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The California Journalism Preservation Act would do more harm than good. Here’s how the state might better help news
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Feb. 28, 2024, 12:39 p.m.
Audience & Social

The No. 1 most-clicked story on The Guardian’s U.S. site right now: “Alabama IVF ruling leaves Republicans stuck between their base and the broader public.” The most “deeply read” story, however, is on a very different topic: “Dune v Dune: do Denis Villeneuve’s films stay true to the book?

“Deeply Read,” a feature launched Wednesday, “uses attention time to surface a wider range of journalism that other readers are spending more time with,” The Guardian said:

It appears on our regionalised home pages and reflects the interests of the region’s audience.

Not all of these pieces are long. To power the list we created a metric that looks at the attention time from readers compared with the length of the piece. This means that the list is diverse in terms of topic, length and format.

With news publishers increasingly relying on subscription revenue rather than advertising, engagement is becoming a more important metric. Expanding the kinds of “top” lists can also help publishers promote discovery within their own sites. The Guardian’s ranking gauges “active time spent” on a story, Chris Moran, the Guardian’s head of editorial innovation, explained to me via Twitter DM.

“The metric is a long-term internal one in Ophan [The Guardian’s internal analytics system] called the attention benchmark and it’s very simple,” he said. “It takes active reading time, takes into account the length of the article, and gives us a score out of five clocks. So five clocks is ‘this is a great reading time for this length!’ and one clock is ‘this isn’t great for this length.”

“We’ve had this for a number of years internally to help us see less reach-y pieces that really work with a smaller audience,” he added. “And for many years I’ve wanted to share it with readers because it highlights such great journalism and little off the beaten track of trending topics. To be clear it still matters to show people what is popular, but we love showing them something more.”

To create the “Deeply Read” list for the public, a little more work was needed. “We get a lot of pageviews to random or older articles with very high attention times that would look odd or irrelevant,” Moran said. “So [for the list] we only look at recent articles (within 24 hours), we judge it on eight hours of reader data, and we ignore anything with very low interest. That recipe means the journalism surfaced is interesting, different, but not out of date or irrelevant.”

The “Deeply Read” list prompted me to poke around other publishers’ sites to see how they’re ranking articles. The Wall Street Journal breaks out “Most Popular News” and “Most Popular Opinion. ” And The New York Times’ Trending page shows not just the most popular stories but the most watched Times videos, most popular NYT Cooking recipes, most e-mailed articles, most popular articles from the previous week, and most popular articles on Facebook.

If you’ve seen other interesting rankings, let us know.

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