“The fact that audience metrics don’t reflect the quality of a piece or necessarily capture its full impact isn’t a weakness,” Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at Guardian News & Media, wrote. “… Instead, metrics tell us things we absolutely don’t, or can’t, know from gut instinct. Metrics, at their core, are simply measurements. And as journalists, we should never argue that ignorance is bliss.”
Last year, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a division of Financial Times, told us that they “are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”
This week, Fink reported on how the transition is proceeding and what it is telling them. Meanwhile, a key question is how much help should journalists get to incorporate metrics and analytics into their day-to-day? Some organizations have made it a process. In talking to Fink last week in preparation for Thursday, metrics are simply now part of the culture at Money-Media.
“Journalists are not analysts,” wrote Elisabeth Gamperl, managing editor, digital storytelling unit, Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, last year in a Reuters Institute report titled Overcoming Metrics Anxiety: New Guidelines for Content Data in Newsrooms. “Most of them became journalists because they care about words and stories… It is important to provide the newsroom with data it really gets value from.”
Ultimately, wrote Gamperl, data and metrics analysts should be seen as vital members of the newsroom. Here are some keys to incorporating metrics into your culture:
Don’t overwhelm – find your key metrics. In an article on The Fix, David Tvrdon said that putting too many metrics on your journalists’ plates could be risky. “With every added metric the chance of more people not getting it simply rises exponentially. I would rather use a simplified metric and tweak it in time than risking colleagues in the newsroom having different goals.” The Financial Times used RFV (recency, frequency, volume) to help hit one million digital subscribers. Later, they pledged allegiance to a more consumption-based Quality Reads.
Set out a specific time. “One of the best practices that we’ve embedded is an analytics meeting for our editors, so that they can really see their work and how it ends up performing out in the world,” said Lucy Swedberg, executive editor and senior editorial director at Harvard Business Publishing. “You start to hear them thinking and observing, ‘Oh, this thing did really well—let’s do more of those.’ I love when I hear they’re getting insights from the data. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what will keep us going and [allow us to] make an impact.”
Educate your editorial staff. At Industry Dive, the audience and marketing team creates actionable dashboards for the editorial team. “This not only helps us measure more of the things that matter to our audience, but it makes it really easy for our editorial team to get actionable insights and make [informed] decisions,” said editor-in-chief Davide Savenije. A data and analytics team works closely with the newsroom. A central analytics hub for the newsroom has a repository with all the reports. During onboarding, a training session walks new people through those reports. “We are trying to build a culture of data analytics in our newsroom, and we want to bring a balance to that culture. Data is powerful. And it can tell us a lot, but as there are also limits and blind spots in the data, so context is always critical to knowing what data really tells you.”
Be positive and concise. One analytics team developed a list of questions they work through before submitting data to the newsroom. Leaders also advise to be careful in sending around individual rankings or standings. Instead, promote information on screens that is helpful to the newsroom. For example, “Did you know that most people read us between 6 and 8 am?” And be concise. “If you provide too much, it has a counterintuitive effect of making people less engaged with it because people don’t know where to focus. It becomes a little bit overwhelming and disengaging to just see reams and reams of data,” said Jörn Rose, director, strategic growth, HuffPost & BuzzFeed News.
Don’t look at metrics as static and immovable. It should be an ongoing process to work with—a positive feedback loop. The question should not be: What is the number? But rather: What can you do in response to this number? Also articles may not be getting the same play. To solve this, The Times of London “developed a score that compares articles only with equivalent articles promoted in the same spot.”