In this short article, we draw on Peter Vandermeersch’s masterclass for our Diploma in Digital Marketing. As Publisher at Mediahuis Ireland, Peter’s role is to ensure the quality of publications such as the Irish Independent and The Belfast Telegraph. This relates not only to the integrity of the journalism but also to the means by which it is marketed and accessed, which is increasingly digital.
In the style of a true journalist, Peter encourages us to interrogate data comprehensively in order to truly find out what customers are thinking and doing.
As a boy in 1976, I went to the movie All the President’s Men, set around the Watergate scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played the role of investigative journalists who uncovered a story that would eventually bring down the President. That movie changed my life, so at the age of 14, I decided to become a journalist.
Later, I spent time as a correspondent in France and the United States. I became Editor of a few newspapers in Belgium and the Netherlands before coming to Ireland as Publisher of Mediahuis Ireland.
My job is to ensure the quality of our publications, our journalism but also to the means by which it is marketed and accessed, which is increasingly digital. It might sound like an obvious statement, but Mediahuis puts journalism at the heart of its business. We understand that readers and advertisers are critical to the success of our business but above all, we want to produce good journalism. We live in a world where the line between truth and propaganda has become increasingly hard to distinguish, good journalism is needed more than ever before.
Digital is very quickly becoming the dominant channel for publishers. For centuries it was print, now it’s digital, bringing with it challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Digital marketing plays a critical role here. It’s all about how you bring journalism to the people, take them on as subscribers, keep them engaged and avoiding them churning away from our service. After all, digital means that we’re not only competing for readers and advertisers with other Irish publications, but with all of the international content companies too. This forces you to focus on how you can differentiate and to maintain standards throughout.
It’s difficult to foresee the exact time when print newspapers will be a thing of the past. Not so long ago Kosovo, a small country, decided to stop print newspapers all together. Interestingly, our research has shown us that print still has a place, at least for now. During weekdays, people like to consume news on their devices. However, on Saturdays and Sundays, we have learned that people like to luxuriate over our printed weekend editions, including high quality supplements and lifestyle content.
When I was a young journalist, the only data I got was feedback from the people that I met. That might have been my Publisher or a member of my family, for example. The information available to me was sparse and sporadic. These days, the situation is completely different. Journalism is now digital and we have lots of data at hand. We can see what headlines worked best, which articles were read, for how long, whether people went on to read a related story, whether they clicked on ad advert and so on. Now the challenge is how to make sense of that data and to use it in the best possible manner.
Data is extremely important in the newsroom but it would be wrong to say that the newsroom should be dictated by that data. I always tell journalists that you should be data-informed as opposed to data-driven. If you were data-driven, you might only write about things most people are most likely to read. However, I feel that it is equally important to write an article that a small number of people read and enjoy or to write about something that is important for people to hear about. In that way, being data-informed lends to the better outcomes in my opinion.
If you want to see Peter’s full Masterclass, and that of other experts on Digital Marketing, consider participating in our Diploma in Digital Marketing.