Readers become editors in RJI newsletter experiment

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How to use data to personalize content and engage your readers

Tracy Clark, a Reynold’s Journalism Institute fellow, partnered with the Austin American-Statesman to study the impact of newsletter personalization on reader loyalty. She compared a Stateman’s editor-curated newsletter, “Midday Break”, to “News for You”, a newsletter set up using Reportory, a news personalization technology she developed. Readers were able to tailor their newsletter by choosing favourite sources, categories (such as news, sport or technology) and keywords from a list readers could select from (such as “Trump”, “Climate change” or “Obesity”).

Smart Data played the curator

An algorithm took into account all the user’s selections and matched it with all the created stories of the day. It prioritized stories that matched all three types of indicators (source, category, keyword), then went on to matches based on two, etc. until 5 articles were reached. They secured 250 users via active marketing, and for six months provided them with a tailored “News for You” or the editor-curated “Midday Break” newsletter.

Personalized newsletters were opened twice as much as editor curated ones

RJI Study
Not only were the personalized newsletters opened more, the subscribers were also more satisfied with the service quality than Midday Break subscribers. The personalized subscribers were also more inclined to recommend the service to a friend. While this study was limited in scope and scale, it does provide some evidence that news consumers prefer greater control of their content. It proves an interesting point that increased personalization of news content results in more satisfied readers. This empowers news consumers as well as publishers.

“In the end we are creating a more symbiotic relationship between the media and the reader”

During Tracy Clark’s study, many publishers showed concern over giving up editorial power and enabling so called filter bubbles that align with their views. Shouldn’t your news provider widen your field of view? While the answer to this question is a resounding “yes”, one must consider the nature of information channels and their diversity. A newsletter is actively pushed into a reader’s attention scope. Doesn’t it make sense to create it around what they want to know about? Especially when the “unsubscribe” button is just a few scrolls away? As a matter of fact, Ms. Clark sees room for much more tailoring in the news industry (such as landing pages), while also recognizing the need for other media to push the boundaries of one’s awareness. In the end, it’s a matter of balance, or as Ms. Clark puts it, “The tailored view is not for every channel, every publication, all the time.”