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Here’s what ProPublica learned about managing a collaboration across hundreds of news organizations
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May 22, 2017, 1:31 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: gannett-my.sharepoint.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Ricardo Bilton   |   May 22, 2017

When it comes to metrics and measurement, digital publishing has brought both the good and the bad. While news organizations are now able to see, with increasingly accuracy and depth, exactly which stories resonate with readers, metrics have also taken an outsize role in determining which stories reporters are encouraged to chase. That’s often bad news for important investigative stories that are unlikely to draw big audiences.

The effect, however, might be less significant than many assume, according to a small study. Paul D’Ambrosio, director of news and investigations at New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press, recently polled almost 100 reporters (many of them active in IRE and NICAR) to study the relationship between metrics pressures and watchdog journalism across newsrooms. The results? Metrics matter, but less than you might think. Nearly 54 percent of reporters agree or strongly agreed with the notion that watchdog stories do well, metrics-wise. Only about 15 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed (with the remainder neither agreeing or disagreeing).

Most reporters (76 percent) also disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I always seek stories that will boost my web metrics”; 53 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I only feel my manager is only concerned about me growing my web metrics” (versus 23 percent who agreed or strongly agreed).

Other questions, which D’Ambrosio’s compiled into a variable to measure reporters’ overall concern about metrics, included “I rely on web-based audience feedback to help me make editorial decisions in my stories,” “I avoid stories that I feel will not perform well on the web, even though I think they may be important for the public to know about,” and “I have seen my story web metrics grow over the last 12 months.”

Of course, it’s a small survey, and a group of reporters drawn heavily from IRE and NICAR is likely to be unrepresentative in ways that skew in the direction of investigative reporting. But the takeaway, said D’Ambrosio, is straightforward: “Reporters may feel empowered to pursue watchdog stories, perhaps out of a sense of duty and because the idea of being a journalist attracts community-minded people to the business,” he wrote in the report.

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