Data has many advantages for newsrooms — and some limitations

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


The first two years of the INMA Newsroom Initiative, now the Newsroom Transformation Initiative, spoke to the importance of data literacy across newsrooms and of using data to smartly influence decisions. We’ll talk more about that this year, including what metrics matter. 

For instance, Northwestern University’s Medill Spiegel Research Center in the United States has been tracking 35 data points from more than 100 publishers in its Subscriber Engagement Index. Larry DeGaris, executive director of the Spiegel Research Center, tells me that far and away, the most important metric to predict subscriber churn is regularity — meaning the number of days in a month that a subscriber visits. 

Among the largest publishers it tracks, the average subscriber visited 4.45 days per month from June to November 2023. How might we think about regularity in our newsrooms and how can our content mix encourage readers to come back on more days of the month? 

We’ll also talk about some of the important predictors of success that can’t be measured by traditional metrics — and how some companies are building tools to get at those answers.

For instance, Antwerp, Belgium-based Mediahuis introduced the concept of Article DNA to its newsrooms to understand the characteristics that connect stories with audiences. All journalists are now responsible for including the elements of story nature, genre, and user need at the front-end of the story planning process. 

Yves Van Dooren, a data science business partner for newsrooms for Mediahuis, tells me that the findings have led to conversations in the newsroom such as: “We need to publish an inspirational story” and not “We need a story for page A5.” 

Van Dooren also warns that data can be overused, meaning a newsroom may focus only on growing pageviews by publishing stories on specific topics, which is not a long-term strategy for meeting audience needs. 

It’s critical that we use data directionally, understand what it tells us and what it can’t tell us about what our readers want from us.

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About Amalie Nash

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