Fox News has been taking steps to unify its TV and digital staffs, and now it’s about to make a big, visible move in that direction when the combined staff of about 100 moves into a new, centralized second-floor newsroom in late January.
The centralized newsroom has been touted by 21st Century Fox boss Rupert Murdoch and top Fox News executives and is seen as a way to draw more web users and TV viewers. FoxNews.com is one of the biggest online news sources in monthly traffic, with more than 82 million visitors last July, up from 63 million a year earlier, per comScore, but it’s lacked the strong identity of the TV station. The conservative-leaning Fox News was on top in both prime-time and total day viewership this past year, but left-leaning rival MSNBC posted the biggest percentage gains in key measures, Variety reported.
Fox News is moving in the direction of its competitors. CNN has had its TV and digital arms combined starting as far back as 2013. CBS’ 3-year-old streaming news channel CBSN has its operation physically situated near other parts of CBS, for example. Univision’s TV and digital have been under one leader, president of news Daniel Coronell, since 2016.
Fox News TV and digital executives have been meeting more frequently to exchange coverage plans for big news events, TV and digital. They’ve also done more to promote each other’s platforms. In a redesign in September, the site began showcasing Fox News’ TV talent and streaming a TV broadcast on the homepage, for example.
“We want to build consistency in the product across all platforms, so if you’re a Fox News fan on TV, when you dive into digital products, you feel a consistency, which in the past I don’t think was the case,” said John Fiedler, svp of digital for Fox News, adding that he has more regular interactions with the TV side than he has in the past.
If these efforts work as Fox News hopes, there will be more crossover between its TV and digital audiences. That’s hard to track because there’s no single, straightforward way to measure an increase in crossover audience, but executives will survey audiences and also look at what happens to the online audience and TV ratings.
Other measures of success will involve looking at workflows: Do more stories that originate on the digital side make their way to TV, for example?
Along with the increased collaboration, Fox News is getting more aggressive about pushing people back to its own site. It’s been aggressive in the past about distributing off-site to reach the widest audience possible. It’s regularly led publishers in terms of sheer engagement and interaction rate on Facebook by posting a high volume of conservative and feel-good articles in various formats. In the past, Fox News expressed confidence that if it got good engagement on Facebook, monetization would follow.
Publishers have cooled on Facebook as monetization hasn’t materialized, and Fox, too, has modified its stance. It’s still chasing audience and engagement on Facebook, but its stated goal now is to drive people back to its own site. To that end, it’s also making a bigger effort to go after search traffic. Fox News has increased the size of the digital staff, led by Noah Kotch, by 45 percent, with a focus on off-site distribution and bolstering overnight news coverage. Digital staffers make up about one-third of the newsroom staff.
In the year ahead, Fiedler said, the focus will be building community on FoxNews.com, which could take the form of commenting, more interactive content and even a paid membership program.
Some will see the new, open newsroom as not just a revamped space but a metaphor for cultural change at the company, which has had top executives Roger Ailes, Bill Shine and star anchor Bill O’Reilly leave as it has tried to move past its sexual harassment scandal. The newsroom changes also come as 21st Century Fox unloads its entertainment businesses to Disney, which will make news and sports the sole focus of the company and could give Murdoch an opportunity to acquire other stations. Fiedler said those events are unrelated to the newsroom changes, which have been underway for years.