8 key takeaways on metrics for newsrooms

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


Thanks to those who joined the Newsroom Transformation Initiative’s first un-Webinar on the subject of metrics in newsrooms. It was a robust discussion, summarised below, that included dashboard show-and-tells, great advice, and some key takeaways. 

I’d love to plan another one later in the year, so please send any ideas my way.

In the meantime, the next Webinar will focus on cultural change in newsrooms. That’s been another consistent theme of the initiative so far: How can we transform our thinking, our processes, and our overall culture?

Louise Story, a media executive consultant who previously worked at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, will join me for an unvarnished conversation on what it’s like to be in the middle of organisational transformation and will offer practical advice for publishers. It will be great to hear her perspective; please register and come with plenty of questions!

E-mail me at amalie.nash@inma.org if you want to meet or have ideas for upcoming Webinars.


8 lessons we learned about data in newsrooms 

We have too much data. Not enough insights. Data can be conflicting or confusing. But when analysed well and explained to journalists, data can unlock transformation and change that makes our journalism more relevant and important to our readers. 

One best practice for news publishers is data that's visible and accessible to newsroom staff.
One best practice for news publishers is data that's visible and accessible to newsroom staff.

Those were some of the thoughts and advice shared during the un-Webinar. Distilling it down, here are eight key lessons we learned from the conversation:

  1. Make data immediately visible and accessible to journalists. At Politiken in Denmark, journalists who are logged in to the system will immediately see a variety of metrics accompanying each story, including reading depth, pageviews, average reading time, and subscriptions purchased off the article. Troels Behrendt Jørgensen, Politiken’s digital director, said the goal of their system, which is called ”The Insights” and was built in-house, is to ensure all journalists can see data in real-time. ”We believe that if you can find it yourself, you will be more interested in what you see,” he said. ”We wanted to do this instead of the big PDF sent every Sunday. This way, you can see how stories behave immediately.”

  1. Ensure journalists understand what success looks like in the data. Newsrooms can measure any number of data points, but breaking it down into simple-to-understand success metrics is key. For instance, NTM, which has 18 newsrooms across Sweden, has created a “star articles” system for journalists. Jens Pettersson, head of editorial development, said stars are dependent upon click-through rate from the homepage, and anything above 50% click-thru-rate receives a star. “There are no excuses,” Pettersson said. “It’s very easy for them to use.”

  1. Metrics don’t matter unless they lead to insights. Markus Rask Jensen, news director at Amedia Produkt og Teknologi AS in Norway, said their 100 local news brands are focused on translating data insights to journalists’ everyday jobs. Specifically, they pay close attention to how many subscribers are reading their stories: “If several journalists can improve those numbers, it makes a difference.” 

  1. Pick one data point to start. Ole Petter Pedersen, publisher of Europower in Norway, said he started with one data point when he became publisher there a few years ago: weekly active subscribers. Their initial goal was 150% growth, which was achieved ahead of schedule. “We wanted one target for everyone,” he said. “With too many targets, people tend to stick to the one target they prefer or is easiest to reach. We can be awash with data, so we need to know what’s most important to our core business.”

  1. Monitor metrics both in real time and trended out to see patterns. Alex Ptachick, senior director of new content initiatives at Hearst Newspapers in the United States, said teams there look at Parse.ly daily and also watch monthly reports on traffic, specifically looking at how newsletters, social media, and other traffic sources are performing. “If anything wacky is going on, it’s easy to quickly identify it,” she said of the daily focus.

  1. Explain why metrics matter to your journalists. Simply tracking metrics isn’t enough, Pettersson said. “Journalists need to know why it matters that they are read or watched,” he said. “If no one is paying attention, we won’t be successful. Start out with as few metrics as possible so people can learn and understand them.”

  1. Ensure your newsrooms are all looking at the same data points. For a regional brand like NTM, it was important to standardise data. Pettersson said the brands previously measured metrics like pageviews and subscriptions in different ways, but a project about three years ago led to standardised data: “Now we’re all seeing the same data and dashboards.”

