Measuring journalism’s impact

To supplement a conversation we are having on Block by Block Resource Network on Facebook about how to measure impact of a newsroom, here’s some thoughts that recently flew by on a recent Carnival of Journalism thread.

Jessica Binsch, Digital Journalist:

Hi Carnies, how much do we love the fact that one of our jcarn-topics will now be explored in more depth by the New York Times? They got funding from the Knight-Mozialla News challenge to research a better metric for measuring journalism, which Greg proposed as a topic a few months back. Not surprisingly, he’s also behind this attempt. Writes Aron Pilhofer: “The project our Knight-Mozilla fellow will help tackle was hatched in January during a bus ride to the Austin airport with news brainiac (and karaokaholic) Greg Linch. He had just written a terrific post on his blog, The Linchpen, about the need for more sophisticated metrics to measure the success or failure of journalism online. I’d been thinking about the same problem, but Greg crystalized the challenge and the opportunity perfectly.In his words: “So, what if we measured journalism by its impact? (…)The ideal outcome would be a suite of open-source tools, techniques and best practices that, in aggregate, help all of us understand readers better and enhance the impact of our journalism. At a bare minimum, we hope to start asking the right questions.”

Denise Cheng, Journalism Accelerator [?]:

This is awesome! There seems like a lot of overlap between what NYT proposes to do and what Joy Mayer explored during her Reynolds fellowship.

She interviewed many journalists and technologists to triangulate a definition of engagement, and in spring 2011, she and Reuben Stern convened around 30 practitioners from all over the country to survey different engagement tactics, how they were beginning to measure those or how they’d flesh out those metrics. It led to a white paper. It’s such a great spring board that I hope Aron and Greg tap her for her insights.


Sally Duros, Indie journalist:

I have been saying this all along. I don’t think advertising is all of the equation for funding journalism, which is “birthing” itself right now. I don’t think journalism really knows what it is.  I’m not sure the world knows what journalism is! As I wrote last week in a post about SEO …. 

Local news is about telling stories  to inform, educate and ultimately help build stronger connections in a community. Its simpler for content marketers. Content marketers are using the tactics of newsrooms — storytelling — to attract clients for something they do.  While newsrooms are using their storytelling expertise to attract clients  — businesses, churches, theaters, restaurants — to help build a platform for more storytelling through community news, ads, events and more. So, once again, I am right! 🙂

Jan Schaffer, JLab: 

Aron’s interests ring true with us at J-Lab and echo some of the frustrations we surfaced in our “Engaging Audiences”  report and suggest there might be a correlation between impact and genuine audience engagement: key takeawaysSocial media connectors such as Facebook and Twitter were highly valued, but they were primarily used to alert users to new stories or information. New analytical tools gave these news startups some useful data, but survey respondents said their top metric for measuring engagement was still website usage – unique visitors and page views. Many expressed dissatisfaction with the information they get.“We feel these numbers only give us part of the information we need,” said one respondent. “We’re interested not just in breadth of engagement but more in depth of engagement.”Even though data on depth and stickiness of audience engagement were missing, creative ideas were not. In more than 1,300 open-ended comments, respondents described many resourceful strategies they are using to involve their audiences in community issues and information.Many of these ideas extend beyond conventional definitions of engagement as audience interactions with content. At least four types of engagement surfaced in the survey responses, but how well the respondents optimized these engagement strategies varied by organization.

They include:

  • Engagement as outreach, driving users to consume content.
  • Engagement as reaction, inviting users to comment, share, like and chat.
  • Engagement as stakeholder participation, getting users to contribute stories, time, funding.
  • Engagement as civic participation, activating audience members to address community issues.

Sally Duros, Indie journalist:

Engagement as civic participation, activating audience members to address community issues.

Thanks for this, Jan. So much to read!   It is this last point that always grabs my attention as I think about engagement. In classical marketing, you can talk all you want, spread the word etc, but what is treasured is the outcome, moving a customer to act, to buy. In journalism, talking about, sharing the news is part of the equation but what is the desired outcome? In my thinking, it is to get community members to engage with each other “on the ground” and to act on the ground, about the things they care about in community – from the new restaurant on the corner to the schools to the trash pickup. Journalism’s role has always been to stir the pot and create activity that ads can be sold against. But now it seems we are getting to the core competency of journalism – engagement. When I interviewed Tim O’Reilly for 435 Digital he told me about the next generation of technology that will measure activity on the ground and translate it into online juice. He was not talking about 4square. He was talking about something deeper.  That was a year ago might be time to revisit that issue. It didn’t make it into my story…..

Jan Schaffer, JLab :
You know your journalism has had impact when people start participating in more than just your website, facebook page, blog or twitter feed.  🙂

Sally Duros, Indie journalist:

Brilliantly said! 🙂

Michael Rosenblum, RosemblumTV:

If you can’t create a profitable business around your journalism, then the rest of the discussion is moot.

 Sally Duros, Indie journalist: 

Agreed, Michael. What I am saying is that the ways that money can be made for the journalism business are nascent but under development. I believe we will see a clear way forward. We’re just not there yet.


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Sally Duros believes good writing is a superpower. You can connect with Sally on , and on Twitter.