Beyond Print Toolkit: Newsroom capabilities

This section of the guide will provide guidance on strategic staffing and resource allocations that are essential for optimizing newsroom processes.

By Anita Li

June 27, 2024

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To successfully transition from print to digital, legacy print newsrooms must focus on enhancing both their editorial and business development capabilities to meet the demands of a competitive media landscape. This shift requires strategic investments in technical infrastructure and a deep understanding of specific audience needs. Thriving in this environment also demands a workforce that combines traditional journalistic acumen with a broad set of modern digital skills, ensuring that newsrooms are equipped to produce compelling journalism and maintain robust subscriber relationships. 

This section of the guide will provide guidance on strategic staffing and resource allocations that are essential for optimizing newsroom processes, and securing a sustainable digital future. Key aspects covered include:

  • Specialized roles and skills: Recruit and train staff in roles such as data analysts, audience engagement specialists, and digital revenue strategists. Staff should be proficient in digital literacy, using digital tools and platforms, and data analysis to understand and engage the audience effectively. 
  • Collaborative team dynamics: Foster collaborative environments that merge editorial and business insights, ensuring content relevance and driving revenue. This includes skills in SEO, content optimization, and multimedia management to maximize content reach and engagement. 
  • Technological advancements: Implement advanced CRM systems and analytics tools to refine subscriber interactions and personalize content delivery. This area also involves understanding and developing digital revenue streams, enhancing the financial viability of the newsroom.

The essentials

To navigate the complexities of a digital transition successfully, legacy print newsrooms must adapt their strategies to enhance capabilities, focusing on specialized team building, analytics integration, cross-functional collaboration and continuous innovation. For legacy print newsrooms that want to effectively navigate their transition to digital platforms, the following strategies related to people and processes are essential:

  • Embrace data-driven journalism: At the Virginian-Pilot, the integration of Metrics for News allowed the editorial team to shift from intuition-based to data-driven story selection, which significantly impacted their content strategy. This tool enabled them to monitor real-time engagement and adjust their focus towards stories that demonstrated high engagement, thereby better aligning content with reader interest and boosting digital subscriptions.
  • Develop Specialized Digital Teams: The Virginian-Pilot’s DART squad, specifically tailored for digital action in real-time, exemplifies a targeted approach to news reporting. This team specializes in quickly responding to breaking news, and deeply exploring enterprise stories that are identified through data analytics as having high reader engagement potential. Their approach has proven successful in maintaining the relevancy and immediacy of news content in a digital format.
  • Implement Advanced Digital Tools and Enhance Cross-Functional Collaboration: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s implementation of “Squid” serves as a model for enhancing workflow and collaboration. This tool not only re-engineered the story creation process to start with planning files, thereby fostering a strategic approach to content development, but it also provided a platform for seamless interaction between editorial, sales and marketing teams. The integration facilitated by Squid ensures that all departments are aware of upcoming stories and can align their strategies to maximize the content’s market impact.
  • Upgrade Technical Infrastructure: The Seattle Times’ initiative to enhance its e-commerce capabilities involved significant upgrades to their content management systems. This was strategically aimed at improving the management of digital subscriptions and reducing subscriber churn by providing a more user-friendly, engaging online experience. These technical enhancements are crucial for attracting and retaining digital subscribers in a competitive media landscape.
  • Foster Continuous Improvement and Change Management: The iterative process embraced by the Virginian-Pilot involves continuous adaptation based on feedback and data analysis. This approach is crucial in a digital transition, as it allows the newsroom to remain flexible and responsive to changing reader behaviors and preferences. Regular updates to their strategies and tools, combined with ongoing training and engagement with staff, ensure that the newsroom remains agile and forward-thinking.

Key indicators

To help newsroom leaders effectively optimize their processes and anticipate future needs, the following key performance indicators can be instrumental. Implementing these KPIs requires a robust data collection and analysis system, regular reviews with all stakeholders and a willingness to adapt strategies based on measurable outcomes. By focusing on these specific KPIs, newsroom leaders can better manage their resources, align their teams. and ultimately, produce more engaging and effective journalism.

