The recent merger of Gannett and Gatehouse Media, made it the largest newspaper publisher of 600+ publications in the United States. Gannett’s Vice President for Content Strategy Josh Awtry faced the challenge of figuring out how to manage GateHouse’s legacy systems and publications.
Bringing together the newsrooms required establishing common ground between both organizations’ journalists. This meant establishing new processes, standardizing systems, and measuring content performance the same ways. Essentially, the newly formed Gannett needed to speak a common language for its large, combined workforce.
The integration was the original problem Parse.ly helped us solve. In addition, the COVID-19 custom modules were a bonus and were made possible by the fact that we had just gotten Parse.ly running across the entire network.
While developing this custom module, Parse.ly was able to step in as an expert strategic partner to Gannett. In this greater capacity, Parse.ly eased the transition of the acquisition and allowed Gannett to stay agile heading into the future.
Engineered a custom solution for personalized content recommendations
To start, Gannett tasked Parse.ly with developing a personalized content module of “Trending Stories in [location].”
This custom module lives at the bottom of posts on certain publications in Gannett’s network.
The original use case was to serve local and global COVID-19 content to audiences. Powered by Parse.ly’s API, this module is responsive to the audience’s desires in real time. It creates content recommendations based on engagement and location data, as well as topics.
Parse.ly’s custom API surfaced actionable insights to determine which local articles would be interesting to Gannett’s national audience and vice versa.
“For us, an analytics solution that said, ‘hey, your story got 5,000 page views on this website’ leaves so many unanswered questions,” said Josh. “Parse.ly’s intelligence gives us all the insights we need to figure out whether local content needs to be elevated to a national stage.”
Gannett is gaining a competitive edge in its agility and responsiveness to new problems powered by Parse.ly’s API. The next frontier in the realm of publishing is measuring “true” engagement from audiences, and Parse.ly is leading the charge.
Reported Gannett’s true audience engagement metrics
The future (and success) of publishers relies on digital publications personalizing content and measuring true audience engagement. This means leaving behind outdated forms of tallying engagement in metrics like page views or raw traffic volume.
“It’s not about how many page views you can get, and it’s not about how many photo galleries you can put out for page visits to look good on a report,” said Josh.
Gannett committed to tracking content engagement in an evolved way when choosing to partner with Parse.ly. With metrics like engaged time, measuring a user’s activity on a content tab, Parse.ly is an expert in audience engagement.
“The news industry has smartly pivoted away from volume and moved toward engagement metrics,” said Josh. “Parse.ly was early to the engaged time metric. Now, they’re moving fast in helping us target loyal readers and get more into subscriptions.”
Parse.ly advised Gannett on metrics to accurately track a reader’s positive engagement with an article, like reshares on social media and dwell time. And that’s only the beginning.
“We use Parse.ly to look at anomaly detection,” said Josh. “When articles spike, we have teams of people standing by figuring out what to do with them next.”
In real time, users of Parse.ly can follow which specific social media posts are garnering reshares, dial deeper into referral traffic sources to track trends, and chart which articles or authors are taking off.
“That real time analysis, in-the-moment thinking where an hour of delay changes the nature of the ball game and how that content resonates with the audience is crucial,” said Josh.
With these insights, Gannett empowered journalists to make decisions based on the performance of past content. This accurate content performance became even more important to get right when bringing 600+ publications together.
Enabled consistent content reporting across 600+ publications
After the acquisition, Gannett leaned on Parse.ly to establish a new shared language with metrics for their newly formed organization. Reporting now had to be consistent across 600+ publications, legacy content management systems, and staff across almost all 50 states.
To unify their newsrooms across the nation, Josh saw using the same data, terminology, and goals to communicate seamlessly as big parts of the solve.
“We wanted to have a standard language,” said Josh. “Starting that shared vocabulary was important. Everything from job titles to specific KPIs, but it’s important our newsrooms understand the importance of these blended engagement metrics.”
Oh, and did we mention Gannett had a two-week deadline to do it all? Was it a hectic two weeks? Yes. But it wasn’t more than the Parse.ly team could handle.
As Gannett was consolidating 600+ publications’ content management systems and delivery platforms, Parse.ly implemented a uniform metrics platform that helped Gannett gain visibility across the newly combined company and build custom products, such as the COVID-19 modules, that were able to draw on data from both legacy companies’ properties.”
Gannett was determined to be a more data-driven organization and built a team of journalists who blended newsroom knowledge and data science to create a new type of strategist.
“After we trained these newsroom veterans on data science, we sent them back into their newsrooms with missions of not just doing spreadsheets and running reports, but taking insights and turning them into newsroom action,” said Josh.
The future of publishing relies on this quick feedback loop from data to journalists.
“Some of the serendipity in Parse.ly is that they hit right in the middle of helping journalists do their day job, and that job is to go out, it’s to use shoe leather, it’s to make phone calls, it’s to talk to human beings—they can’t spend time being analysts,” said Josh. “This notion that a journalist today has to do everything is true, but they have to focus on getting news to people and not crunching numbers."
Josh saw a tool like Parse.ly successfully powering modern newsrooms and content operations across job functions.
“One of the things Parse.ly provides is that you can spend just 10 minutes of training with Parse.ly and get the basics of how to use it. For our journalists out there in the field, doing that important work every day, Parse.ly can really quickly surface insights. But on the other side of the coin, Parse.ly is powerful enough and deep enough to be a serious contender in heavy-hitting data- crunching and analysis.”
He added, “Every media outlet has data analysts, consumer insights, but no organization I think so far has really gotten the hang of how to combine journalism and data. Parse.ly really blends those two crafts for us.”
With Parse.ly as their strategic partner, Gannett anticipates a new sense of technical and cultural alignment in measuring its main product—content.
Propelling Gannett into breaking new publishing ground
The publishing landscape is changing quickly, but Gannett feels prepared. A major milestone that the whole publishing world has its eye on is the discontinuation of the third-party cookie in 2022.
“We have been given the gift of this ticking clock,” said Josh. “We have two years or less to fully pivot our entire business, and in some sense, an industry, towards focusing on audience that matters, and not how much audience we can get.”
It has started solving for that disruption proactively with Parse.ly and looks forward to more ways it can grow its business with the partnership.
“Parse.ly has given us a speed and flexibility that we wouldn’t have if we were still using our homegrown solutions,” said Josh. “It has provided the technical boost that we needed to match our cultural speed.”
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