Ten digital news innovators recently came together to visit about current practices and future possibilities at a workshop hosted by the Engaging News Project.
The group, representing major television, newspaper, radio, and online-only newsrooms, discussed a wide range of topics including how they define success and connect with their audiences.
During the two-day workshop, participants shared their news organizations’ experiences with online metrics. Despite an overwhelming number of available metrics, page views still dominate. Participants, however, expressed interest in moving beyond page views to new engagement metrics, such as comprehension and offline engagement.
“Focus is often on time on site and repeat visits. Newsrooms and journalists, however, have an obligation to measure comprehension,” said Tom Negrete, Director of Innovation and News Operations at The Sacramento Bee. “In other words, can an individual understand what was just read in a news story? That is what we should be measuring.”
The news representatives also expressed frustration about comment sections. Workshop participants thought that greater newsroom involvement could help, yet acknowledged that it would be difficult to find a cure-all.
“I’m not remotely convinced that commenting is the right way to get people to interact,” said Mike Dyer, Chief Digital Officer of The Daily Beast. “I’m willing to say that most of us would say that the majority of comments on stories have no civic value, and certainly commenting overall has no business value. So the question is, what do you replace it with?”
Suggestions ranged from creating a comment section beat to making moderation policies more transparent.
Other observations from the workshop include:
- Although some news outlets are routinely involved in A/B testing their content, others are only beginning to explore the idea.
- Most outlets have segmentation strategies, but the strategies vary considerably from tailoring news platforms based on demographics to changing the content based on whether a person came to the site from social media or an aggregator.
- Participants honed in on humanizing different political perspectives as a way to reduce polarization. They also proposed tools to give people information about their own views and the views of others.
Project Team Members:
Joshua M. Scacco (PhD, The University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor of Media Theory & Politics in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. He also serves as a Research Associate for the Engaging News Project (ENP). He is interested broadly in the communicative role elites and organizations, including political leaders, journalists, and news outlets, play in American political life.
Alex Curry (MA, Brigham Young University) is a doctoral student in communication studies and an assistant instructor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include political communication and civic engagement, and he is particularly interested in how politicians use their own personal involvement with sports as a way to connect with voters. From 2005 to 2010, he served as a writer for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he’s not studying, Alex enjoys hiking with his wife and four children.
Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud
Talia Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the Director of the Engaging News Project at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News (Oxford, 2011), examines likeminded political media use and inspired this project. The book received the 2012 Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association. Stroud previously worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center; the name of this project is a H/T to Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s “E4″ work with local news in the 2002 midterms.