Newsrooms are inundated with metrics of impact… today, there exist just too many data points for online activity.
For any story, we know:
- The number of page views
- The number of unique visitors
- Where those visitors are
- What time they read the news
- How far they scroll down the page
- How many elements they click within a page.
With deeper analytics we know their age, gender, and even what they are shopping for online.
We also know how many likes, shares, and views a post gets on Facebook and Instagram. We know who is tweeting with which handles, hashtags, and keywords.
But we still don’t understand what the data means in terms of tangible impact for a newsroom.
Is measuring reach, attention, and engagement — measuring the impact of your journalism? The model and technology are not yet there to measure the impact of a story on behavior and policy.
How Do You Define the Social Impact of Journalism?
To do that we must first circle back to our ambition — our mission statement as a newsroom.
How do you see impact? Would it always be in relation to your news mission? Is it ad revenue impact — that allows you to stay afloat? In which case is the newsroom first a business? (The Quint’s aim shifted from beating big legacy to now focussing on journalism of change). Is it to build trust in news at a time of deficit? Is it to play a role of the fourth estate in a democracy?
At The Quint we do three things — we measure attention for business, focus on real tangible impact of individual stories on society and track the sentiment of immeasurable but slow shifts.
The first one is easy. The clearly measurable web analytics dashboards give us the reach and engagement metrics — but we are aware that these measure ATTENTION — so we LISTEN to the social media response from our users, and we look carefully at the Google Analytics and Chartbeat on depth of consumption. These metrics do not significantly change the direction of our journalism editorially — we don’t change the choice of stories but look at telling the same story better, which formats are working better — how to get readers/viewers better engaged with the journalism we think is important to a democracy.
At The Quint, we are proud that our reporting often results in either societal changes or it makes a difference in a citizen’s life. The impact that we strive for is:
- Structural — change could be an institution changing how it works, policy impacts, educational impact, a story that changes the direction of scientific research or a change in law.
- Community — Citizen Journalism itself is a partnership between media and the citizen. Journalists can’t be everywhere, but citizens can — a citizen alone may not be able to bring about change but the power of media gets doors to authorities to open. The Quint’s Citizen Journalism project is MY REPORT. Similarly, WEBQOOF is more than a fact check. It is also about media literacy — reaching the underserved with facts that bust misinformation.
- Making a difference to the individual. (Example: Choti Nirbhaya)
However, there is the slow, subliminal, as yet not measurable impact of journalism.
What, for example, is the value of a comment online? Has someone’s opinion been changed if they have liked a post on Facebook or Instagram or retweeted? Or the value impact of someone watching a documentary or reading an opinion piece or engaging with an interactive immersive?
It is still very difficult to assess the impact of a given story on journalism per se. What reporting did it trigger by other journalists and media? Did it change the course of reporting? The potential real-world outcomes this could bring are just as important — shifting public debate for discourse or changing a citizen’s voting preferences is — likely to have deeper political and social impact… but as far as I know, there is no way, yet, to measure this impact in a tangible.
We also can’t claim direct and sole impact on much of our reporting, but doing repeated stories did possibly press governments to act and a few lives may have been saved.
The Forever Debate
Should journalists be concerned about impact? And how?
I trawled the internet and chatted with senior editors in my newsroom to see what kind of questions are being raised on focusing on impact.
- Is it really the role of a journalist to always have an impact? Should stories be chosen only if they target impact? (My newsroom says no — impact is a bonus side effect.)
- When there is an impact — how can we assume journalism was the sole catalyst – when often it is a factor along with governmental or larger societal forces at play?
While attention metrics can be analyzed and insights shared with stakeholders towards business goals, the challenge is in the communication of the as-yet immeasurable impact of journalism.
This story was originally published on WAN-IFRA and is an edited version of a presentation Ritu Kapur gave at the Asian Editors Summit in Singapore in November. The meeting was coordinated by the World Editor’s Forum Asian Chapter and was sponsored by the Google News Initiative.
Rita Kapur is the co-founder and CEO of the Indian news site The Quint as well as a World Editors Forum board member. She previously worked for A+E and CNN IBN.