Editor’s note: This article was created in partnership with Desk-Net, a leading editorial management tool for newsrooms.

Working in journalism is often all about managing tight deadlines. The agenda is driven by a 24-hour news cycle, not long-term priorities. As a result, many news outlets suffer from short-termism. They get bogged down in day-to-day operations and lose sight of what is really important.

Content planning is hardly the most visible or glamorous part of newsrooms’ operations – but it is one of the most essential. Yet many newsrooms are stuck in a short-term reactive approach and are incapable of serving their audiences better.

Planning is not just about improving internal work processes. Rather it is about building a culture that can balance the immediate with the important. This means working smarter, not harder – for example producing less content, but achieving better results.

The value of knowing your audience

Over the past years, the news media industry has drastically shifted its funding model – from selling physical newspapers and making money on ads to reader revenue digitally. Typically, this means selling digital subscriptions.

Attracting new subscribers is difficult given the current information overload and media centralisation, so it’s essential for newsrooms to know their audiences – and find out what content converts readers to paid subscribers. Knowing what readers are willing to pay for is the foundation of a successful reader revenue business.

Dennik N, one of the largest Slovak news outlets, is well aware of that. “We do look at a lot of data – how many people finish reading each article, for example, or how many existing subscribers versus non-subscribers different topics attract”, Tomas Bella, Dennik N’s co-founder and Head of Digital, told in an email interview with The Fix. But the most important metric remains the number of subscriptions sold, he added.

A few years ago, Dennik N started to produce fewer, more in-depth pieces – and saw that this approach was beneficial both for the audience and for the newsroom. This path requires having insight into what your audience is, its goals and frustrations – and how they correlate with what you publish.

Bella advises other outlets to “resist the tyranny of ‘data that is available’” and focus on what’s the most important for your newsroom. For Dennik N, it’s the number of subscribers rather than pageviews.

[Desk-Net allows planning content for specific audiences. You can learn more about Desk-Net’s features at the website.]

The Local is another outlet that takes seriously the task of knowing the audience well and acting upon this information. The Local serves English-speaking audiences – particularly the expat communities within the countries it covers. Its local editions span across nine countries.

More from The Fix: Conquering Europe one country at a time: The Local

Audience data plays a significant role in The Local’s content planning, the outlet’s managing editor Ben McPartland noted in an email interview with The Fix.

“We use audience data, as well as audience feedback to make decisions on what articles to concentrate on. If certain articles convert lots of readers to become subscribers, then we know we have touched up on an issue we need to explore more. We’ll base future articles on this data, [and] also possibly on questions we receive from readers in response to the initial article,” McPartland says.

How to bring a strategic dimension to operational content planning

How can newsrooms deliver a step change in improving their content planning processes?

“Journalists are not the greatest planners in the world, we tend to move from subject to subject quickly and often don’t get our heads up to see the big picture. So it requires a team effort to make sure we are producing the right balance of content. We constantly remind the teams of the strategy and the balance of content we need to achieve to successfully grow the readership,” shares The Local’s Ben McPartland.

Knowing what content converts readers into subscribers is not enough, newsrooms need to act on this information and switch to an audience-first mindset.

Becoming a successful audience-first newsroom doesn’t end with knowing about the big picture or using robust technical tools. When you know what content converts, you have to properly plan for it.

This is where content planning tools come into place. A newsroom benefits more with a tool that not only helps with long-term content planning but also planning content targeted to your audience groups.

How Desk-Net helps with audience-first planning

A decade ago, Matthias Kretschmer saw how fast-paced newsrooms and other companies struggled with the growing complexity of content planning in the digital era. He went on to found Desk-Net, now a 35-people-strong, Hamburg-based company that simplifies content planning for teams with complex needs.

Newsrooms are learning that their different audience groups want specific content. However, there aren’t many tools that are able to reflect content plans intricately.

With Desk-Net’s Topics feature you can specify each of your audience groups, plan, and review content that has been planned for them. This means you get a visual overview of all content pieces that have been planned across a desired time period. This helps make sure the newsroom has enough content planned for each audience it serves.

The Topic timeline provides a centralised look at how each topic is planned out for the future, with different time views – from week to year. Particularly, it helps spot gaps in coverage by specific topics or time periods.

Example of Desk-Net’s Topics feature that allows to structure topics across up to four levels, and plan coverage.

Desk-Net’s thought-out user experience simplifies the tool’s acceptance by everyone in the organisation, from the newsroom to the IT department.

On the newsroom side, journalists get an intuitive interface. Thanks to the Topics page, they can have a clear overview of their content strategy up to four levels to see the most important details at a glance.

Options like the drag & drop functionality make rescheduling stories, changing the sorting order and hierarchy effortless when working with content plans, and the option to save own views also makes life easier for reporters and editors.

On the IT side, Desk-Net is easy to integrate into the organisation’s existing tech stack.


This article was created in partnership with Desk-Net, a leading editorial management tool for newsrooms.


Illustration by Lisa Kukharska for The Fix