Reilly Kneedler

Reilly Kneedler, digital audience editor at Wick Communications 

As we know, much of the focus in the media industry today is on subscription strategies, particularly concerning digital. That makes a digital audience editor one of the most on-point people at a news/media operation. You want people there who think about what they’re doing and whose skill goes beyond the tech.
 
News & Tech used this as a basis for contacting Reilly Kneedler, digital audience editor for Wick Communications. He came to our attention as he was recently featured in press release (see link) from TownNews on iQ Audience+. 
 
Kneedler operates out of Wenatchee, Washington, home of the Wick-owned The Wenatchee World.
 
We put questions to him by email and found that Kneedler has useful insights. Give it a read.
 
News & Tech: You did some beta testing recently for iQ Audience+ by TownNews. What other beta testing has Wick done recently?
 
Kneedler: The TownNews iQ Audience+ beta test, which brought us a new paywall presentation and checkout process, was definitely the biggest we’ve done in recent months. Now that this new product is in place, we’re shifting our focus to A|B testing paywalls in several markets. Those tests include simple changes like different value proposition messaging and more nuanced tests like price presentation changes.
 
Wick strongly believes in being data-focused in our approach to audience development. For bigger projects, that might include reader surveys/usability tests to gather feedback. And we almost always have some kind of beta and A|B testing going on. 
 
News & Tech: Will Wick be using iQ Audience+ going forward? What for?
 
Kneedler: We started beta testing iQ Audience+ on a single website and then quickly rolled it out to all of our other markets. We plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future. Checkout friction is a huge issue for any subscription/ecommerce business and the new checkout process from iQ Audience+ has shown demonstrable improvements for us. The system as a whole also has a lot of flexibility when it comes to tailoring paywall metering and messaging to different user types (i.e. casual visitors, people with ad blockers, etc.)
 
News & Tech: What is Wick using for analytics and what’s new on that front?
 
Kneedler: In terms of products, we have the typical tech stack: Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics and Google Data Studio. We’ve built a huge slate of bespoke reports and tools from just those free products. Many publishers utilize bigger analytics programs that bring a lot of additional tools — and additional expense. That's completely worthwhile for some folks, but we’ve found that the Google suite can accomplish just about everything we’re setting out to do. A big caveat there is we do push those programs to their limits in terms of customization, especially Google Tag Manager.
 
But I think the strategy around analytics is more important than the tech stack. Modern publishers have an overwhelming sea of data points at their fingertips, so deciding what to really focus in on is paramount. I’ve worked with our digital, circulation and editorial teams to decide on our key metrics and those are the ones we pay attention to: email newsletter open rate, number of loyal website visitors per month and digital subscriber churn rate, to name a few.
 
But that’s a process that’s also constantly evolving. Business priorities and audience strategies should change as you adapt to serve your readers the best that you can, and your KPIs need to follow suit.
 
News & Tech: What is your main goal now as digital audience editor at Wick Communications?
 
Kneedler: Subscriber retention. That’s my No. 1 goal for the next year.
I often think about a report (see link) on retention strategies published earlier this year by the American Press Institute. The surveyed publishers agreed that the industry-best retention strategies were very valuable, but considered their own proficiency in those areas much lower.
 
Retention is less glamorous than acquisition, and it’s arduous and often frustrating. But it's a fundamental part of reader revenue growth and one that often gets only secondary consideration.
 
News & Tech: What tech do you use now and see in the future that will advance your cause?
 
Kneedler: No-code integrations platforms should be in the toolkit of any publisher’s audience or digital team. The best-known examples are Zapier and Integromat, which allow you to connect just about any online service together in just about any way you want. 
 
We use both of these daily for everything from analytics to syncing customer systems. For example, when the paywall stop rate is too low on any of our sites (a sign that something may be wrong), I get an automated Slack message through an Integromat automation. That's a very simple example and we have a lot of other very complex integrations configured.
 
Critically, these systems can be used by anyone on your team. They cut down on the need for development and eliminate so many of the redundant tasks that come with audience work and online publishing.
 
News & Tech: Wick won a Local Media Association award (see link) recently for NABUR, “a NextDoor-type social media site that doesn’t leave readers with more questions than answers,” says LMA. What’s special about NABUR?
 
Kneedler: We launched NABUR (see link) in the spring of 2020 with support from the Google News Initiative. The elevator pitch is this is a journalist-run online conversation platform that's built on facts, not misinformation or vitriol. We now have NABUR platforms in six markets across the country and have been thrilled with the project's growth over the past 18 months.
 
An ancillary benefit from this project has been the development of a team of Wick journalist product managers, who manage the NABUR platforms. The product management mentality, essentially being user-focused in your approach to digital publishing, has been growing in our industry. The emergence of the News Product Alliance (see link), which held its inaugural summit this year, is a great example of that. 
 
NABUR has been a great avenue for us to explore news product management. And we've been working with journalism schools to encourage it as a discipline for grads entering the workforce.
 
News & Tech: What other news or insights do you or Wick have to share?
 
Kneedler: I've been thinking a lot about the need to move toward collecting first-party audience data. Google and Apple's shift toward user privacy has made the future very clear: One day you will only know the information about your readers that they tell you themselves. I think that's a healthy direction for the internet at large, but as publishers it means we need to start doing the work now.
 
It puts an even higher premium on building authentic, transparent relationships with your readers. Grow your email newsletters, set up registration walls, launch texting strategies like Subtext and build your first party data — but make sure you tell readers exactly how you'll use their info. Email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses are way more valuable than browser cookies, so the publishers who execute well will come away stronger for it. 
 
News & Tech: You also do photography.
 
Kneedler: Yep. I came into this role from the editorial side and have done photojournalism and enterprise reporting for most of my career. My work has appeared in the pages of local publications, all the way up to The New York Times. 
 
Wick Communications is a family-owned community media company with newspapers, websites, magazines and specialty publications in 11 states. The home offices are in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Wick publishes newspapers in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington.