Are analytics changing newsrooms? Interview with Federica Cherubini

and Esmeralda Sandoval

Analytics are some of the most effective tools publishers have for distributing stories. Yet, implementing analytics and tailoring them to an organizations specific needs has proved challenging for many news rooms.

We spoke to Federica Cherubini, a media consultant and editorial researcher who worked for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) in Paris.

 

Together with Rasmus Kleis Nielsen she authored the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s reportEditorial analytics: How news media are developing and using audience data and metrics.

Cherubini, and her co-authors, conducted 30 interviews across eight countries to uncover how newsrooms are working with analytics. 

How can work in a newsroom be affected by the use of metrics and analytics?

Nowadays, tools and ways to get data information are common in a newsroom. It is very typical to see a big screen with real time traffic in a newsroom. What publishers are now trying to develop are best practices to try to use analytics, not just in the distribution process after an article has been pushed out on different platforms, but also to perform and produce better journalism.

Which examples of best practices did you find out during your research?

We defined best practice as those who use editorial analytics instead of generic and rudimental use of analytics, that means analytics are tailored to each news organization and the newsrooms decide what they want to look at.

Currently some of the most popular metrics are: time spent on a page, the number of shares, retweets,  and comments to see how the users interact with the content.

If you produce a piece of content where do you want to publish it? Is it a piece suitable for Facebook or other platforms? The problem that many newsrooms have with analytics is that they look at data as just numbers which don’t mean very much. The newsrooms that use best practices are those that give numbers a context.

Will analytics change editorial decisions?

No, because if a journalist or editor decides to write on a topic that is important to write about, they will. The main thing is that data will never replace your own judgment, data only helps you be more effective.

Chris Moran, audience editor at the Guardian, always says that it is important to decide when you can publish your article. How you change your publishing schedule still reflects a print mind-set, you can use the data to inform that decision and be more effective.

 

Are there any weaknesses in what newsrooms are doing with analytics?

Many newsrooms are a bit generic and basic. They gather the data, they share the data, maybe the journalist gets an email everyday with their performances of the day before, but that’s it. So one weakness is not really trying to turn it into actionable insight.

Another weakness is not just for the newsroom, but it is very difficult to track data across devices or across platforms.  So is a share on Facebook the same as a Tweet? Does it have the same impact or value? So trying to understand how the data in different mediums translate to different platforms.

Where do you think we are going now in terms of data and analytics, all this stuff that is new for old school style journalists?

I think newsrooms are getting more sophisticated. But they need to understand that one approach doesn’t exist. There is no one set of tricks you just learn and you’re done.

I really think it should be focused and tailored on each news organization. Otherwise its tricks to improve the headlines and getting more reach. Pure reach, irresponsible reach, doesn’t get you anywhere, doesn’t mean that the reader is going to come back.

Reach, or being big, isn’t enough anymore. The next question is about how you turn your audience into a loyal audience.

And metrics taps into that in helping you have a bit more information and to test hypothesis in the newsroom.  You can experiment go back and look at the data and see if it worked. If it didn’t you can change your approach the next day.

 

Federica Cherubini currently works with WAN-IFRA on engagement strategies and editorial conference planning.

 

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