Data can help newsrooms understand and serve their audiences, but first journalists and editors need to use it. We created our Topic Editor Dashboard (TED) to focus our editors’ efforts on the stories that most engage our subscribers and to learn from those that don’t. Next came a dashboard for our reporters called My Story.
The widespread use of TED has resulted in us publishing fewer articles while growing subscriber pageviews — we do less but better. From June 2021 to July 2022, we published 13% fewer articles across The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, WAtoday, and Brisbane Times than in the same prior period. At the same time, our subscriber pageviews grew 13%.
TED, which won INMA’s best practice award in 2021, works because it is easy to access and understand. As our data engineering manager and one of the creators of TED, Joe Fenton, often reminds us: Individuals need to know how data relates to their own work and how they can act on it.
It was this key principle that informed our new My Story dashboard for reporters.
We applied TED’s subscriber pageview benchmarks to individual journalists’ stories.
Each journalist gets the same link to the dashboard, but when they open it, they can only see their own performance. We didn’t want the dashboards to feel like a competition and, in the process, alienate reporters. We wanted them to feel ownership of their dashboards and consider them a helpful tool, not a punitive yardstick.
My Story shows a reporter how their stories have performed against their topic’s static benchmarks, which have been calculated on their previous year’s actuals. Then, each article falls into one of four colour-coded benchmarks (green, blue, orange, or red) for whatever time period they choose to select. Reporters can also see the number of articles they have written during that time, average subscriber views per article, average total views per one of their articles, and the average time subscribers spent on one of their articles. These metrics are also detailed for each story.
My Story empowers reporters to make informed editorial decisions by allowing them to easily see which of their stories have engaged readers and which haven’t, offering insights into why.
After seeing in which coloured zone a story has fallen, they can click on a headline to be taken to our Story of a Story dashboard, which offers a deep dive into a single article.
Story of a Story shows if an article was promoted on one of our home pages, where on the home page, for how long, and what it looked like with a screenshot for every time it appeared. Reporters can see where readers found their story (such as through search, social, or newsletters), the percentage of readers who were subscribers, which devices they were on, and how long they spent on the article.
During a trial of My Story, some reporters asked for more information on the overall performance of their topic for wider context, so My Story includes those metrics, too.
More than 200 reporters across The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, WAtoday, Brisbane Times, and Australian Financial Review now have their own personalised dashboard and been trained in how to use it.
Journalists are raising and discussing the insights they find in their dashboards with their topic editors and digital desks. Their discoveries inform our coverage — from how we tell a story to the way we promote it.
- Journalists can see if a “red story” has been let down by its presentation and consider updating it with a new headline or image. One AFR story that had gone unpromoted on the home page was repitched with the help of a Slack channel dedicated to workshopping headlines. Its new headline landed it on the home page and quadrupled its original subscriber pageviews.
- One reporter shared how My Story allowed him to identify opportunities to engage with younger readers: “It was really insightful to see the biggest traffic for a story on Gen Z came from Google, which came from a caption on a TikTok we made about it. Just fascinating and so helpful!”
- Underperforming issues we believe are too important not to cover are being presented in different article formats and with more impressive imagery.
Data will never be our only consideration when making editorial decisions. However, with TED, My Story, and Story of a Story, everyone in our newsrooms can easily learn from audience insights. The dashboards are tools that make data relevant to our reporters, and editors and, in turn, are helping to improve our journalism by connecting us to our audience.