February 20, 2019

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here

It took some time, but Jesus Jimenez now has a pretty good sense of what kind of weather stories will do well. Usually.

Last week, he wrote about what a newly formed El Niño might mean for Dallas weather. He didn’t think it would take off, but on Friday it was among the most popular pieces on the Dallas Morning News website.

It’s all part of an experiment to cover audience-driven topics, and there are some concrete lessons for the rest of us.

  • Let the data show you unmet opportunities: DMN saw from metrics that its audience always came to weather stories, but the paper didn’t have anyone devoted to covering weather.

  • Experiment: Instead of declaring weather a new beat, the newsroom decided to experiment for three months. They moved Jimenez from copy editing on the multiplatform desk into the beat.

  • Build new habits: Jimenez kept up a demanding pace of two stories a day at first. He’s since slowed a bit, but reliable and regular coverage helped readers expect new weather news and come back for more.

  • Measure what matters: DMN has recognized as a newsroom that its priority is to find more people who are willing to pay for their journalism, said Nicole Stockdale, director of digital strategy. “That means providing the journalism that they’re willing to pay for and having a better understanding of what that is,” she said. “It also means that you value loyalty over virality. You are creating the kind of content that people will come back to.” In other words, pageviews matter, but return visitors become subscribers, and they matter more.

  • Try stuff: Everything won’t work, but, Stockdale said, “if you never failed, you weren’t trying hard enough.”

  • You can learn more about targeting audiences over at Better News and see what the Seattle Times learned from creating journalism people want to subscribe to.

While you’re here:

See you next week!

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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