The 80/2 Rule: Or Why Dogs on Skateboards Matter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune

What do dogs on skateboards have to do with creating a successful news model?

Nothing, unless you’re the Minneapolis Star Tribune and your focus is “Minnesota dogs on Minnesota skateboards that Minnesotans care about,” as Jim Bernard, the newspaper’s SVP of digital, jokes in the third issue of Traffic, Piano’s magazine for digital business.

The Minnesota part of that equation isn’t difficult to make sense of. For the Star Tribune and community-based publications like it, a digital focus on locally sourced stories is more important than ever, with Pew Research Center data showing that more Americans are going online to access their local news. Nearly as many people today prefer to get their community news digitally (37%) as do through TV (41%), while print, at 13 percent, has fallen well behind. That same Pew survey also shows that readers want a digital publication that feels connected to the community around it — and for the Star Tribune, that means focusing on Minnesota stories. 

But where exactly do the dogs and skateboards come in?

Create Stories That Connect

At Piano, we’ve found that 80 percent of subscription conversions on articles come from just two percent of the total articles published, while 80 percent of ad revenue is from 15 percent of articles. These data points offer an opportunity for media providers: a way to find out what your users find compelling enough to inspire them to pay. Once that’s figured out, it’s a matter of focusing your editorial attention on exactly that. 

The idea is that if you want to really know what’s going on in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, and experience the content you’re interested in, you have to read the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and if you want to read “the Strib,” you have to pay. The paper dives deep into its data to capitalize on what its subscribers — and its top prospects who may become subscribers — value. Editors tells their journalists each month which stories performed best with subscribers and “intenders” (readers that visit frequently but don’t yet subscribe).

To capitalize on what it’s learned, the Star Tribune has doubled down on immediate post-game sports coverage, positive local news, high school sports and accountability journalism. Because it has kept its newsroom robust, it’s also able to produce a high amount of quality content that gives it the kind of depth and breadth of local information that inspire readers to pay.

See Results That Matter

It’s working, too. The Star Tribune has 56,000 digital subscribers and is growing that number by 20 percent a year. Digital subscriptions bring in nearly $10 million in annual revenue for the paper.

Read why Traffic calls the Star Tribune “ the most successful metro paper in America” in "A Miracle in Minneapolis."