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Reach for the stars: How The Telegraph is deploying editorial analytics

How is traditional print media adapting to the digital changes and demands of the modern reader? DataIQ sat down with Emma Wicks, head of editorial insight and analytics at The Telegraph, to discuss the evolving landscape for content, how journalism uses metrics and how a well-established business is keeping up with new platforms.

Culturally, The Telegraph had started making moves from the old ways into a more agile and strategy-led future when Wicks joined as head of editorial insight and analytics after spending several years focusing on analytics in the customer-centric side of data at gambling and retail businesses. But it was not as drastic a change as it might seem at first. “You would think that retail and media are very different industries, and in some ways they are such as the pace that publishing operates, but in other ways they are really similar,” said Wicks. “Both have gone through the demise of the old trends with brick-and-mortar, the rise of online seeing it as a threat and then as an opportunity, and the growth of data that each are accumulating.”

But there was a long way to go. The team was starting to realise that, although online content was originally seen as a threat to traditional media, it was also turning out to provide a richness of data that had not been accessed before. Previously, time and effort-intensive research would have had to be conducted to examine what people were reading and their thoughts about physical print, but this hurdle was no longer a problem with the shift to digital.

By the start of 2021 the number of digital subscriptions for The Telegraph overtook the number of print subscriptions. “The value of a digital subscription versus a print one may be slightly different, but the volume is greater,” said Wicks. The Telegraph has surpassed 740,000 subscriptions this year and is on course to reach one million.

To get this shift in culture to reach all corners of the business meant the analytics and data teams being supported by senior staff. “Having Chris Evans [The Telegraph editor] behind it was a great start and a great driver,” said Wicks. “Additionally, Mike Adamson [deputy editor and head of publishing] is heavily involved in subscriptions and has been a positive driver. Finally, Dan Silver [director of newsroom innovation] heads up newsletters and CRM and wanted to make sure that there was a focus on good metrics as ‘bad metrics drive bad decisions’.” 

Regarding bad metrics, data silos and poor practice can quickly reappear if data culture is ignored, even within organisations with an advanced level of data maturity. DataIQ research reveals that poor data literacy is joint with data silos as the most prevalent threat to an organisation being able to consume data effectively.

The 10-1-23 strategy also led to Wicks and the team developing ‘stars’ as a new reporting metric in the newsroom to calculate the success and popularity of articles, informing editorial decision-making for enhanced subscriber satisfaction. “When stars first launched, people had concerns about the metrics being changed, but it has been a smooth change and it is fully accepted now,” said Wicks. “Questions were around how it worked and which content scored best for the different components. We focused on making it simple to understand, ran sessions highlighting which articles scored well and showed how it rewarded different types of content.” 

The stars are a way for individuals to show progress from one date to another and to prove development as a journalist for the publication. Additionally, the targets for ‘what good looks like’ would be weighted for different sectors, for example, live politics would regularly get much stronger interaction than to a more niche feature on cars, so the targets reflected this. The results of the analysis can be accessed by journalists and staff through a main dashboard as well as through regular updates from senior staff. A secondary dashboard provides live data which helps direct up-cycling of content, such as popular articles for newsletters and the targeted promotion of different pieces of content.

Wicks has made sure there was a real purpose for these changes in the newsrooms including a digital first culture. One key aspect has been evaluating and communicating the difference between articles for the physical publication and those that get published online due to space differences, what would be worth sharing for the varying readerships and being able to meet the metrics being analysed. 

Finally, Wicks crafted stars in a way that would focus on developing metrics that add value to the business. As The Telegraph shifted to a digital subscription-based platform, questions about the longevity of different subscribers were questioned. “For example, a subscriber that cancelled within a day would have lower value than a subscriber that lasts longer than 24 hours, so the stars weighting with regards to subscriber numbers reflected this development,” said Wicks.

Thanks to the stars metrics and the 10-1-23 strategy, The Telegraph can execute deep dives into the content their readers are engaging with and finding valuable, meaning the team can continue to develop a varied content strategy. It was noted that there are different segments of the readership that primarily engage with rapid updates and short shelf-life stories such as breaking stories, day-to-day politics and latest sports scores, whereas others were more compelled by articles such as recipes that have a much longer shelf-life. 

By nurturing a cultural shift in data collection, analysis and execution, Wicks and the team have been able to drive meaningful change for a traditional media platform in a rapidly changing business environment and a hectic, not to say traditional, workplace.

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