USA TODAY’s Head of Consumer Products on Delivering Value to Readers & Advertisers
While many national media companies put up paywalls, USA TODAY is sticking to an advertising-supported model. That means it’s critical for the major news outlet to please readers and advertisers, a balancing act that presents its own challenges.
At Publishing Executive’s 2019 FUSE Media Summit this fall, Jason Jedlinski, SVP of Consumer Products at USA TODAY NETWORK, will address how their product and engineering teams innovate across digital platforms to deliver value for both of those parties. Plus, he’ll detail the ways they’re using augmented reality to enhance storytelling.
FUSE Media, taking place Nov. 19-21 in Philadelphia, gathers leading digital media strategists for candid conversations about the technologies and trends shaping the publishing industry’s future. Through case studies, peer-to-peer idea exchanges, and 1:1 meetings with solutions providers, the event equips attendees with the tools and know-how they need to lead tech strategy with success. (Want to attend? Fill out an inquiry form here.)
Check out our Q&A with Jedlinski below for a glimpse into his upcoming FUSE Media session, Modernizing Experiences to Delight Both Consumers and Advertisers. You’ll also hear what he believes to be the most disruptive emerging technology in the industry.
What are your priorities as head of consumer products at USA TODAY?
In a rapidly changing industry, we’re proud to maintain four simple and consistent objectives. First, we try to earn more engagement and loyalty from our existing audiences. Our brands reach more than 125 million Americans. Deepening those relationships is our clearest right to win.
Next, we look for ways to go “beyond the headlines” and create experiences which cast an even wider net. For example, we just relaunched our college football coaches’ poll. We made it more interactive and surfaced a decade of historical data in the process.
Third, we’re always looking for ways to add value for our loyal subscribers and marketing partners. The sweet spot is when we’re able to do something that benefits both audience and advertisers.
Last but not least, we have the privilege and responsibility of supporting and empowering thousands of journalists in newsrooms across America. We build and maintain the tools they use to tell stories.
How are you using technology to improve the consumer experience?
We’ve seen great results wherever we’ve moved from curated, one-size-fits-all experiences to dynamic feeds which adapt to your device, location, interests, or more. I shy away from calling it “personalization,” because that brings to mind retargeted banner ads following you around the web. We’ve started with what I think of as smart segmentation.
For example: Are you near Milwaukee? Your USA TODAY app will suggest headlines from our Journal Sentinel newsroom there. Are you a photo gallery junkie? We’ll recommend more of them. Want an alert every time we write about your favorite baseball team? Say no more! When we see features like that get traction, we keep tuning it under the hood.
What is a recent product you’ve launched that you’re excited about?
I’m still glowing from that new coaches’ poll experience. Yes, it’s powered by some of our newest technology, but what made it special was how the team delivered that win. It was one of those magical “tiger teams” where a small group of smart people banded together, were mission-driven and overdelivered ahead of schedule. It all started by recognizing that the coaches’ poll was exclusive, proprietary content we ought to be showcasing. Yet the database was running on an old PC under someone’s desk. So we kicked off three projects in parallel.
First, we moved all the data out of Microsoft Access to our cloud platform, which entailed new tables and schemas. Second, we developed a new application for our journalists to enter and manage the coaches’ votes. (Our primary user is blind, so accessibility became a key requirement.) Third, we replaced the 7-year-old consumer-facing website with a modern, responsive design. Thanks to good timing, we were able to leverage a new web platform that we designed to be the fastest in the industry. At the end of the day, we did right by USA TODAY’s newsroom and brand, we delighted a long-time sponsor, and we’re seeing record-breaking audience user engagement.
Describe one major technology challenge in the publishing industry. How can we tackle it?
I call it the “atomization of content.” Collectively, we need to improve our ability to extract answers from our deep knowledge about topics, communities, etc. to provide more satisfying answers to people’s questions. There will always be a place for the serendipity of flipping through media — the Sunday newspaper, a weekly magazine, or digital equivalents like The Athletic. But when you think through the lens of Clayton Christensen’s “jobs to be done” framework, the casual curiosity behind “tell me a story” or “what’s in the news?” is not nearly as common as “where can I find deep dish pizza?” “when are property taxes due?” or “who is nominated for Best Actress this year?” It’s natural human instinct to ask questions.
To offer consumers the most value, we need to branch out beyond ‘articles’ and paragraphs of text. We’re tackling it by using structured metadata to capture and organize our expertise differently, in ways that add more value and also last longer than a news cycle. It’s a tremendous opportunity to become even more relevant and pick up additional touch points throughout people’s day.
What emerging technology do you see significantly impacting the future of media?
At the risk of sounding cliché, voice as a user interface. I don’t see the industry recognizing its truly disruptive power. Apple introduced the first mainstream computer mouse in 1983. We didn’t really start swiping our fingers across panes of glass until the iPhone debuted in 2007. Now, these things are long-ago ubiquitous and second nature. The adoption curve for spoken questions and answers is going to be dramatically faster.
It’s not just “smart speakers” like Amazon Echo and Google Home. We’re raising a generation of kids who simply speak words into the air, wherever they are, and expect instant answers. They’re not consciously trying to interact with a computer, saying “turn the volume up to six.” They’re asking questions like “where’s my sister?” That frictionless and intuitive conversational structure will fundamentally and rapidly change the way publishers and broadcasters provide information and entertainment.
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Related story: FUSE Media Advisor Q&A: Bonnie Kintzer, Trusted Media Brands
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.