Most of today’s newsrooms measure audience engagement. You do this with articles by looking at pageviews, quality reads, and time spent. You do this with your customers by measuring RFV (recency, frequency, volume). You do this with video and podcasts by checking viewing and listening time. You do it for front page performance by measuring the click-through rate (CTR).
You do all of this to gain knowledge on how to change your newsrooms’ actions or product design to improve — to develop better journalism and products.
At the local Swedish media conglomerate NTM, we launched some award-winning dashboards in 2021. Through these, we give editors and reporters performance insights on articles and videos.
In our data evolution, we have gone from hunting all pageviews to solely measuring subscriber pageviews. And, we have gone from solely measuring subscriber pageviews to showcasing if articles have actually been read through. When it comes to video, we have gone from measuring the number of started videos to solely showing the number of videos watched at least halfway through.
All of this elaboration and tweaking of data is important. The better we can display the truth of journalistic quality and genuine audience engagement, the better data functions as a tool to make the right kind of changes.
Like most news outlets, our local newsrooms struggle in attracting younger subscribers. In our case, I’m sad to say, “young” falls in the 30- to 50-year-old age range. Nevertheless, we need to be able to identify what that group of people appreciates and engages with.
If we just look at data from all users, we will probably steer our changes based upon older peoples’ interests, since there are more “old” people than “young” people in our subscriber base.
You need to be able to do two things: First, you must adapt and change your journalistic content to hit sweet spots for your target group. And, second, you also have to take into account the overall behaviour of all customers to keep engagement numbers as a whole high enough.
During 2023, we tried to find a way to handle this challenge and integrate a visualisation of engagement outcomes for our specific target group for our newsrooms in our dashboards.
We wanted to give the newsrooms a constant understanding of what kind of journalism was best for people aged 30-50 years old. We realised we needed to create something that was easy to understand and easy to talk about. We also needed to find a way to measure this without having absolute numbers affected by growth in numbers of customers.
With these kinds of challenges top of mind, we decided to identify quality for the specified target group by measuring CTR on every article. If an article receives more than 50% CTR in the subscriber group of 30-50 years old, then it could be considered a good article. Because all subscribers reading on our Web sites require a login, we can easily track that value in real-time.
We needed to integrate this knowledge into our existing dashboards in an easy and smooth way, without creating too much change and complexity. With that in mind, we decided to keep everything looking just as before and only introduce one more column. If an article overperforms on CTR in the age group, we display a star symbol for that article.
Doing this means journalists can easily see what articles are “star articles,” a very natural symbol for indicating something is good. The newsroom lingo has now developed around this addition, and people are talking about how many star articles we got last week or whether a particular piece received a star or not.
Of course, this kind of impact is super important if you want data to create actual change in newsrooms’ daily work.
Who doesn’t want to become the star reporter of the week?