Digital digest: Data informed newsroom key for journalism to survive digital Darwinism

Data informed newsroom key for journalism

Unless you have been living under a rock, you may not claim ignorance to the demand for journalism and media business to be data informed.

In this digital environment, where almost every job has a digital component, data metrics are transforming journalism rapidly in many ways.

In fact, data is at the heart of digital transformation as reader preferences shift from print to websites and apps, a deep understanding about audiences is made easier with data.

Data has become a huge competitive advantage in journalism. Commercial value is now data driven, as publishers focus on retention, acquisition and engagement.

As a citizen of the world and a journalist, it is important to be data literate and make smart decisions about content.

For both revenues and content strategies, data is increasingly becoming a key component for publishers.

Data metrics can be used in multiple ways, but I will focus on content generation and understanding audience behaviour.

Without audience, journalism is meaningless, and failure to understand audience means publishers will invest more in gathering content that does not add value in their operations.

When we are looking at content generation, data helps bring critical information which helps in evaluating impact and reach.

From reporting on health issues where most cases are reported with data only, to understanding what census figures mean: and most journalists hardly get these correct, data can be used to tell good stories.

This helps in departing from heavily opinionated views that may be construed as facts to concrete evidence; taking audience through events and activities.

When we are looking at audience, data provides answers to questions like who are the audience, how much time do they spend on our digital platforms, why do they come to us, why are they spending less time?.

Data is also useful in building audience-driven publishing models.

Peter Drucker, the late Austrian-American management consultant, educator and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, once said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

It is important to understand the way in which data can inform the newsroom to make critical decisions.

In media we want to measure the impact of our journalism over and above reach.

As we move to focus on audience focused newsroom, there is need to measure and predict even future performance.

In a digital and innovation newsroom, it is paramount that content and user experience guide decisions and this is done through data.

Although there still a raging debate on whether to be data driven or data-informed, experts agree that publishers and newsrooms should be data-informed.

When decision making process relies solely on data, it becomes data driven.

But when data is part of the decision making process, the organisation is data informed.

Many are familiar with metrics around impressions on published content.

Newsrooms are starting to pay attention to data about which content has attracted most clicks, likes, comments and shares.

As publishers make strides in running away from publishing, blindly, after the realisation that the newsroom, in all its dominance, no longer has monopoly over what is the biggest story of the day.

Some are however still struggling with the gap in differences in mind-sets and overall status between online and print journalists.

Much as this is difficult to accept and acknowledge, technology has turned news production upside down.

It is no longer profitable to invest resources in content that no one reads at the end of the day.

In progressive newsrooms, these metrics have become the basis on which stories are written and followed up.

They have also been used to evaluate if journalists are adding value or not.

Even when planning in editorial diary meetings, data from digital platforms on how content has been performing opens the floor.

Editors in their planning and using data mined from digital platforms, they benefit from “wisdom of the crowed”.

For productive quality and growing audiences and revenue, metrics are essential.

Beyond page views, data becomes a pillar in interrogating specifics including expanding digital and print subscriptions, reader loyalty, unique visitor reach as well as growing revenues.

Moving forward, the culture should be that every journalist must be able to follow up on how their stories are performing online.

Even coverage of certain topical issues like climate, data is useful in understanding information needs to satisfy the audience.

According to journalist and digital strategist Nic Newman: “We can expect more examples of user needs models driving new product development, not just content commissioning.”

With this in mind, gone are days of launching media products assuming audiences will automatically fall in love with the content.

Metrics are now the lifeblood of these new and mostly digital only products.

We meet next week!

Silence Mugadzaweta is digital & online editor for Alpha Media Holdings and content strategies blogger for International News Media Association.

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