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Webinar with Chris Moran – A masterclass on using data to drive both culture change and business growth

The Guardian is one of the best stories of digital transformation out there, in the industry sector most disrupted by the digital and software revolution.

The 200 year old Guardian has undergone a wholesale change to the foundational components of its business to engage their readers digitally as well as in print. It has been hugely successful and seen them go from a £57m loss in 2016 to breaking even in 2019. They now reach over 10m regular browsers every month.

Chris provides a very unique perspective on data and the impact it has had on the culture at The Guardian. The webinar will uncover the innovation they went through which enabled a culture of change at the Guardian helping it grow from one of the smallest newspapers in Britain to one of the most respected, recognised and trusted news brands in the world.

We have distilled the key leanings for you below and you can watch to the whole webinar in the video.

The story started with a need to change the Guardian newsroom’s relationship with on-line headlines which work differently to print but which, at that time, weren’t on journalists’ radars. Today, over 1,000 people use the Guardian’s real-time audience data system Ophan each month, and the Guardian has arguably the most informed newsroom in the world.

Ophan started as a hack and for two years was a side project worked on by a few people who believed in its value. Engaging journalists during this period happened organically and involved talking to editors about what the system was learning, to get them curious, then listening to what data they wanted and building it into the system.

This process of internal engagement continues you can’t assume if the data is there journalists will engage with it, you have to tell stories around it. One way that’s done is through a daily morning email that shares key information and insights – stories where we have changed things for the better, stories where we have missed an opportunity – so we are constantly adjusting how the data is responded to and used.

Journalists can use Ophan to understand in real-time the reach and engagement an article is getting. There are two key metrics – page views and engaged time/active attention time and by looking at them we protect ourselves from creating journalism that our readers don’t want to read, and we can promote stories not reaching the audiences we believe they should.

There’s a misconception, however, that using data will lead to bad editorial outcomes. Ophan needs to help the Guardian’s journalism reflect what the Guardian believes is critical, not to be led by what’s popular: to be “data informed not data led”. We also use the data to understand how much news we can put in front of people, so editors consider putting out only what matters most, tightening up commissioning and how we communicate with audiences.

All this means it’s not enough for data to be aligned to organisational values it must fit day-to-day reality on the ground otherwise it could push behaviour in unwanted directions. For example, it would be easy to show a live list in the newsroom of writers getting the highest page views, but it would drive people away from the data, so we don’t: we don’t use data as a weapon.

It’s also critical that editorial and commercial aims do not get mixed up. Data is used commercially but the audience team have no business goal linked to Ophan, what they obsess about is “trying to build the widest most relevant audience for all of our journalism”.

In this way it is a culture change tool first. If we want to change things strategically in the organisation, we can include data in Ophan that nudges people in the right direction.

Real time data has broader applications too. Recently we discovered that a 2013 article about Christian churches being attacked in Pakistan was being shared by right wing groups on Facebook who were suggesting events were recent but were not getting media coverage. Ophan meant we spotted this and were able to respond quickly. Now when an article more than a Guardian year old is shared the date appears on the piece preventing this happening.

In terms of what next for the Guardian we are interested in how we can generate greater understanding of audience diversity and greater audience diversity and how Ophan can help us to do this.


Chris Moran is part of SpeakersHub and one of our most sought after speakers on Diversity & Inclusion and Leadership. To view his full biography, find links to his showreel and to book him to speak at your own event please click here.

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