How We Work, What You Want And Some Things We’re Tweaking

Thanks to the 100 of you who answered our recent reader survey. It’s still available in case you didn’t respond, and it’s now anonymous, whether you are responding for the first time or want to submit again to tell us your less-varnished opinion!

For now, it’s our birthday (lucky seven) and that’s when we permit ourselves a little navel-gazing. We have done another comprehensive review of what we offer and, based on survey responses, decided to reveal more about how we do what we do.

Let’s start with what you want from us. 

Preferred Topics And Formats 

In our reader survey, we offered a list of 16 topic areas and asked respondents to select up to five that interested them most. Here are the leaders:

1. Travel tech
2. Travel distribution
3. Traveler communications/engagement
4. Suppliers
5. Sustainability

Nos. 3 and 5 were higher than in past polls. While these results will help guide us on what to address in our coverage, we will take them with a grain of salt. We have every reason to continue covering, say, productivity or expense management when warranted, even though those were ranked on the lower end. 

We learned that when it comes to content formats, many more readers prefer breaking news, news analysis and deeper features than audio or video content. This is similar to the past. As compared with prior polls, there was greater interest in Q&A-type formats with executives or corporate travel buyers, so we may explore that.

Respondents were a bit polarized on licensed content from sources like Harvard Business Review and The New York Times. Some suggested we should favor travel articles from these sources over content about workplaces, careers or the economy. We heard enough support for that program that we think it’s worth the substantial investment but figured we should better explain how a given curated piece relates to business travel management, so we’ll start doing that. 

Of the 100 respondents, 29 were from travel management companies, 24 were corporate travel buyers, 16 were from tech firms, 14 were consultants and the remaining 17 were a mix of investors, suppliers and association folks.

Our Value Proposition And What Readers Want To Know

We received favorable ratings for credibility and whether respondents would recommend our service to a colleague. Would those numbers change if respondents were anonymous to us? We had asked them to enter their email addresses mainly so that we could follow up on their points and questions, but now that we have made the survey anonymous, ding away if you’d like!

When we asked how we could improve our service, some readers said the fact that they had to log in every time they wanted to see the content was a stumbling block. While there may be browser settings to tweak and the “remember me” checkbox could help smooth this, they’re not very reliable in our experience. What does tend to help is password manager software. We use LastPass but there are many others on the market. Unfortunately, our paywall software provider did not have additional suggestions. 

The value prop depends on trust. 

We make our Ethics Policy public. It has been from Day 1. We have long trumpeted the independence that comes from not taking sponsorships, advertising or free travel. We believe it’s important to make corrections promptly and prominently.

Now, we’re taking transparency further. When we asked what readers would like to know about how we make decisions in our newsroom, many respondents said they wanted to know more about how we decide what to cover.

We found this passage from a recent professional development seminar that we attended, hosted by journalism training and career service Poynter, to be mostly right.

If we’re honest, we acknowledge that a lot of those decisions happen intuitively. We follow conventions to decide what’s newsworthy, and we have a goal of fairness that we strive to apply to deciding who and what gets attention. We know what stories we did last year and try not to repeat them. And if we’re really being honest, we admit that some decisions are based on things we don’t really verbalize to ourselves, much less explain to the public: Something caught our attention on the way to work. Or we covered a story to get a persistent source off our backs. Or we meant to cover an event but the reporter called in sick. Your audience notices what you cover and wonders about what you don’t cover. And if you don’t let them in on your process, they’ll make all kinds of assumptions about your motivations and decision-making, including: “I bet they didn’t cover that issue because it would have made an advertiser mad.”  ~ Poynter

Here at The Company Dime, we never cover companies to get sources off our backs. But some stories do arise from circumstance. When an airline recently hosted a media event, it was helpful that our reporter lived nearby. Some years ago, we were working on an article about ground transportation technology and happened to hear a related ad on the radio. These things sometimes influence the content.

But luck and chance usually don’t play a big role. Here’s the background and our process …

In 2014, we surveyed corporate travel managers about what interested them. We blended those priorities in with decades of knowledge about corporate travel issues to come up with key subject areas. Those subjects, more or less, became the categories on this website: Careers, Distribution, Negotiating, Payment, Policy, Productivity, Reporting, Risk, Service, Suppliers, Sustainability.

