The problem with metrics is that we really only compete with ourselves, at least on a daily basis. With only our own numbers for comparison, we’re always #winning.
A few months ago, our head of audience engagement came to me with a program called Spike, which gauges how your social engagement compares to others, based on stories, topics, geography, among other parameters. It only took a few weeks before it became clear what was happening when other outlets, especially local television stations, beat us: They were there. The reverse was often true: When we had reporters and photographers posting from the scene, our stories tended to be shared more widely than the competition.
In 2016, let the reporting revolution begin.
After years of “hot takes” on everything from the blue/gold dress to Cecil the Lion, audience fatigue with the echo chamber has set in. And algorithmic changes in both search and social mean the stories rising to the top are often those with robots fueling them — not the best journalists.
This actually bodes well for legacy outlets. (Disclosure time: 2015 happens to be the year that I left the digitally native Quartz for the 134-year-old Los Angeles Times.)
Shoe-leather reporting is rewarded because it represents the best of the Internet: authenticity, intimacy, access, an emotional connection. It ensures that the mission will endure — and, in ever-crowded and exhausting landscapes, distinguish us.
This represents a significant competitive advantage for local outlets. Six months ago, the Los Angeles Times began chronicling the broken, bankrupt city of San Bernardino. A few weeks ago, as assailants in Paris and Mali allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” we did a video on what the words actually mean. Hours after publishing, reports emerged that two people had opened fire on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. You know the rest.
The fact that we had already “been there” throughout the year with the multi-faceted subjects of this emerging story set us up for the authoritative work our team has produced over the last few weeks.
When the Internet goes crazy over a story, the natural inclination of this newsroom is to, well, check it out. So that’s how we discovered that a wave of fires at black churches in the South were actually not arson. Remember the hoax about the glitter you could ship to your enemies? Or that story about the company guaranteeing all employees $70,000? The followups underscore that trending stories don’t have to be void of reporting. In newsrooms like ours, journalists can’t help but bring the skepticism and straightforwardness readers are currently craving.
I predict 2016 will force journalism brands to define themselves anew. With diminished resources and sharper focus, few newspapers are resting on any laurels. But we can rest on one: actual reporting was committed to bring you our journalism. And that’s #winning over audiences.
S. Mitra Kalita is managing editor for editorial strategy at the Los Angeles Times.