  • Engagement metrics (for data-driven journalism)
    • KPIs: Average engagement time, click-through rates, social shares.
    • Execution: Use analytics platforms, as done by the Virginian-Pilot, to track these indicators in real-time. Adjust content strategies based on stories that achieve high engagement metrics, ensuring content is aligned with reader interests and behaviors to boost digital subscriptions.
  • Response time and content impact (for specialized digital teams)
    • KPIs: Response time to breaking news, reader engagement on enterprise stories, follow-up story impact.
    • Execution: Measure how quickly your version of the DART squad responds to breaking news, and track engagement levels on deep-dive stories. Analyze follow-up stories to assess the lasting impact of initial reporting. This helps in maintaining the relevancy and immediacy of news content.
  • Cross-functional efficiency (for advanced digital tools and collaboration)
    • KPIs: Project completion rate, cross-departmental engagement scores, alignment success rate.
    • Execution: With tools like Squid, monitor the rate at which projects are completed from planning to publication. Track engagement scores across departments to evaluate how well sales, marketing and editorial teams collaborate on content. Measure the success rate of strategy alignment across these departments to maximize market impact.
  • Digital subscriber growth and churn rate (for technical infrastructure upgrades)
    • KPIs: Monthly subscriber growth rate, churn rate.
    • Execution: Following the example of The Seattle Times, track the increase in digital subscriptions monthly and monitor the churn rate after upgrading e-commerce and content management systems. Use this data to refine the digital experience continually, aiming to attract and retain subscribers.
  • Flexibility and adaptation metrics (for continuous improvement and change management)
    • KPIs: Rate of implementation of new strategies, employee adoption rate, feedback responsiveness.
    • Execution: Monitor how quickly new tools and strategies are adopted within the newsroom as practiced by the Virginian-Pilot. Measure staff engagement and adoption rates through surveys and usage metrics. Assess responsiveness to feedback by tracking how rapidly the newsroom can implement changes based on data analysis and staff input.


The Cross-Functional Efficiency Chart below is a tool that can help newsroom leaders visualize progress, pinpoint areas for improvement and maintain accountability across teams. It’s designed to be used directly in meetings, shared across platforms, and easily updated to reflect real-time changes and results. Here’s how to use it:

1. Fill in current status: Regularly update the “Current Status” column post-evaluation periods (e.g. monthly/quarterly).

2. Monthly reporting: Compile data monthly to update the chart and review short-term goals.

3. Quarterly reviews: Analyze trends, discuss areas of success, and identify necessary adjustments in strategy or resources.

4. Identify action needed: Based on the “Current Status” and target discrepancies, list actionable steps to address any shortcomings.


This Engagement Metrics Tracking Chart is a tool that serves as both a tracker and a planner, helping newsroom leaders test out an engagement strategy’s impact. It provides a structured approach to evolving content strategies based on actual data, ensuring alignment with audience engagement goals. Here’s how to use:

1. Fill in each column: Document the tools/methods used, the data collected and the actual metrics compared to your targets.

2. Add adjustments as needed: Use this column to note any strategic changes required based on the actual performance versus the target.

3. Review regularly and update: This chart should be updated and reviewed regularly (e.g., monthly or quarterly) to track progress and refine strategies.

The dashes in certain cells of the template are placeholders; this indicates that there is no specific data to enter or action required at that step of the process. These placeholders help keep the chart organized and clear, showing which steps are currently active or completed and which are pending or not applicable. As you progress through each step, these dashes can be replaced with relevant data or can remain to indicate that the step does not require that specific information. Placeholders are used in the following scenarios:

  • Tool/method used: If a tool or method does not apply to a specific step, like setting benchmarks, the dash signifies that this field is not relevant at that stage.
  • Data collected: Before any data collection has occurred or if it is not applicable to a step, such as during the initial setup of tools.
  • Target and actual: Early in the process, these might not be filled because targets are being set, or actual data hasn’t been measured yet.

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