The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism

Newsroom Analytics

While traffic data analytics and behavioral advertising aren’t directly involved in gathering data for investigations or publishing visualizations, they are now an integral part of digital journalism. Understanding who is interacting with a story, and how, informs the way future coverage can be extended and delivered. Washington, D.C. is the epicenter for all kinds of data journalism these days, from politics to policy. Since Homicide Watch launched in 2009, it earned praise and interest from around the digital world, including a profile by the Nieman Lab at Harvard University that asked whether a local blog “could fill the gaps of D.C.’s homicide coverage.”58Homicide Watch has turned up a number of unreported murders.In the process, the site has also highlighted an important emerging set of data that other digital editors should consider: using inbound search-engine analytics for reporting.59the Poynter Institute, Homicide Watch used clues in site search queries to ID a homicide victim.60wife team behind Homicide Watch is an important case study into why organizing beats may well hold similar importance in investigative projects.61established media institutions like the Financial Times,62Times, however, is still in its relatively early days.In an interview during the spring of 2014, Aron Pilhofer, associate managing editor for digital strategy at the New York Times, told me they had just launched a newsroom analytics team. The kinds of projects we’re doing there are entirely editorial. They are not tied to advertising at all. Right now, many newsrooms are stupid about the way they publish. They’re tied to a legacy model, which means that some of the most impactful journalism will be published online on Saturday afternoon, to go into print on Sunday. You could not pick a time when your audience is less engaged. It will sit on the homepage, and then sit overnight, and then on Sunday a homepage editor will decide it’s been there too long or decide to freshen the page, and move it lower.I feel strongly, and now there is a growing consensus, that we should make decisions like that based upon data. Who will the audience be for a particular piece of content? Who are they? What do they read? That will lead to a very different approach to being a publishing enterprise.Knowing our target audience will dictate an entirely differently rollout strategy. We will go from a “publish” to a “launch.” It will also lead us in a direction that is inevitable, where we decouple the legacy model from the digital. At what point do you decide that your digital audience is as important”or more important”than print?As Pilhofer allowed, this is a lesson that online publishers started applying a decade ago. It’s time to catch up. “Listening to your readers is as old as publishing letters to the editor,” wrote Owen Thomas, editor-in-chief of ReadWrite. “What’s new is that Web analytics create an implicit conversation that is as interesting as the explicit one we’ve long been able to have.”63