How data is making journalism smarter than ever
We saw this last week and thought it was a dead interesting insight into the world of Journalism and how things have changed.
Journalism isn’t dying; it’s getting smarter than ever. As newspaper circulation collapsed with the reign of digital, things seemed bleak for the traditional idea of the press. (Between 2001 and 2009, nearly one in five newspaper journalists had already lost their jobs, and the newsroom workforce shrunk another 10% in 2014.) But journalists have been key innovators during the exponential growth of the Web, blazing trails and staking claims to keep the essential profession as current and changing as the times we live in. It’s a hell of a comeback story, driven by a simple, almost painfully obvious resource: Data. What the winners have in common is a super-powered understanding of what readers want (and how they want it) — and a willingness to evolve or die.
“Print journalism was very ‘push.’ Journalists were writing what they wanted to write or what they felt was important. Now, it’s about ‘pull,’” explains Cavan Sieczkowski, Deputy Director of News and Analytics at Huffington Post. “A trends writer can riff off content that is resonating with audiences based on engagement data, and can continue to follow more story angles around the topics that are driving the most reaction.” Instead of the editor dictating the calendar, it’s about giving the reader more of a say. “Pulling editorial ideas from the audience’s reaction is what makes for the best content. We don’t just adhere to a hard and fast idea of what content we will print and publish. We adapt.”
Adapting is key when more readers are opting to get their news and information from the echo chamber of social media, often choosing to surround themselves with voices that reinforce — as opposed to challenge — their existing beliefs. Walled gardens serving up story after story that machines predict will get the greatest engagement have critics questioning how much algorithms shaped the results of the 2016 election. “People are selecting what they put into their social feed. They’re becoming their own editors,” Cavan says. “It’s not search engine-driven anymore. People find news on their social media accounts, and engage with conversations they care about.”
Understanding readers’ values guides journalists on how to make content more personalized, impactful and informative. “The data from our Voices section showed that the content that resonated with readers the most wasn’t straight-up political news. It was the political content that had an angle, and stories that took a stance.” And in the case of Huffington Post and outlets like it, it’s real journalism about these provocative topics — a far cry from clickbait sites that benefit from algorithmic juice despite their questionable sourcing and ethics.
Data is the most valuable resource journalists have in the quest for audience relevance, and harnessing its power is a critical force for change. Not just the kind of change that impacts business models and bottom lines, but change that makes a difference in the voices we read, watch and hear in those important cultural moments when we turn to journalism to help us understand our world.