GNI-NRH Audience Lab

Here at the News Revenue Hub, we talk a lot about membership. And for good reason: Helping news organizations achieve sustainability by bolstering membership programs has been our core focus for three years.

So far, that work has been successful, which gives us — and our clients — room to grow. That’s where the Google News Initiative-News Revenue Hub Audience Lab comes in. This pilot project, created in partnership with the Google News Initiative with generous support from the Knight Foundation and the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, is dedicated to helping our clients grow and enhance their audiences.

The Lab’s goal is simple but important: helping newsrooms to find not just new readers, but loyal ones.

“We’re looking to help our clients grow their audience not through clicks and pageviews, but by building a loyal readerbase,” explained Evan Mackinder, the News Revenue Hub’s director of audience development. “Our focus for three years has been about taking loyal readers and turning them into subscribers and donors. Now we want to go a step further and help our clients find even more of those loyal readers,”

“It’s all about how to grow in the right way,” Mackinder added.

“We want to do for audience growth what we’ve done for membership,” explained Mary Walter-Brown, the Hub’s chief executive officer. “With the GNI-NRH Audience Lab, we’re committed to developing a best practices-based methodology that will help news organizations grow loyal audiences. Building loyalty is the first step toward building a successful reader revenue program.”

The Audience Lab is currently conducting a series of audience assessments of seven Hub clients of varying sizes. The cohort includes two local outlets, Bethesda Beat and Rivard Report; two regional publications, Bridge Magazine and CalMatters; and three national organizations, Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Next Avenue.

“We wanted to select a cohort with diversity in audience size, expertise, and topic areas,” said Mackinder. “We’re thrilled to help our clients grow their readership. But we also expect them to learn from each other during this process. Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing can help move the needle in both newsrooms and careers.”

The Audience Lab is funded by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. The Google News Initiative is offering financial support, as well as resources and expertise with tools such as News Consumer Insights, as the Hub works to create and test new approaches in growing loyal audiences.

The audience assessments, which are currently underway, include examining clients’ SEO strategies, newsletter products, and editorial workflows. We’ll also conduct a loyalty analysis for each newsroom. After each assessment, the Lab will provide each client with a scorecard that details easy fixes and long-term improvements. We’ll then help clients implement and test those improvements. From there, we’ll share those lessons more broadly — with posts like this.

“Sharing findings from those approaches is key,” explained Google’s Sibel Lowin, Global Partnerships Solutions Lead, News & Publishing. “In order to help news publishers evolve business models and drive sustainable growth, we’re focused on investing in projects that generate lessons and tools that can benefit the broader news industry,” she said.

Mackinder is feeling optimistic so far, and looks forward to sharing the Lab’s results. “We’re only two months into this work and it’s already been tremendously rewarding to see the results out of the Lab. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in 2019 and beyond.”

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