Turkish media flagship Hürriyet bids to grow digitally with new R&D center
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Hürriyet’s recent competing with social media channels in terms of web traffic is a big milestone, Göğüş said, vowing that investigative journalism will “always remain at the heart of Hürriyet.”
Tell us about Hürriyet’s R&D center.
As media moves to digital channels, journalism becomes just one of the components that readers see. The other components are the product and the technology. If you don’t have a proper product you probably cannot convey the right messages to the audience as strongly as you would on paper.
Even if you have the best journalism in place, if you don’t have the right product it becomes half as effective. Your competitors now are the Facebooks and Googles of the world, and they provide news as well. In order to have the right product we have to have strong technology, which is a culture within a company. To create a strong technology culture also requires a strong R&D culture. So R&D is essential for business. E-commerce companies already have it, and Hürriyet is probably the first media outlet to have it.
When we talk about the product in terms of technology, are we talking about quick access to news?
Access to news is important. Smart phones, for instance, have become extremely important. You have to give the best experience to the user based on smaller screens. Speed is also important, as people don’t want to wait 10 seconds for a page to open.
There are also several supporting tools that readers or journalists don’t see. But it makes content available. Let me give you an example, at Hürriyet we produce around 1,000 news items per week. But tagging in Turkish is still an issue. And in the digital world if you don’t tag news properly it is not discoverable online. Hürriyet’s readers access it from many different sources: Some enter directly, some come through Google, some enter through social media. Tagging is an area our R&D center will work on. The Turkish language is not easy for natural language processing, so the center has produced a series of tools to translate Turkish into English, tagging in English and then translating this back to Turkish, creating several tools to link these together. This will increase the tagging success of Hürriyet news, which hopefully will convert into more readers, more access and more traffic.
What is the digital media landscape in Turkey that is pushing Hürriyet to make these innovations?
It is not too different from the situation in the rest of the world: Print still has significant circulation; our circulation is around 320,000 to 330,000 on weekdays. But digital is growing exponentially, mainly fueled by mobile growth. Smart phone penetration in Turkey is around 60 percent. Our desktop traffic is increasing but at a slower pace. News consumption is also high: People read about seven pages on every visit, which probably means seven pieces of news, opinion, or photographs.
Mobiles are changing reading habits, because when people wake up the first thing they do is check their mobile and check the news. Normally in a traditional paper you don’t have to produce news at 6.30 in the morning. But when readers wake up they want to see new things, and on the way to the office they want to see other new things. When they commute back home they want to read light stuff.
These realities also change the way journalism is done. One of the things we recently changed was the working shifts of the digital team, with more people starting to come in earlier. Social news tends to be shared more during the evening hours so social media editors work more during night shifts.
These changes also mean a lot of potential, because at the end of the day they also bring a lot more access to news. In Hürriyet we are now talking about 200 million site visits per month and about 25 to 30 million unique visitors every month, which is basically almost a third of the population and probably half of the readership potentially. This is huge access for journalists to society.
Where does Hürriyet stand compared to other media outlets?
Hürriyet is 25 percent ahead of its closest competitor in the media. We also have indirect competition with Facebook and Google, because people also have access to them to read news. In terms of traffic Hürriyet sits just behind Twitter and then it is ahead of all other media companies. Competing with social media channels from a traffic perspective is a big milestone. We are progressing well in terms of audience development. But in terms of monetizing this audience we still have some way to go, and this is a challenge that most media outlets face around the world.
What else will the R&D center focus on?
Hürriyet has a lot of data about reading habits. Working on data and analytics is another potential area for R&D so we can provide more customized and personalized content for readers.
Hürriyet also recently initiated what it calls a “360 degree approach” to news. Tell us about this.
A “360 degree approach” means a journalist handling several things at the same time: Working on multiple platforms rather than focusing on only one platform. So if you are doing an interview, for example, you can also produce a video about it, including for different departments. Or if there is an interview with a famous soccer player, that can be content for the sports section, while his car can be content for the automotive section. His wife can be a subject for the lifestyle section. You can create more than one piece of content from one interview.
Isn’t this putting too much burden on the journalist?
Yes but it also gives the journalist the ability to define the story more strongly, to make it better and to reach wider audiences.
But some could lose focus and produce weaker content.
We leave this judgment to the reporter. There may be critical content where you have to work the old way, for example if you’re interviewing the prime minister. But when you look at the way news is consumed there is a high turnover with the news. The news agenda changes all the time.
What about other novelties?
We want to address audiences for various purposes. In other words, a person needs hot news, sports, business news, astrology, food, etc. We want to make sure our readers spend more time with Hürriyet, which requires Hürriyet deepening in various areas. Deepening requires a wider model so we can’t keep relying on our own people entirely. We probably need to build a wider contributor network, working according to Hürriyet’s standards. We will use partnerships. One great example is that we have recently signed a partnership with a big sports conglomerate to share English Premier League and French Ligue 1 videos and their highlights in the Hürriyet sport arena, which is our sports brand. Partnerships present a big change in the new way platforms are managed. We see Hürriyet as a big platform that is mainly fed by Hürriyet resources, but we are becoming more open and aggressive in partnerships.
But for a conventional journalist like me, one feels that the focus is shifting away from news making, away from investigative journalism.
Investigative journalism is still at the heart of Hürriyet. We continue to have exclusive news. But that is not enough in this new world. If you ask your readers to spend more time on your site, you have to provide content with a wider spectrum.
But there are limited resources. As a traditional journalist one might want to have a bigger budget for investigative journalism rather than investment ,n technology.
Hürriyet is quite strong in terms of hot news and investigative journalism. We have a special exclusive news section that comes up with amazing news. But we want to make sure we prioritize the right verticals: Sports is definitely one and we will also focus on financial markets, our “Big Para” (Big Money) domain. Those are high growth areas that we can develop and then we can make sure that additional revenue we generate finances a bigger Hürriyet. Without increasing revenues it will get harder to have investigative journalism of the same volume and quality.
So how is the situation in monetizing digital?
It is growing significantly. With additional traffic we have built we are looking for new ways to monetize. There is now an increasing contribution culture also growing in Turkey. We want to leverage our group assets too. We want to package services together. It is not only about providing content but also giving additional benefits to readers when they subscribe to some of our content such as additional movies and music, etc. We have some additional resources. We don’t have a finalized plan, but this is definitely a challenge for the next two years. Now we have the largest traffic volume it is time to incentivize the subscription business in Turkey. If there is a media outlet that will be successful in this Hürriyet probably has the best chance.
What is it like managing a newspaper that tries to remain independent in a political environment that is highly challenging?
Turkey’s political environment is not the easiest to operate in. The same thing is starting to happen all around the world. I was in the U.S. and our counterparts there had concerns that they did not have five years ago. The best thing we all can do is keep doing what we are doing. That is why we are trying to grow so that we can keep a business we can be proud of and stay on our feet.
WHO IS ÇAĞLAR GÖĞÜŞ?
Çağlar Göğüş is currently the chief executive officer of Hürriyet and had held this position since February 2016.
Göğüş joined Hürriyet in April 2015 as an independent executive board member. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Bilkent University’s business administration department and his MBA from Florida University in the U.S. He started his career at Coopers & Lybrand’s Turkey branch in 1996.
He worked at Arthur Andersen as a senior analyst before starting at A.T. Kearney as a senior analyst between 1998 and 2000.
In 2002 he joined the Peppers & Rogers group, where he worked as a partner for nine years.
In 2010, he became the EMEA director for the group and continued in that position until 2014.