Omroep Brabant have been keen pioneers of applying the user needs for news theory to the real world ever since we started our research. In this interview, we spoke to their editor, Janneke Bosch, about how the Dutch regional player incorporated the user needs theory into their newsroom - and share the results of that endeavour.

Janneke Bosch is no stranger to these pages. Omroep Brabant have been keen participants in various user needs trials and one - where we looked at using ChatGPT to devise alternative headlines - was featured in a webinar. On a day to day basis, she’s the one overseeing what appears on and how it is presented.

Janneke, we've spoken before about your efforts to incorporate user needs into the editorial process. How’s that going?

"We've come to view user needs as an inspirational tool that we can use every day in editorial meetings, and it's fully integrated with everyone now. Our approach is as follows: we look at the stories that have received a lot of traffic and then ask each other what new angles there are on the same topic. I find the User Needs Model 2.0 to be a brilliant contribution to this."

So, you literally go around the different user needs, and that generates more inspiration for coming up with new content ideas?

"Yes, that's the primary way we use it. It’s also helped us strengthen our evergreen content - those articles that we’re able to recycle by featuring them again in our reporting. It’s something we often use in explanatory stories to provide context to the news - and, done right, these pieces can be told over and over. For example, we once published a piece explaining exactly what a special police arrest unit is and what tasks its members perform. Each time that unit is referenced in the news, we link to that story or place it on the homepage. This way, we’ve already met the 'Educate me' need. That story always does well."

It’s not just an intellectual exercise: Omroep Brabant has got tangible results from this approach. The kind of stories Janneke mentions are not only read often, but well. And, when you look at the daily average CPI scores over time (our compound metric that gives an at-a-glance view of content performance), an obvious (and quite abrupt) change has occurred. There are significant, positive implications for audience loyalty and engagement.

Since embracing the user needs approach, Omroep Brabant's CPI has been above average, whereas the performance had previously been declining.

How can you be sure it's the user needs causing this turnaround?

"To be honest, I must say that we also see a positive effect from testing headlines, thanks also to the trial with ChatGPT. We now test the headlines of almost 100 percent of our articles with smartocto. On average, such an article has a 20 percent higher click-through rate. But what user needs has helped us with is improving editorial focus. It might be hard to prove the effect definitively, but this is what I observe happening: before, we would quickly move from one news event to the next. Even if it was about the same topic, we created chains of updates."

At Omroep Brabant, just as in the original research by the BBC, 70 percent of the articles are 'Update me' stories, while they only contribute to 20 percent of visits.

"Now, we create different kinds of chains: from an update to an explanatory story, maybe followed by an inspiring story, and then a story that helps the reader further. This makes us better able to publish more stories about a topic right away, giving us more control over which topics we find journalistically important. Thus, we're less dependent on new developments - which sometimes just aren't there. The audience shows us what it finds interesting, and we then show a broader audience what's most important on that day and can respond to that audience's needs."

Do you also use the data to refine your content strategy?

"We do want to do more of that, but from an editorial standpoint, it doesn't feel ‘strategic’ in a formal sense; it’s much more natural. Usually you’d ask a colleague: could you write an 'Inspire me' article about this? It’s become a matter of course for us to determine the agenda in such a way."

Omroep Brabant is now also about to test In the context of the ChatGPT test we did before, this is a nice next step. How have you used AI in the editorial office so far?

"Not much for writing yet, so we're very curious to see how it turns out when we let paragraphs be rewritten with your new toolkit. Usually, my personal impression is that while I can see what AI is trying to do, it's still not sufficient - and certainly no substitute for writers - and we have to make a lot of changes ourselves. So far, there hasn't really been a policy for it in the editorial office. That said, the combination of AI with user needs could be interesting because it may well lead to even more inspiration.

I prefer to look at these developments the other way around: what does the editorial office need, and how could a tool help with that? For example, it's great that can assist in adding tags and categorising stories based on user needs. This kind of tasks gives editors time and energy to focus on their journalistic work. But as categorising is so important to get insights of historical data, this would be a big advantage to fulfill our mission of giving our visitors what they need and desire.”