Why I joined Hearken: Building a sustainable, audience-first future for journalism in Europe

Federica Cherubini
May 13 · 4 min read

I am a journalism nerd — I thought I should start with that. I have spent the past decade exploring and learning about the industry, inside out. Since childhood, I have always been in love with journalism and the news. Growing up, however, I realised I didn’t want to be a reporter or an editor, but rather I was intrigued by what was going on behind the scenes, the “how” of journalism. My career has been about doing exactly that and I could not imagine working in any other industry.

Roundtable discussion at the European Journalism Centre’s News Impact Summit, Paris, 25 June 2018

I have not taken the most traditional career path. I have had some of those bridge roles you need to explain — those jobs that don’t have a straightforward definition, fit into a simple box, or have simply never existed before. This resulted in some extravagant (cool, can I say cool?) job titles. For example, I joined Condé Nast International in 2016 as Head of Knowledge Sharing.

The common denominator of these roles is a focus on understanding the processes and dynamics of journalism, joining the dots between people, disciplines, departments, projects, cultures, and figuring out new ways of working. I turn strategy into culture.

Most recently, as Audience Projects Editor at Condé Nast International, I worked on editorial newsletters and loyalty initiatives. I am fascinated by exploring motivations and behaviours that are at the heart of the relationship between journalists, the news they produce and the audiences they are engaging with. But what makes a user come back to our content? What are the levers we can pull? What is that unique value that our audiences recognise in what we produce?

And here comes Hearken.

Through its engagement management platform and consulting expertise, Hearken helps newsrooms adopt audience-centric mindsets and processes to improve their relationships, relevance and revenue. Hearken promotes public-powered journalism and helps create a pipeline to integrate the communities to the newsrooms.

In recent years, audience engagement has become one of those buzzwords you read in industry analysis and hear at conferences all the time, as much as the “pivot to X” strategy. But what does audience engagement really mean?

To me, it means (re)connecting with readers, better understanding their needs, and cultivating a sense of community by generating meaningful conversations.

How can newsrooms move their relationships with the public from one that’s transactional to one that’s more meaningful? Hearken CEO Jennifer Brandel recently highlighted how the news industry is still using processes from another production era, one optimised for speed, efficiency and distribution. Instead, as Jennifer said, we should adopt a process that is optimised for listening, relevance and trust.

I am a volunteer director at Hacks/Hackers London, a community of journalists and technologists who get together to rethink the future of news.

In the current ecosystem, we take too many things for granted — that our audiences want to read what we think they should read; that they value our journalism because we told them to do so; that they recognise our brands, despite being immersed in an information-saturated environment, and that they will come back to read us, watch us, listen to us.

Hearken’s work addresses all these challenges, and I am incredibly excited to be helping take Hearken to Europe.

Journalism needs a sustainable future, underpinned by business models that work, and built on providing value to readers, instead of pursuing a strategy built around pure reach, for reach’s sake. We should remember that our audience is why we do this job, to tell them stories, to fulfill their needs.

If the audience thinks we are irrelevant, we have failed.

I believe Hearken’s approach of not only providing tools to allow newsrooms to pursue an audience-centric strategy, but guiding and supporting them throughout the culture and behaviour change that is needed to truly adopt this mindset, is the way forward. Further, Hearken’s unique “Zebra” business culture points to a longer-term view of sustainability that news organisations can also learn and benefit from. Hearken is a company where being for profit and for purpose go hand-in-hand, one that values quality over quantity, one that favours repair, not disruption. (If you’re curious about the Unicorn vs. Zebra startup theory, you should listen to this podcast.)

I believe now is the moment journalism has to fix itself and I am passionate about the need for the industry to craft a roadmap to its own sustainable future. Having had the privilege of being part of, as well as studying the dynamics of journalism across the industry, I am thrilled to start building the European chapter of Hearken, helping newsrooms translating values and principles into the nuts and bolts of their daily operations.

If you are interested in learning more about Hearken’s European office, sign up here.

PS. One more thing you should know about me: I have a passion for newsrooms and notebooks.

We Are Hearken

The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

Federica Cherubini

Written by

Soon @wearehearken. Now Audience Projects Editor, Condé Nast International. Director @HacksHackersLDN. Ex @risj_oxford #ONAWLA 18 #digitalwomenleade

We Are Hearken

The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

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