Welcome back to the Baekdal Plus newsletter. In today's edition, I have two exciting things for you.
Defining your market used to be simple. For instance, if you were a local newspaper, your market was naturally defined as all the people living in the town or city that you were in.
We called this our in-market. And then everything else, like the occasional reader coming from another city, was our out-of-market.
But the digital world has completely changed this. Today our in-market and our out-of-market means something entirely different. Today it's based on a number of factors, but mainly how close you are to people's personal focus areas.
In this article, I explain exactly what this means for publishers, and how you need to change your strategy to fit this new reality.
It's election time again in my country (and soon in other countries too). As publishers, we need to spend much more time building election tools for our readers to use.
An election tool is something that helps the reader understand who to vote for, by giving people the clarity and perspective to see which candidate they most closely match. After all, the point of a democracy is to vote for whoever you feel will most closely represent your interests.
I want to mention two such tools, one that is already in very heavy use in my country (Denmark), and another one that we haven't seen yet, but that we need someone to make.
The first tool is a candidate test. It's extremely well liked in my country, and it's a brilliant way to help people decide what party or candidate to vote for. All the national newspapers provide this tool.
The way it works is very simple. First the newspaper sits down and identifies a number of questions that it thinks are the most important topics for the public today.
Then it puts them into a quiz.
The quiz usually starts by asking people to identify their local voting district, and often it also asks you to answer what you feel is the most important for you.
Then it goes on to ask people to answer a number of specific questions, usually around 20 or so (but it varies between newspapers).
Questions like these:
What makes the quiz so smart is that, before the election starts, the newspapers go out and ask all the candidates to take this test first. This provides the newspapers with a complete database of what each candidate stands for.
And so when the election season starts (which in Denmark is very short), the public can take the same test and see how closely they compare to each candidate by comparing the answers (in a fully automated way).
By the end of the test, you are presented with a result that will tell you which political party you most closely agree with, what parties you agree with the least, and the same for each candidate.
In other words, it will give you a list of people to vote for, and who not to vote for, based on your own personal answers. This is way more useful than all the news reports that are being pushed out every day.
What is also interesting is how this can be used as an editorial tool. By having both the public and the candidates take this quiz, you get a much clearer idea about what the candidates and public are interested in. Data that you can then use to refine your election coverage, to stay clear of topics that people truly don't think are important, and to help you decide how to approach your interviews with the politicians. This creates even more value for your readers, because it makes you far more relevant.
Of course, there are many different ways this can be done. Recently we saw a similar approach by the Chicago Tribune. Some have added features, like asking people to rank the importance of each question, and so forth. And here in Denmark, some newspapers have even created theme specific quizzes, like this one that allows you to see how each political party ranks in comparison to how you personally think about climate change (and how to fix that).
This is an amazing way to create something truly useful for the reader. And as I said before, it's something every large newspaper in Denmark is doing, and have been doing very successfully for years.
Here is a list of all the different ones from this year's election In Denmark:
But of course, this isn't the only tool that we could make. There are so many other areas where helping people better understand things could be done more effectively as a tool than just via day-to-day articles.
One example is with political promises.
We all know how it is. The politicians love to promise things. They promise more money for healthcare, for the elderly, for moms, for kids, for the environment, for business, and so many other things. And at the same time they also promise lower taxes.
The problem is that in the media we then dutifully report these each time, but it doesn't help the public to understand whether this is just an empty promise or not, nor does our reporting really help people understand the overall scope.
So we need an election tool to help people see this.
The way this would work would again be very simple. First the newspapers take the current government budget, and present that in a very nicely designed and user-friendly way.
Then, throughout the election, whenever a politician or a party makes a promise, we update this page to reflect what this change would really mean, where the money is going to come from, and how many promises aren't funded because the politician wouldn't say where that money was going to come from.
We then use this data in different ways.
First of all, we can use this to create a 'trust score', being a score that is based on whether this party are just making empty populist promises (like promising to lower taxes, while also promising to spend more money).
This could then be used as a visual indicator.
Imagine, for instance, that every time a political party was mentioned in an article, next to their name was a small label with their trust rating, e.g. "Trust = poor".
We could also use it to define the level of coverage. So, any party with a low level of trust will simply not get covered as much as parties with a high level of trust.
And again, the trust index here isn't based on an opinion, but on a simple mathematical formula that checks whether what they are promising is backed up by actual funding. If they promise something without quantifying where the money is going to come from, that is a trust index of zero, whereas if they promise something and have worked out where to get that money from, it's a trust index of 100. Then you average all the promises and you get your total trust index.
The point is to create a system where we as newspapers make the politicians directly responsible for their promises, and if they don't live up to this, they get a lower trust score and less exposure.
But this is only one part of it. The other part is to visualize and explain how these changes impact the national budget (and focus). The idea is to give the reader a very easy way to see what areas would get more funding, and which would lose funding for each political party, compared to the existing national budget.
For instance, you would get something like this:
And further down the page, you can then look at it in more detail, like how big a change this would really make, the actual amount being promised and removed, and how this would impact your own personal finances.
We would also have a section about the conflicts. Like when a political party one day promises more money to young people, but then the next day makes another promise that takes it away again. So they are giving money with one hand, and taking it away again with another.
Imagine if you could just go to the newspaper and see that visualized?
Then when we have all this, we could do another quiz. You simply ask your readers to pick out the areas that they feel we need to spend more money on, what areas we spend too much on, what areas have too high fees, and what areas that need more.
For instance, I might say that we should spend more money on climate, housing, and healthcare, but less money on the military or sales tax on food. But I also want the government to lower the fees on electric cars.
Then we could compare and evaluate. And the newspaper would then run the numbers, compare this to each political party and the promises that they have already made ... and again give you a list of those you agree with the most, and those you don't.
Think about how useful all of this would be. The combination of the candidate test we started with, the trust index, and the budget promises overview page, with the budget focus 'matching' tool.
This would not just be valuable to readers, and help people to decide who to vote for and trust, but it would also help us as newspapers to better understand what the public think, and give us much better tools for holding the politicians to account.
If we created tools like this, and incorporated them into every political story, the politicians would feel compelled to make the numbers look good, instead of the focus they have today of just making empty promises without consequences.
Obviously, I haven't worked out all the details. But, as publishers, we need to start using the digital tools available to us to do more than just report the news. The best form of journalism doesn't have to be an article.
Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé