The Subculture of Online-only Sections

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their lack of prestige relative to the print edition, online-only sections and roles had quite a different orientation to metrics. While editors and reporters alike bristled at the notion of assigning traditional news stories based solely on traffic predictions, traffic was a major consideration when deciding which interactive features and blogs to create, cut, or expand. A reporter recalled the rationale for the construction of an elaborate interactive feature:

After studying the idea for a while, they calculated maybe it would be worth doing, ’cause even though it would take a certain number of person-hours to build, it will get enough traffic to justify it. And so that’s the type of decision that [the interactive] group would make, because …the deep, sophisticated things they’re only gonna build if they think they’re gonna get a lot of traffic.

For the print staff, the higher one’s status in the organization, the greater one’s access to metrics. This correlation did not apply to online-only teams and roles. Though web producers are usually junior relative to the rest of the editorial staff, for example, they had unfettered access to traffic data. So did staffers who built interactive features. An editor explained:

The people working on the projects have the most direct access to data …and [the interactive team editors] get those numbers from them. And actually even across Google Analytics and other things, it’s usually the folks closest to the project that are looking at that data and kind of bubbling up the things from it.

At first glance, the circumscribed role of analytics at The Times seems to indicate that the organization does not find audience data important or relevant to its work. But these findings demonstrate that The Times’s restrictive policies around metrics do not primarily stem from a dismissive attitude toward analytics. Rather, the phenomena described here—the newsroom’s system of tiered access to metrics, editors’ selective disclosure of data, and reporters’ efforts to obtain metrics via alternative methods—are acknowledgments of the seductive power of metrics, and illustrations of the newsroom’s ambivalent and apprehensive relationship to that power.

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