FT, News Corp Australia offer best practices in newsroom metrics

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Welcome to the latest INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter.

What do we mean by “best practice” and when is a terrorist a militant?

This week I reflect on how the Newsroom Initiative can help offer actionable ideas you can try rather than lofty or unattainable projects. I’d love to know what you think.

We also had a great example of that with a Webinar starring Tyson Wheatley, Instagram Director at The New York Times who explained in a way you can try at work how The Times thinks about and develops its story-telling on the platform. Lessons applicable to all social media sites and almost certainly to the way you pitch, commission, and publish visually strong stories.

I also want your help, please, about style guides, playbooks, and checklists. The BBC and CBC in Canada were hit with what to me are understandable but unreasonable controversies of their reluctance for their own staff to brand Hamas guerrillas who carried out atrocities as “terrorists.” It is a long-standing convention among some of the biggest names in media, but it is being challenged in a way that holds risks for brands, their businesses, and their staff.

When put on the spot, these were some of my “best practice” ideas

We think we know what best practices are when we see them or read them in often self-congratulatory notes on some triumph or other — a gain against metrics, an increase in subscriptions perhaps, or winning an award maybe.

The dirty secret behind best practices is that they can be quite personal or specific to the organisation you work in and not always applicable to other teams or publications. The point of the Newsroom Initiative is in part to dig out what might be shareable best practices.

With that in mind, I recently had an opportunity to share with News Corp Australia editors some thoughts on newsroom and journalistic ideas I thought might rate “best practice” ranking. It turned out to be quite a personal list based on what we have covered in the Newsroom Initiative since it was set up in February 2022 and a couple from my previous experiences.

It is necessarily subjective, and I suspect that were I asked to do it again in six months the examples might be different. I chose examples that I believe almost any news operation could apply, try, and learn from — mostly ones where measurement is clear so success isn’t just your gut feeling — and where we might also achieve the goal of better news products: journalism.

Here are two of them:

Quality Reads (QR) from The Financial Times: This is a very FT metric which the newsroom there uses without explicitly linking it to numbers of subscriptions or financial outcomes, but you can immediately see how it rather subtly can contribute to subscription business goals.

I reported on QR in an interview with then FT Digital Development Editor Renée Kaplan, who said: “The Quality Read is a composite metric and arises from the understanding that pageviews aren’t enough in a world in which advertising-driven revenue is radically diminished. We’re trying to judge whether a reader or subscriber is getting value from a piece of content ...”

All journalists want their work to be read and to satisfy the reader. To me a metric so simply derived from what motivates journalists but which also drives business goals is clever – particularly from a cultural point of view in a newsroom that is ruled by a journalistic sensibility.

The Quality Reads metric is: article length/average reading speed/time spent on the article.

Here’s how the FT’s Audience Engagement Editor Hannah Sarney described the Quality Read metric in an INMA Newsroom Initiative master class.

Quality Reads from the Financial Times is a metric used by its newsroom but not linked to subscriptions or financial outcomes.
Quality Reads from the Financial Times is a metric used by its newsroom but not linked to subscriptions or financial outcomes.

Simple. Culturally appropriate. It seems to work.

Personally, I believe newsrooms should generally be exposed more to hard numbers behind metrics and clearer goals linked to them, but I can see how this works well for the FT.

Verity from News Corp Australia: This wasn’t just to blow smoke at the News Australia editors. Verity has won INMA awards and was featured in Newsroom Initiative master classes for a reason. It seems to work both to give journalists across a wide range of publications data on what is being read, when, where, and by whom, and to give intelligent and actionable signals.

Like Quality Reads but with a detailed dashboard of data to analyse, Verity taps into the journalistic motivation to get your copy read and understood and maybe keep you in a job.

“If a journalist breaks an incredible story, but no one is there to read it, did they really break an incredible story,” was how Soraiya Fuda, head of audience development at News Corp Australia described the essential motivation of getting the data and the story right to match the audience. 

News Corp Australia's Verity gives newsroom staff data on what/when/where/by whom content is read while also offering action items.
News Corp Australia's Verity gives newsroom staff data on what/when/where/by whom content is read while also offering action items.


It’s a simple but super-effective formula that ties the work to the goals and the reader. 

Language wars flare up at the BBC and online over Israel-Gaza

Theoretically, all of us in publishing — whether reporters, editors, managers, or for that matter people in the advertising or production arms of publishers — understand the importance of words and the dangers of using the wrong ones in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The BBC just walked into a storm over its long-standing advice, an explicit guide in fact, that reporters in the field, online, or in news bulletins should not use the word “terrorist” to describe those who commit acts of terror or extreme violence aimed at terrorising a population.