  1. Make the data visual. Simon Regan-Edwards, product director at the Daily Mail in the U.K., showed the audience their e-paper dashboard, which is highly visual and is displayed on screens around the newsroom. It shows reading time, how loyal the audience is, and what devices people access the e-paper on (iPads are the top device for that product). “We have so many chunks of data sets to look at on a daily basis,” he said. “We need to make it visually appealing.”

Would love to see your dashboards and hear your insights. E-mail me amalie.nash@inma.org

What key metrics should newsrooms be watching?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but I thought it would be helpful to provide a standard set of metrics newsrooms should consider. They depend, of course, on your business model.

Metrics for subscription-led news businesses:

  • Total subscriber count: If your business model depends on subscriptions, clearly you need to watch those top-line numbers closely.

  • Active subscriber count: How many people visited your site during a specified engagement period? This is an important predictor of churn.

  • ARPU (average revenue per user) or total subscription revenue: This is important to track so you can understand how tactics to increase volume — such as deep discounting — are impacting revenue.

  • Data on content conversion: This metric depends on your organisation and attribution model you choose, but it’s good to know how effective your content strategy is.

  • Paywall stop rate and visibility rate: Again, this depends on your model.

Metrics for audience-led news businesses:

  • Pageviews: There’s no clearer unit of currency to see whether you’re growing volume and providing programmatic inventory.

  • Traffic by source: How beholden are you to Google Discover vs. owning your own first-party audience? It’s important to note where your readership comes from to cultivate loyalty.

  • Visit depth: How much content people are viewing on a visit?

  • Return frequency: How often do they return? This is an important indicator of mid-funnel loyalty.

  • Direct traffic (% and total): Owning your own audience is an important insulator against algorithm changes.

  • RPM by source: What’s the value of a pageview depending on traffic source? It varies greatly and will impact your content strategy — important to monitor with cookie deprecation coming.

Results from a recent INMA un-Webinar audience survey about the top metric they monitor.
Results from a recent INMA un-Webinar audience survey about the top metric they monitor.

During the un-Webinar, we surveyed the audience on the top metric they monitor. The results showed:

  • Digital subscribers, 36%.

  • Return frequency, 21%.

  • Pageviews, 15%.

  • Time spent, 8%.

What do you think? What metrics are you monitoring regularly? E-mail me: amalie.nash@inma.org.

Finally, metrics are being used to track gender in reporting

Another interesting takeaway from the un-Webinar: Several publications are tracking gender breakdown in sourcing, leading to better representation in stories. At Politiken, NTM and Amedia, their metrics dashboards pay attention to the gender of sources used in stories. 

Jens Pettersson, NTM’s head of editorial development, said the goal is 50/50 representation in stories, which NTM sees as both the right thing to do for society and a business imperative to attract more female readers. The system uses names to determine the likely gender of the source being used.

“We track every article and follow it daily and monthly,” he said.

Troels Behrendt Jørgensen, Politiken’s digital director, said his publication began tracking gender in stories about four years ago. At that time, women made up only about 19% of sources. On the day before the un-Webinar, women made up 50% of sources — the first day he can remember the number being that high.

“We look at who we are writing about, and we’re making progress,” he said.

Markus Rask Jensen, news director at Amedia Produkt og Teknologi AS, said the data there shows women made up 31% of sources in the last 30 days, a clear indicator of the need for improvement.

Audience members asked whether the publications are tracking gender in image use, too, and none are at this time — but would like to be able to do so.

Are you tracking gender in stories? What are you seeing? E-mail me: amalie.nash@inma.org. 

Mark your calendars

Upcoming INMA events that shouldn’t be missed:

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Amalie Nash, based in Denver, Colorado, United States, and lead for the INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative. Amalie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of bringing newsrooms into the business of news.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Transformation Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Amalie at amalie.nash@inma.org or connect with her on INMA’s Slack channel with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Amalie Nash

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.