This is how the New York Times and BuzzFeed use Editorial Analytics


Not more than a couple of months ago we looked at the ‘Editorial analytics: How news media are developing and using audience data and metrics’ Reuters Report where the authors have identified 3 distinct types of editorial analytics. Going from Rudimentary, through Generic, to Editorial Analytics, we have learned that each newsroom needs a set of tools, organizational structure and a culture that embraces data-driven decision-making. Of course that each newsroom and team should take the recommendations made by this report and adapt them to their own environment, business, audience and ambitions.

Let’s look at two well-know publications – with different business models and organizational goals – to see how they are approaching and using editorial analytics.

‘Story and Events Analytics’ in The New York Times’ newsroom

When a police officer was shot in Dallas on the 8th of July 2016, The New York Times changed the story’s headline more than 10 times in less than 6 hours time. With each headline change, Times reporters and editors could monitor traffic shifts and reader response across social channels and comments on their page, through its new custom-built internal dashboard. Stela is the analytics tool developed by The Times to get data from multiple sources and centralize it in one place, with simplified visuals and stats. This is what Shan Wang explains to us in an article She wrote for Niemanlab.

analytics“We were looking for ways to help reporters and editors get feedback on the things they were being asked to do online, such as tweaking headlines, promoting to social,” Steve Mayne, lead growth editor at the Times, said. “And we believed it would be much more effective for us to actually have a tool to show reporters how, for instance, certain actions directly resulted in more people reading their stories.”

Developed in 2015 and being mostly focused on individual articles’ analytics, Stela is counting 1,300 monthly users, including the marketing and product staffers.

The tool pulls in data from the Times’ desktop and mobile websites, as well as all of the Times’ mobile apps. In addition to elementary metrics like page views and referrals, Stela breaks down the percentage of readers coming to each story from different countries and how many of those are subscribers, registered users or anonymous visitors. It also pulls top comments and shows the social posts that are doing best, so that editors can see which Facebook or Twitter posts have been shared or retweeted most widely so they can be recycled.

“It’s very valuable to display all the data in one place. We can overlay a Facebook post on top of traffic data so you can see the impact that Facebook had. We can track data when articles are put on the homepage. Reporters can see how different actions change performance.” Erica Greene, a developer at The Times.

“The primary thing we look for with BuzzFeed news is impact, not traffic”

While The Times is focusing on the usability and popularity of the tool among journalists, BuzzFeed has build its own technology that captures how their stories are spreading on the social web. 

Pound, the Process for Optimizing and Understanding Network Diffusion uses an anonymous hash in the share URL to keep track of how a piece of content moves across networks. Dao Nguyen, BuzzFeed publishers, says in a blog post that BuzzFeed now stores more Pound data in a single day than all the other data the company has been collecting for content optimization since it was founded. Pound is capable of processing over 10,000 web requests per second.

“The knowledge held in this unprecedented data set could help us understand our content better, understand our readers better, and understand the social web better. Armed with that understanding, we can have bigger reach and bigger impact for our readers and on the world,” said Adam Kelleher, BuzzFeed Senior Data Scientist


This network diffusion data can be used to figure out what stories would most appeal to your friends and followers across social networks, filter out the sharing effects of a celebrity or publisher with a large social following, as well as A/B test content across networks.

“The primary thing we look for with news is impact, not traffic. If we just cared about pure traffic, we would do entertainment,” said Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed founder, in an interview for The Guardian.

Along with making BuzzFeed’s editorial team even more click-worthy, Pound will also be used to help the company’s creative services team produce more share-worthy sponsored content.

“News drives repeat visits, it drives usage,” he says. “You always want to know what’s going on and what’s the latest, and so it’s a way of creating habits,” said Peretti.

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