Global News expands digital, local coverage

VP Ron Waksman shares how the site went from "literally no online presence" to the #2 news site in five years.

Earlier this year, Global News’ digital properties surpassed 10 million monthly unique viewers, making it the second-most popular news site in all of Canada (behind the CBC). Now, it’s set to capitalize on that momentum and increase its local and digital coverage.

According to comScore’s monthly media metrics, Global News first pulled into the #2 spot in mid-2017 and has increased its spread over properties such as CNN, CTV News, Toronto Star Group and others (for its part, first-place finisher CBC has more than 16 million unique monthly visitors). Ron Waksman, VP of news content for Global News and Corus Radio, said the news organization has gone from “having literally no online presence” to the #2 news site in five years, which was part of a firmly set digital strategy implemented five years ago.

Waksman spoke to MiC about the strategies Global implemented in order to pull ahead of the pack. Besides the obvious steps of creating “original and compelling content,” Waksman said the emphasis on local news has been a major hook for viewers. Rather than creating silos of local, regional, national and international news, he said pushing out local stories on a national level, when appropriate, has been crucial for increasing views and engagement. “We really believe that an excellent local story out of Peterborough can be compelling and interesting to people in Calgary, or Vancouver. We use our national platform to give exposure. The philosophy is, ‘Local news is the front door.’”

He acknowledged that there are “challenges” as far as resources and manpower. Global recently reconstituted its investigative reporting unit on the digital side. Whereas before, investigative reporting had all been based around the network’s TV program, 16:9, the investigative unit was moved last year under the digital banner. “This resulted in a lot of original investigative stories that we can own and continue to investigate on a regular basis after they break.”

Waksman said in terms of referrals, Facebook is the most significant driver of clicks, but the company has put a lot of effort into SEO, also resulting in major referrals. While Global News is “always adjusting the equation,” he said, the goal is to “avoid chasing shiny objects” and experimenting with new platforms just for the sake of doing what’s new.

Now, Global News is set to expand its local news footprint by hiring digital journalists in markets where it does not have local television stations including Ottawa, Barrie/Collingwood and Guelph/Kitchener. He said in those markets, Global is also taking advantage of the fact that there’s less local news in those markets compared to major centres like Calgary or Toronto.

It’s also adding new digital journalists in Kingston, Halifax, Montreal and Winnipeg, where it does have pre-established television stations.

Waksman said the Global News brand is particularly strong west of Winnipeg, but building the brand east of of the city is another goal.

He added that hiring is nearly complete and he hopes to have all of the new journalists in place within a few weeks.