Democratising data empowers news desks, editors to make decisions at Herald Sun

By Nathaniel Bane

Herald Sun

Melbourne, Australia


It’s difficult to imagine there was a time when journalists and newsrooms had no feedback channels of much substance, other than how many angry or supportive readers called the newsroom in the morning or how many letters to the editor arrived in the mail. Or when the newspaper sale numbers came in — often days later.

Fast forward to today. There’s so much feedback the art is in deciding what actually matters. The feedback comes from everywhere and it’s instant.

Sharing data with reporters and editors empowers them to make educated decisions about content.
Sharing data with reporters and editors empowers them to make educated decisions about content.

Digital traffic data, social shares, number of subscriptions, dwell time, story comments: Weaving through all this information to find the numbers that really mean something — to make better content decisions to engage a time-poor audience with the world at their fingertips — is vital in a modern newsroom.

Making decisions using the wrong data can be catastrophic.

Putting the right data into the heart of a newsroom — giving it to those who create and manage the content — is the most effective way to make the biggest changes.

At the Herald Sun in Melbourne, we’ve started rolling out a newsroom data dashboard that revolutionises our approach to audience insights. The aim of Verity is to democratise audience feedback, to put a greater understanding of audience in the hands of those who have a significant influence over the content and ability to engage an audience.

This is both exciting and confrontational.

Until recently, newsroom performance data was owned by the decision makers. Now we are giving journalists, news desks, and section editors a much clearer picture of the effectiveness of their content in a digital world. Now they know how many subscribers viewed it, how many times it was shared on social media, how many clicks it drove to other content, and how long readers dwelled on it.

Reporters can go back over time and track their content, to see trends and make decisions to help influence those trends.

Showing all the numbers to a wide group of people in a newsroom can be unsettling, for both journalists and newsroom leaders. But, when looking at best practices globally, this is a necessary step for a newsroom that has a close relationship with a broad audience that now has infinitely more information options than in previous years.

What is unique about our approach is that this is not just about audience feedback regarding how it has interacted with a piece of content. It also records how that piece of content has been distributed and what levers could be pulled for a better result. It knows if a story hasn’t been shared in social, published in a newsletter, or ranked in a prominent mobile or homepage position.

These kinds of extra prompts mixed with real-time data help give content we create the maximum opportunity to reach the widest audience. It will helps the news desks, section editors, and editors measure longer-term success.

Verity has already picked up an INMA nod with a first place award in the Best Use of Data Analytics category. The expectations for driving our newsroom to bigger and better things are high.

About Nathaniel Bane

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