arm of the business operates.

Many are actually so clueless that they often wonder why editorial teams work into the wee hours.

“What were you still doing here that late?” They often ask.

This is all because the organisation has not bothered to orientate its employees to understand the business, how the business generates revenues and how everything should dovetail with editorial functions.

Commercial teams often brag: “We are the ones who pay your salaries,” with editorial shooting back: “Without content, you are nothing, you monetise our sweat.”

However, with newsrooms embracing digitalisation, it is increasingly becoming clear that editorial is now the revenue centre, hence loud calls to bridge the gap between editorial and commercial business, fostering collaboration, supporting high-quality journalism, promoting transparency and ensuring ethical decision-making.

Thus the future of integrated news media operations will be thriving journalism that has commercial impact. But for a modern newsroom to take advantage of new revenue and innovation opportunities, the culture of a divided company must be extinguished.

Among many objectives, integrated operations aim to achieve audience expansion, leveraging on digital technologies to reach wider readers beyond legacy or traditional platforms.

It also aims to enhance user experience by focusing on creating seamless and user-friendly experience across all digital touch points, and to explore partnerships and collaborations which have potential revenue streams.

With advertising revenues migrating to digital platforms, journalism has fundamentally changed, demanding a 21st century journalist to understand “contentnomics”: Linking money with the business of news.

This calls for the dismantling of the historical dividing wall between the newsroom and commercial teams.

It is only when silos are broken and communication between journalists, business leaders and commercial teams is encouraged that the news business will start seeing the reader as someone with needs and wants, which can be measured.

The ultimate goal is integration of journalistic values, practices and expertise with commercial aspects of running a news organisation.

It means journalists will have more direct roles in shaping economic stability and editorial independence, while participating in revenue generation and other business decisions.

Thoughts and ideas around strategy on advertising models and engagement will be the responsibility of all teams, combining efforts to maximise revenue ideas.

Revenue models like subscriptions, memberships, sponsored content, livestreamy journalism and events demand journalists who understand commercial value of the content that is being created.

Whenever journalists pitch stories, they should think of possible impact both on audience and possible partnerships for revenues. The goal is to build a newsroom that thrives journalistically and economically.

Sustainability can only be achieved by optimising digital advertising capabilities and exploring innovative revenue streams, but the underlying cardinal rule being that a journalist should understands the economic value of content.

We meet again next week!

Silence Mugadzaweta is digital & online editor for Alpha Media Holdings and content strategies blogger for International News Media Association.

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