The Black Market for Data
Not all reporters were content to depend on editors for exposure to metrics. Some described participating in a kind of black market for analytics, in which they found ways to sidestep the newsroom’s policies and access data on their stories. Social connections to newsroom staffers who had regular access to analytics could be useful in this regard. As a reporter explained:
I don’t have a [Chartbeat] account, but I do like to look over the shoulder of the [web producer] that sits in front of me who does, and he and I have great conversations about what the traffic means and what the traffic patterns are and where our traffic’s coming from, you know, all that sort of [thing]. ’Cause he’s a web producer, so he has access to it and sees it.
Some reporters also made use of freely available tools, such as bit.ly and Topsy, to monitor the social media response to their stories. In addition, I spoke to a small number of reporters who had retained access to analytics from when they inhabited other roles within the organization. According to one such reporter:
The only reason I have access to the metrics is because I still have tools that I used when I worked in [a tech department], and so I can go in and see kind of what’s going on …But most reporters wouldn’t know their story got 20 page views or 20 million.
Indeed, when making the case to executive editor Dean Baquet for wider access to metrics in the newsroom, the Innovation Report team argued that many reporters were finding their own ways to access metrics; without comprehensive data and training to help them make sense of it, they said, there was a greater chance of troubling misinterpretations.