Can we measure the quality of journalism? Yes, we can. We just need a stand on what content provided in our newspapers and online channels is all about.

Nowadays, there’s only one perspective that actually counts — the readers’ points of view. We know this approach from digital start-ups equipped with tools that measure any interaction by users and lead to review, correction, and another measurement of what you’re doing.

Quality journalism is in many ways focused on the consumer.
Quality journalism is in many ways focused on the consumer.

But what about in a legacy company?

A local newspaper in Northern Germany discussed its readers’ needs and expectations in a day-long workshop and found out that 12 aspects are relevant to them. And here’s the big clue: Never again should a story be published that doesn’t match at least the half of these 12 goals on a checklist defining the quality of journalism on a local level.

Of course, there’s still room to discuss. The reaction in the editorial team was disturbing.

First, let’s explain the checklist every editor gets to use to judge whether a story is good or not.

A story is good when it:

  1. Concerns a lot of people in the audience.

  2. Provides important information.

  3. Reports on more than a single event.

  4. Has the potential to become the talk of town.

  5. Helps readers create their own opinions.

  6. Provides a benefit readers can use to make a decision.

  7. Offers an exclusive or unusual approach to a topic.

  8. Surprises or entertains.

  9. Touches readers emotionally.

  10. Reveals a deficiency in society.

  11. Helps readers learn something.

  12. Concerns any public hot spot readers know well.

Any day of the week, the editor-in-chief counts the points his department gathers by their stories, resulting in meaningful hints on the performance in terms of customer-focused content.

Editorial departments appreciated for their attitudes within the organisation were disclosed as poor news service while others show up as being strongly related to the needs of the readership. The result was a ranking that is purely based on facts.

Immediately, some departments argued that relevance of content cannot be defined by readers’ needs. That is, obviously, the point of view of traditional media: We know what you need.

But that is wrong. Readers would leave to find what they want somewhere else. By the figures of his measurement, the editor-in-chief can strongly demand what he has always demanded: Think of your readers. Now he’s able to say exactly what he exactly and sees the performance.

For freelancers who aren’t in the house most of the time, the checklist is a helpful tool, too. They now know what the criteria are to publish a story. Just match at least six of the 12 goals.