How journalists can mine website analytics for stories

by Nicole Martinelli
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

Looking at the backend of your blog or organization's website to see what your readers are searching for is a great way get a scoop.

Indefatigable Homicide Watch D.C. founder Laura Amico has been mining the data from search queries on her site to stay one step ahead of the competition.

In one example, Amico, who talked about her analytics-based reporting in a podcast with, spotted a couple of similar search terms for a name while looking through Google Analytics one Sunday morning.

She took that information to Twitter and Facebook and within a few hours tracked down and confirmed the name of a homicide victim and enough details about the murder to write a post which ran more than a day before the police issued a statement about it.

Being first is what journalism has always been about, but Amico says it's about more than that.

"While reporting and publishing, I was providing a public service. I made a place for Jamar’s uncle to ask for help. For his teachers to share memories. For his friends to comfort one another.  And that’s what reporting on Homicide Watch is all about."

If you work in a newsroom for a large media company, gaining access to those analytics can change the slant or type of coverage about an issue, too. Fox News changed its coverage of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting when it emerged from reader search patterns that people were more interested in learning about her than about the gunman, said Tony Haile, the CEO of real-time analytics service Chartbeat.

"Using analytics as a reporting tool is so dead simple that it sometimes amazes me," Amico notes on a Tumblr post about how it works.

The truly amazing part: that more journalists aren't doing it yet.