Nowadays, reporters can measure their story's impact using plenty of tools. But for some journalists, all of these metrics from so many sources can be overwhelming, and at times, the numbers can even be discouraging.
Traffic-wise, it’s doubtful your investigative story that took months to complete will ever outperform a jarring entertainment story or coverage of a major sports event.
Do lackluster page views mean your story didn’t make an impact? Most likely the answer is no, but you’ll have to dig deeper to prove to your editors — and yourself — that your story was worth the time.
“You have to treat the 'story' of your story just like any other story that you do,” Dana Chinn, the director of the University of Southern California’s Media Impact Project, told Online News Association (ONA) conference-goers last week. “You have to research it. You have to get the data. You have to cultivate sources, and you have to prove it. Prove that you made a difference. Prove that you wrote a story that matters.”
Chinn’s ONA session, “Meaningful Measurement: An Audience-First Approach to Data,” focused on three numbers journalists can use to get a fuller picture of their work's impact:
Find the person behind the page view. Think about the key people your story could have affected and make sure they’ve seen the story. If it’s a public or company official who needs to see it, email them or mail them a clipping. You can also follow up to see if any changes were made because of the article you wrote. If someone implemented a change, that means someone worthwhile read your story.
“It only takes one person to make a difference,” Chinn said. “It doesn’t matter if your story has a million page views, if the story didn’t impact someone … [or] go to the people for whom it mattered most.”
Use tools at your disposal to determine if a reader made a second click on the page.
Maybe your story included a video, data visualization or a link to another report you did on the same topic. Consider how long the person spent on the page or how far they scrolled through the story before exiting. And don’t forget to examine the bounce rate, Chinn said.
“Bounce rate is: I came, I saw, I puked,” she said. “All it takes is one lousy second click to reduce your bounce rate.”
Chinn encouraged journalists and editors to “spend 15 minutes a day doing what it takes to tell the complete story of your story.”
This will include extra time devoted to looking at analytics. It will require you to keep a folder of feedback you’ve received through emails, letters or social media. All this time will make you more aware of what happened after your story was published and shape future follow-ups. Those 15 minutes could also help you understand your audience better. After all, there’s always the slight possibility that your story didn’t perform well because it didn’t connect with readers.
“Ninety-nine percent of your time should be spent on journalism,” Chinn said. “On researching, reporting, developing sources, analyzing data, writing, shooting, editing, coding, engaging on social media — everything that is essential to journalism today. I’m asking you now, to add audience analytics to what is essential to journalism.”
“These are not metrics of the moment,” she continued. “These are the metrics that show you the complete story of your story. Your story’s life isn’t over in one day.”
Audience analytics can be overwhelming, Chinn acknowledged, but know you’re not alone. There are resources available to help. USC’s Media Impact Project has guides targeted toward different types of journalism and organizations:
- Offline Impact Indicators Glossary, written in partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), which also has a useful "Impact Framework" guide
- Offline Impact Indicators for Documentary Film
- Metrics for Nonprofit News Organizations
- Impact Assessment for Nonprofit News Projects and Their Funders
See Chinn's full presentation by watching the video.
Main image © USC Annenberg.