Reimagining media: National Journal on pivoting to research and consultancy streams

 

 

The Atlantic Media owned National Journal is a traditional media company taking prominent strides into new revenue streams. Having experienced industry challenges following the global financial crisis of 2008, the publication took conscious steps to reinforce its bottom line through offerings beyond traditional media. This includes services in government affairs, advocacy communications and policy brands research for government and business leaders, as well as continuing to publish daily journalism covering politics and public policy.

National Journal’s young president is Kevin Turpin. Like South China Morning Post’s Gary Liu, who recently featured on the FIPP website, Turpin has risen to prominence from within the company. His earnestness in assessing the state of the industry, and the tangible steps that can be taken to thrive within it, is refreshing, and he has clearly inspired a new mindset in the traditional media brand. 

“We’re a traditional media company that was financially supported through subscriptions and advertising,” says Turpin. “And in 2008 through 2010 we began to go through some challenges as a business that were driven both by the financial crisis, which was really having an effect on our market, as well as increased competition that was coming into our space. It called for us to make a business pivot to ensure the future of our organisation.” 

“The pivot we decided to do was we launched two different parts of our organisation: both a research part and a consulting part. At the time, they were built to go beside our journalism properties and take on some of the topline and bottom line burden. But actually over the years they have become the primary drivers of our topline and bottom line, while we still continue to have our media and journalism properties.”

The company’s interaction with brands and other entities is real. National Journal employees physically go into offices and meet with the companies they support, providing research and consultancy services. It’s a sensible approach to expanding services at a time when the role of traditional media companies is increasingly being integrated into day-to-day business, and the line between ‘content’ and ‘media’ is blurring. But as Turpin explains, editorial integrity is not compromised.

“We do. So we physically actually go in and do research and also consulting work with businesses within our market. We actually keep a pretty dark line that separates our research and consulting sides from our journalism properties so that our journalists can of course keep their individual integrity, while the other side of our business is actually uniquely designed to work with the brands in the market.”

We asked Turpin if the new mission was about helping ‘brands to become publishers’, but clearly this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

“Absolutely. I mean, it certainly helps them to become better at, or at least have a better mind for publishing. But what we help them much more on is doing work that they traditionally would do themselves and maybe at times didn’t know how to do it well. So one example of that would be tracking their brand. We’re uniquely positioned to be able to go out and talk to many different stakeholders in the market, and get true opinions on what the brand of an organisation is within DC. So that’s one of the businesses that we run. We help organisations think through areas that they need to improve when it comes to working with the different stakeholders that exist within the city.”

National Journal is uniquely positioned to be able to expand its core services in this way, especially because the publication began its existence in 1969 as the Government Research Corporation, which even back then offered both research and journalism services. Nonetheless, this latest incarnation is clearly an interesting minset to get into, and provides a natural evolution for the skills and specialisations normally associated with a media company. We asked Turpin how other publishers could begin to develop in this way.

“You know, I always say that it comes down to having a listening culture. And what that means, is always seeking to find ‘What are the big challenges that your market, or that your audience is facing every year?’ And if an organisation is doing that then they’re going to find different products and different services that they can launch to continue to be relevant within their markets. And also to continue to drive revenues in the future.”

 

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