Leadership Report 2011- Best practice #8

8. Own the numbers

Not all the available tools are digital.

Julia D. Wallace, who participated in the first KDMC leadership program in 2007, says research increasingly drives strategy and tactics for Cox Media Group Ohio.

The former editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wallace is now Cox Ohio vice president and market manager, responsible for all of the company’s newspaper, television and radio properties in the Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky., markets.

“One of the things we’ve done is deeper and deeper reader research in what drives satisfaction. We’ve found that enterprise reporting and a greater depth of coverage are the top things in every market,” Wallace said.  “You’re generally not going to do it with a great sports section. That may have been true at one time but doesn’t seem to be today.

Consistency matters more than the occasional epic investigation, she said. “It wasn’t six-month-long series, but two stories every Sunday and then more during the week. We find the issues that really matter to people and dig into them.”

In addition to identifying enterprise as a key strength, Cox research pinpointed perceptions of bias as a key negative in the market. “We’ve made changes on the editorial pages, for instance, that a lot of newspapers haven’t done,” Wallace said.

This research-based focus is showing results in reader assessments.

“We’ve seen our scores go up as a result. We retest every month or two; we ask readers to rate front-page stories, and we also track answers to ‘Do you think the paper is getting better or worse?’ In Dayton, we started out at -1 and now we’re at +28. We’re seeing circulation growth for the first time since 2006, and that’s without any change in price.’‘

“I think that now it’s totally about, ‘What’s the research?’ and we live that,” she said.

Market research and Web analytics also played a critical role in shaping and focusing strategy and tactics as The Christian Science Monitor transitioned from a print publication to a primarily Web-focused organization.

John Yemma said CSM has consistently used research to understand its audience and to test and adjust strategies in content, distribution and potential revenue models. “We did extensive audience research where we tried to really drill down on our audience. Understanding what their interests are is important.”

The effort brought results: In one year following the shift to online in 2009, the site more than quadrupled online unique monthly visitors to more than 8 million. At the same time, print subscriptions increased from 43,000 for the five-day-a-week publication to 75,000 for the weekly print edition.

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Leadership Report 2011


Michele McLellan

This report was written by Michele McLellan, a journalist and consultant who works on projects that help foster a healthy local news ecosystem. As senior leadership consultant for [email protected], McLellan helped develop KDMC leadership programs in 2008-2011. She also blogs about key leadership best practices at Leadership 3.0.

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Leadership Report 2011

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