How U.S. News Outlets are Focusing on Global Audiences

By Kaitlin Jansen, Special to the News Media Alliance 

The digital age is nothing new, and the internet allows people across the world to access content in real time. But U.S. media companies are realizing that simply posting their content isn’t enough – and they’re expanding to international markets with a new focus on global audiences.

Many outlets began expanding years ago. The Wall Street Journal just celebrated 40 years in Asia. The Huffington Post entered its first international market in 2011 and followed with 14 more. BuzzFeed started a newsroom in the U.K. in 2013 and has since spread to locales including France, Germany, Australia and Brazil.

Even traditional newspapers are following suit – in 2013, The New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson said the company’s international strategy would “develop over months and years” and would be “a relatively long task to build.”

In a more recent push, The New York Times announced in April it is investing $50 million to expand through NYT Global, beginning in Canada and Australia.

Many of the outlets share similar goals for reaching international consumers. Roddy Salazar, vice president of International for Business Insider – which has 10 international ventures, with more on the way – wrote in July that the company planned on “becoming a truly global brand.” In a memo to New York Times employees, executives wrote that NYT Global was an “opportunity to become an indispensable leader in global news and opinion.”

Arianna Huffington, former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, had a more targeted goal for HuffPost Mexico, announced at the beginning of this month. Huffington wrote that the company sought to connect the U.S. and Mexico and “counteract (the) false and dangerous narrative” of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Global” is a nice buzzword, but how do outlets determine which markets are viable for expansion?

Audience is important. Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed’s vice president for International, told Nieman Lab the company’s decision to expand into Mexico City was helped by the fact that consumers in Mexico spend the second highest amount of time in the world on social media.

Huffington, too, discussed the way Mexico consumes media, calling the population “one of the most connected in the world, with 80 percent of its online audience on social media and 75 percent consuming video online.”

In looking for leaders for their international efforts, many companies have hired from within – the Times pulled three journalists from its international desk to spearhead NYT Global, and Vox promoted Jonathan Hunt, who previously worked in global marketing and communications.

Not so with HuffPost Mexico, where Laura Manzo, who has worked in Mexican media for more than 15 years, is editor-in-chief.

“The strategy from HuffPost in every edition they launch is to focus on local markets, so they look for people that know the local problems or situations,” Manzo told the Alliance. “The success lies in how the local editions make the most of the HuffPost formula in each country. I talked with them about bringing relevant Mexican voices to HuffPost Mexico in order to…understand what’s going in Mexico.”

Many outlets also seek partnerships with local publishers or outlets to gain traction in new markets.

“Partners bring to the table their deep local market expertise, including both commercial and audience insights,” Salazar of Business Insider wrote.

HuffPost Mexico will work with major news company Grupo Imagen Multimedia.

“The entire world of media is looking for alliances with other media because we have huge challenges with the technology revolution,” Manzo said.

Of course, other challenges remain for media companies finding their footing overseas. One problem: Native advertising isn’t as popular in international markets as it is in the U.S.

“Marketers across the globe, if they’re interested in web advertising at all, it’s still dominated by display ads,” Lamb told Digiday in 2014. “So we’re going to have a learning curve working with local brands.”

Regardless of challenges, most see potential for success.

Two months after launching a site in Poland, Business Insider’s traffic from Poland saw a fivefold increase.

But it’s not all about numbers – it’s also about what global journalism could accomplish.

“If this could help to clear misconceptions and combat stereotypes,” Manzo said, “it would be great and one part of our mission (would be) done: empower people.”


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