John Simpson, probably the BBC’s most experienced and certainly one of the bravest foreign correspondents, waded in online to defend the BBC against attacks from British Conservative politicians (including the Foreign and Defence Secretaries) about its reluctance to allow its staff — in their own voice as it were — to brand the Hamas gunmen who committed atrocities against civilians in Israel as “terrorists.” He encountered a wave of hostility and vitriol as well as some support, including from me, so I have now received some of the same stuff.

Simpson took to X, formerly Twitter, to defend BBC style rules on “terrorist.”


BBC correspondent John Simpson explains the media company's policy of not labeling groups "terrorists."
BBC correspondent John Simpson explains the media company's policy of not labeling groups "terrorists."

“Terrorism is a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally. It's simply not the BBC's job to tell people who to support and who to condemn  who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” Simpson wrote in an article on BBC online

The Newsroom Initiative is looking at the whole area of codes, style guides, playbooks, and checklists that the publishing industry uses or perhaps doesn’t use enough to guide its work — especially in areas like dangerous reporting but also in diversity. Such codes, when public, can also be an aid to lofty journalistic organisations being more transparent to readers. 

My initial focus was going to be on codes or guides or playbooks to drive adherence to goals or to improve workflow or deliver on business objectives. All of those matter, and we will deal with them comprehensively. If you have some you can share with me, please do. But the row over “terrorist” highlights the business and reputational risks of words and how we use them.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation walked into a similar controversy when a senior editor reminded staff it was policy there too not to use the word “terrorist” among other guidance related to the Israel-Gaza conflict, including describing the end of occupation in 2005.

Hamas is proscribed by the Canadian and UK governments as a “terrorist” organisation. Other countries, notably Norway where the Oslo peace process was gestated, do not.

The question of “terrorist” and other sometimes arcane but hot-button words is not limited to public broadcasters. Major international news agencies have long had the same explicit policy or just adopted it by osmosis. The Associated Press shifted ground on the word when many Americans couldn’t grasp the nuance after the 9/11 attacks. The AP also issued a comprehensive style note specifically on 9/11 and its remembrances.

In its report on the BBC controversy, The Times in London noted that many organisations it included, along with Sky News and others, also refrained from their own reporters using the word “terrorist” to label those who might have committed acts of terror. 

Again, to the outsider it can seem arcane but it matters when trying to avoid volatile or dangerous judgments. It also matters when news organisations have international reach and have reporters assigned to or living in the locations where alleged “terrorists” are based. It also goes to the heart of the necessary discussions about origins of conflict and asymmetric war.

The BBC's director of editorial policy and standards, David Jordan, told Radio 4’s The Media Show the rule in “terrorist” had been in place for many years and was intended to avoid a perception of bias, though that is what Jewish groups now accused the BBC of.

"It's about making sure that all audiences trust the information that we're giving them, that they don’t think the BBC is coming at this from one side of the conflict as opposed to the other, and that we steer a course though this in very difficult circumstances in which our journalism can continue to be factual, accurate, impartial and truthful,” the BBC quoted Jordan as saying.

When I was at Reuters for many years, especially when sending people into difficult situations, the use of the word “terrorist” was very much against style and practice for the same reasons the BBC has given and that many others adhere to. You can talk about the tactics of terror, an incident as terrorism but stop short, other than when quoting others, of “terrorist.”

My old Reuters Handbook for Journalists is clear or at least practical: “On this highly emotive issue, the media are always open to challenge. Do you call a gunman a terrorist or a freedom fighter?” In advice that might well have been superceded in a sense by the scale of terrorism seen since it was published in 1992, the guide suggests avoiding the word terrorist while referring to terrorism but only labelling a given person a terrorist in a quote.

That explicit rule is no longer referenced in the Reuters Standards & Values statement online.

I asked a Reuters spokesman if that advice still pertained (especially since I have this week seen many excellent Reuters reports which appear to steer judiciously away from the word “terrorist” while leaving no doubt as to how heinous the crimes committed in Israel were).

“Reuters’ guidance to its journalists is to ‘report the subjects of news stories objectively, describing their actions, identity and background.’ Reuters aims for a dispassionate use of language and avoids labels in favour of specificity consistent with the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles, so that individuals, organisations, and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts,” a spokesman told INMA, adding: “Reuters has more than 2,500 journalists around the world, many covering war and insurrection on either or both sides of disputes. The 172-year history of our news organisation and its reputation as a provider of unbiased and reliable news services has proven the value of our policies.”

What do you think and what are the policies in your organisation? Drop me a line to peter.bale@inma.org or come on the Newsroom Initiative Slack and let’s talk about it.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at peter.bale@inma.org or newsroom@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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