Over the past few years, news organizations all over the world have increased their use of analytics. Which can be understood as systematic analysis of quantitative data on various aspects of audience behavior aimed at growing audiences, increasing engagement, and improving newsroom workflows. Still, most of publishers struggle to understand and tailor all audience data to their organizational goals.
This is one of the key findings of ‘Editorial analytics: How news media are developing and using audience data and metrics’, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University (RISJ) Report. The report highlights the best practices and challenges of more than 30 newsrooms across US and Europe that use analytics for their publications.
Editorial, Generic, and Rudimentary Analytics
According to this study, leading digital news organizations are developing distinct forms of editorial analytics tailored to help them pursue their particular goals. These different forms of analytics were identified as:
- Rudimentary analytics – offers a certain amount of data, but lacks cohesiveness with newsroom organization and culture;
- Generic analytics – multiple analytics tools are used, but the newsroom’s structure and mindset are optimized for short-term results;
- Editorial analytics – bespoke tools, supported by an organization and culture focused on short-term and long-term data-informed decisions, and flexible to evolve as the industry changes
Four leading publishers – The Guardian, the Financial Times, BBC and The Huffington Post – have been characterized as having implemented the ‘best practices’ around the use of metrics in their newsrooms. Still, while globally orientated US and UK publishers remain ahead other, many news organizations across all the countries covered in the study continue to lag behind best practices.
‘Analytics are about technology and data, but not only technology and data’
Because best-practice editorial analytics are tailored to the priorities and goals of a given organization, as well as the context in which it competes, there is no one right way to do analytics or one set of tools that will give an organization everything it needs. Instead, news organizations need to think about how they can develop their analytics capability by making sure they combine:
- The right set of tools
- An organizational structure that incorporates the expertise to use them and
- A newsroom culture that embraces data-informed decision-making
In this scenario, the tools are represented by the technology used in the newsroom, including data sources, software, interfaces and internal and external analytics platforms. The organizational aspect refers to a structured process of using analytics, assigned to experienced staff members or dedicated teams working with the rest of the newsroom. The third dimension, culture, was identified as an overall attitude of editorial staff to ‘routinely and willingly use analytics and data as part of their decision-making’.
Falling short in any one of these areas undermines an organization’s analytics capability.
‘Developing a culture of data in the newsroom is about making sure that journalists and editors who are not part of the audience team are given access to data that are relevant to them, know why – and agree that – this data is relevant for them, and know how to act on it,’ Cherubini and Nielsen stated in the report.
‘Journalists today not only need analytics, but they want analytics’
Publishers should always be aware as the data never tell the full story. And quantitative analysis always has to be supplemented by editorial expertise and other forms of qualitative judgment. Even the best editorial analytics continue to be constrained by the difficulties involved in defining and measuring many of the things that news organizations aim to achieve.
But according to the authors of the report, to make the move from rudimentary or generic analytics to the kind of editorial analytics practiced by market leaders, news media need to:
- Define their editorial priorities and organizational goals
- Identify the data and metrics most useful for pursuing these effectively
- Develop tools, organizational structures and newsroom cultures that make analytics actionable both short-term and long-term.
It is important that journalists are part of this development
‘Editorial analytics are an evolving phenomenon. It is not about identifying a few standard tricks to increase audience reach or engagement, but about developing a process where quantitative evidence supplements more qualitative editorial expertise and enables continuous evaluation of performance and experiments to improve workflows and results,’ Cherubini and Nielsen pointed out.