With those categories in mind, we collect as much information as we can. Each day, we pull in hundreds of articles and announcements. We identify which of those topics could lead to articles and list them. We periodically review the list and test the ideas against the key elements of newsworthiness: timeliness, impact, controversy, human interest, etc. We consider the point of view of our audiences: 1) Corporate and organizational travel buyers and managers; 2) Travel management companies; 3) Suppliers: transport, lodging, tech, payment; 4) Consultants, investors, etc. We rank accordingly.

After we decide to write about a given topic for a feature or news analysis, we gather additional material from any sources we can, look for related research and conduct interviews. We talk to sources both for the record and on the basis of anonymity. (We prefer not to publish quotes from unidentified sources, but will do it on occasion because we feel our audience trusts that we can reach the people who are most qualified to speak to the issues.) Breaking news can be a bit different, with a more truncated process.

Then we write, proofread, fact-check, think about whether we can improve the piece with more time, edit again, publish and share.

Maybe you’re still thinking, “Fine, but still, how do you choose what to write or whom to cover?”

It’s as simple as thinking about what our readers care about, what’s relevant and, especially, what they are telling us they’re interested in. That survey back in 2014 was only the first of many. We constantly ask them what we should be covering.

Here’s what it’s not about: A press statement went out that is related to corporate travel and we regurgitate it. A company is giving industry reporters a sneak peek at something and we publish what is essentially their marketing upon their green light. And most certainly, it is not about publishing something that an entity with some sort of financial sway would like to see.

To answer and address some more specific questions and statements from our latest survey …

  • No, we do not “choose who to align with and promote.” When it comes to “focusing on certain TMCs/suppliers/corporate buyers,” it’s really a matter of impact and relevance. No offense to Avianca, but changes to its products and services won’t matter to our crowd as much as things American or Delta are doing. Same for, say, larger TMCs versus smaller ones. Yes, we are U.S.-focused and until we can afford to put the attention on non-U.S. markets that they deserve, we’re going to stay that way. We have heard that folks at some companies think their firms were not treated fairly in our coverage. We want to hear about that. We’re human and make mistakes. But we absolutely do not pick favorites. We don’t think in advance about whether stories will appear to be “positive” or “negative.” We think about whether the information is important to our readers. Our only enemies are the barriers to the information they don’t have but should.
  • How we prioritize subjects of articles “seems to be based upon who you know and who is always out in the industry promoting themselves.” Yes! It’s true that people who promote themselves and who are responsive to our queries end up getting more attention. But it is also our job to put in the effort to generate a diversity of voices and inputs in our content. We’ll double down.
  • Do Jay and David have “beats”? No.
  • “How much effort do you put in to get the complete story?” Hopefully as much as it takes, but we have made mistakes and are trying to get better at resisting the pull of the publishing trigger (speed) in favor of quality.
  • “How often do you plan your calendar for stories … monthly, weekly, daily?” Some people seem to prefer a regular cadence or calendar for publishing. Not us. News doesn’t happen like that and, starting back in 2004 when we created The Beat (now part of Northstar Travel Group), we’re happy to be publishing as it happens and when the coverage is ready.
  • “How do you break through the corporate spin to get the essence of a story? How can you challenge that spin to get to the truth without alienating our very small community?” We seek varied perspectives and attempt to provide thorough context. The second question is brilliant and represents a big challenge for us as a small publishing company. We’re not here to make friends. Parts of the community may feel put off by some of our tougher coverage. We don’t like that outcome, but we’re comforted in knowing that we always strive for fairness and have an open door for critique.

Along with this project, we made some updates to our About and Policies pages to clarify details on our mission and ethics.

As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have comments or questions, and thanks for your interest and support!


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Author: The Company Dime

You get what you pay for, and most travel industry business news is free. The Company Dime sells insight. Our mission is quality journalism for those interested in business travel services, expense management practices and travel industry change. Our features, exclusives and analysis equip business travel professionals with vital info for top performance.
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