Numbers Do Matter: How Metrics are Changing the Reporting Game

April 17, 2014

Metrics in Journalism - New MediaThe New York Times recently published a story titled, “Risks Abound as Reporters Play in Traffic,” which looks at the growing effect metrics have on journalism and reporting. As the realities of the new media landscape settle in, metrics are now part of the news agenda, and news organizations are adapting by shifting their compensation and even editorial policies. More and more news outlets are now adopting “pay per click” compensation models based upon the number of stories produced. Some key takeaways from the article:

  • Not Just Digital Upstarts Manage Reporters by the Numbers: While the article cites such digital outlets as The Daily Caller and TheStreet.com as examples of news organizations that are moving toward “pay per click” compensation, it also states that many traditional news outlets are also moving in this direction. The Oregonian, the heralded home of many Pulitzer Prize-winning projects, is in the midst of reorganization based on a company-wide initiative to drive more web traffic, increase page views and increase the number of daily posts. New policies require reporters to post new articles three times a day and to post the first comment under any significant article.
  • Metrics Will Have Significant Effect on News Itself: Now that everything can be measured, reporters have to keep an eye on both the quality of stories they write and the number of clicks their stories generate, a juxtaposition of two factors that often pull writers in opposite directions. Reporters have to find the fine balance between traditional reporting of informative stories and today’s buzzy “listicles” and quizzes that often yield a high number of clicks and audience engagement but “on an informational level… are mostly empty calories.”
  • “Journalism’s Status as a Profession is Up for Grabs”:  A viral story is no longer based on the credentials of the individual or organization writing the article. In today’s media ecosystem, readers decide what is important and worthy of sharing with their networks, and often times viral content is generated by the audience and not the reporter. There are a growing number of media outlets that are launching new platforms where anybody can publish a blog post, with monetary incentives for those who produce content that drive web traffic.

So what does this all mean for us place marketers?

1. We can no longer ignore the power of digital media. While the “traditional” print media will always have its place in the world of economic development marketing, the exponential growth in the digital space and the growing impact it has on reporters, their bosses and readership have evolved the role of digital media coverage from “good to have” to “must have.”

2. When pitching reporters our locations and story ideas, we need to be sensitive to the changes in their industry and how these changes alter their story needs. While our focus should be on informative story angles, to compete in today’s media environment we also need to find ways to pitch our communities with a potential viral twist in mind. Take for instance how Chattanooga faced off against Iron Man and won.

3. As many news organizations are placing quotas on the number of articles journalists need to produce during a period of time, there is more “editorial space” to fill, which means there is a growing pool of editorial opportunities and digital platforms to cover our locations.

What are your thoughts on the effects of metrics-based compensation for reporters?

Written by Judy Lee

Judy Lee is an account director at DCI. She joined the firm 2012, bringing more than 10 years of public relations, communications and marketing experience. Since joining DCI Judy has worked with a diverse portfolio of destination clients including Chattanooga, Columbus, Northwest Arkansas, City of El Paso and Thailand.

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