What happens when women choose the news? A chat with Newsmavens’ Lea Berriault

Loyalty and engagement are obvious bedfellows. Where readers are engaged, they’re often loyal too. As newsrooms search for secrets of that magic formula, it was our good fortune to be able to spend some time with Lea Berriault, the Managing Editor of Newsmavens, whose unique proposition has meant they’re doing very well in both.

This new publication really is the poster child for innovation: they have a clear mission (read on: we won’t spoil that here), a defined demographic and are fully embracing the tools to enable them to become as data-informed as possible, while still operating on a comparably small scale. You don’t need to be a Legacy publication to be able to harness the power of data – and moreover, as Lea’s team demonstrates, it’s even more vital when you’re a small organization.


So, first things first, Lea. Tell us a bit more about Newsmavens.

The idea itself is based on the fact that there’s a gender imbalance in newsroom management in Europe. Only 27 percent of these top-level, decision-making positions are held by women. Because management are clearly instrumental in deciding what goes on the front pages and what goes everywhere else, this structure unwittingly creates a bias in the selection of news.

Newsmavens was set up to redress this imbalance and we do so by publishing news as chosen by women. We have 27 contributors and editors from countries throughout Europe who all send us their selection of articles, some weekly and some daily and our goal is to create an alternative front page.

It’s not that the articles are necessarily written by women – articles might be written by men, women or anyone in between – but we were curious to see if this editorial process created something different when those in editing positions were exclusively female.

And have you found that to be the case?

Well, we haven’t started the actual data mining yet, so I can’t give you any hard statistics, but yes, we absolutely see a difference in terms of content. Working here every day makes me notice that there’s something different with our article selection. When I check back in with traditional media I notice that the emphasis there is very much on power struggles: struggles between political parties, struggles for resources – it’s so power-centric.

Our emphasis is much more on impact. A lot of our stories are what you might call human interest ones, which I know can sound a bit broad, but I think this categorization is essentially about the tangible consequences of those actions and decisions made at the top. It’s much more of a bottom-up approach to journalism.

I hear so many stories from partners in their respective countries, who pitched a story to their editors only to be told that there’s no room for ‘womens’ topics because there are more important things to cover. When you think about it, this is a curious stance to take: I would argue that motherhood, for example, isn’t just a women’s topic because it involves both genders, most of the time.

So, are these articles which are written for you, or are they articles which are republished by you?


They’re republished by us, and our partners write an introduction explaining the context, and why it’s relevant to an international audience. I really value this part of the project because it really hones in on a need: I believe that thanks to the internet, people have broader and broader interests in news from other countries, but often lack the context and the access to these stories.

National publishers might not have the resources to cover issues outside their immediate jurisdiction unless there is a special feature in a magazine and similarly are unlikely to have the tools or resources to translate those stories (if they’re not in English) for a wider audience. We address that by writing two or three paragraphs about why an article matters, a summary of the article and a link to the original article – which includes a translate function.

I think it’s an exciting format and it certainly opens up the news landscape beyond national lines.

How are you measuring the success of those articles which you’re publishing? Presumably, you have your own, independent means of deciding if something has ‘worked’ for your readers?

We find it’s usually quite binary: either a story fails or it takes off, and then when a story takes off all the signs are there. It’s got the reads, it’s got the page depth, it’s got a low bounce rate and at the same time you can see that on Facebook or Twitter people are commenting and there’s an authentic discussion.

As to the tools I use, I’m old school in that I was extensively trained in Google analytics, and that’s always been my main tool at work, and I was a slave to that up until quite recently, although I know it’s far from perfect! We’re now starting to integrate Content Insights into our workflow – as well as the data we can get from social. We don’t have a data analyst or a department dedicated to crunching our numbers: it’s just me when I have 30 minutes to spare. I have a look, and try to find some guidance from the data.

It can be difficult for smaller scale publishers to think about moving towards a data-informed approach when they don’t have the resources of somewhere like The New York Times, so it’s good to hear how you’re making it work…

Exactly! The human aspect is something which I think often gets forgotten about.

Google Analytics can be very obscure if you don’t have a background in it – and none of our partners do: they’re journalists, not website managers like me. With GA it can be really hard to pass on that information, but our editors are all keenly aware of the importance of reader feedback and getting some kind of measure of their success or failures.

“data is one part of the story, but then it gives you ideas about how to grow and develop”

Now I have access to a different kind of data, it’s much easier for me to pass that information to people who contribute, and it’s much more motivating and democratic – we can have an informed discussion about what the numbers mean together because the reports I have now [with Content Insights] are just so much more user-friendly.

So what kind of information are you finding useful to your people? What is the stuff which is digestible?

It really depends on the person. Different people react differently to different markers. Page depth has been really great and really easy to work with compared to Google’s Events on Page, which was always a nightmare and also – I suspect – not very accurate.


How has page depth helped you?

In particular, it’s been really useful to give us an idea of whether or not there are language issues. We have different reader bases for different countries and sometimes if the language barrier is higher, the English needs to be simpler.

It was actually through Content Insights that we discovered that our Italian articles were written in a manner that was much, much too elaborate for the audience and we lost people very early on in the article. I was able to speak to our Italian partners and show them the read depth – which highlighted that only 11 percent of readers were typically getting to the end of the articles – and we were able to rectify those issues. Once adjusted, those articles were propelled to the top right away, so we knew it was something to keep an eye on elsewhere too.

What other kinds of information are you able to use and feedback to our partners?

So many things, actually. Often I see problems that I wasn’t able to catch by looking at the page itself and it’s good to have different perspectives. If I look at the ‘author’ view, for example, I might see one problem and then if I look at the ‘articles’ view, I might see different issues again.

For example, when we looked at the topics it was obvious right away that while we had a lot of LGBT+ articles, they were – on the whole – doing very poorly. That trend wasn’t obvious to me until I had this report in front of me, and obviously, it was something that I started to look into as a result.

It’s not that people aren’t interested in LGBT+ topics, the problem we faced was that there was a bigger issue with the articles themselves. In this case, we noticed that across the board – and independently of each other – these articles tended to focus on men, so we started writing more about LGBT+ women, which right away solved the issue.

What had caused that imbalance?

It was a matter of coincidence, actually. It just so happened that our editors were sending us articles from their respective countries which tended to cover LGBT+ men, rather than women, which is quite revealing in and of itself. We were able to feed that back to our editors about our readers’ needs, but also to our media partners too: we were able to tell them that there was a bit of a gap in their coverage. Now, what they do with that information will vary, I’m sure, but it’s good to know we were able to pass that on!

Ha! We’ll have to keep a closer eye on publications to see if there’s been any change recently….! Now, you’ve only been using Content Insights for a couple of months, but it sounds like you’re integrating it pretty well into the newsroom already. What else have you discovered?

I’m certainly still exploring the possibilities and I’m still figuring out the ways to make it work best for us. Having said that, I do notice that I’ve stopped relying so much on Google Analytics and already I think some really exciting things are happening.

It’s really interesting for us to be able to track which regions are performing best. In the beginning, we noticed that our readers preferred western European news, which instinctively I knew, but it would have defeated the spirit of our entire endeavor if we gave people only news about Western Europe, so we decided to experiment with that. Where we knew the story was important, we sometimes take the decision to leave the country out of the title and let people come to it location-blind. It’s been a slightly hit and miss approach, but it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.

That’s the thing: data is one part of the story, but then it gives you ideas about how to grow and develop.

That all sounds fascinating, Lea! Keep us posted, won’t you?

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