Is my audience growing?
Is my audience engaged?
The first one is much simpler to measure. Are your unique visitors increasing? And if so, where are they increasing? Starting from the top that can be overall site visitors. You can drill down to specific beats or shows as well. Even more specifically, you can see if certain bylines drive traffic more than others. Like I said, this is the easy one to measure. The next one involves much more individualized goals.
When you start discussing engagement with the newsroom, start by asking each reporter or editor or producer:
What are you trying to accomplish?
Follow that up with:
How would you know if you were successful?
So the first question results in the GOAL. The second question results in the METRIC.
There is a tendency to pigeonhole the metric as pageviews. That's one option, but it's not the perfect match for every goal. So, here are a couple of goals and a metric that you could pair with it to measure engagement.
Goal: I want my reporting to drive discussions about local issues.
Metric: Comments. Is the reporting spurring discussion in your comment section? If not on your site, are you seeing the content being excerpted or referenced on other local news sites and blogs?
Goal: I want to create lifestyle stories that are popular with the community.
Metric: This kind of content can be highly shareable. One engagement measurement you can use is Facebook and Twitter referrals to the story page. Did the content find the right audience? Was it engaging in a social way? Referrals well help you understand if it was or wasn't.
Goal: I want to break news on our site.
Metric: Pageviews. If you're angling to be a destination for big news stories, then you want to see those big news stories being consumed by a big audience. In this case, pageviews can give you a clear indication of success.
If there's one thing you take from these examples, it's to have the conversation before creating the content. It's important that every editor and producer be clear with every reporter about how they will define success. If you don't have this conversation up front then you will lack direction. Tailoring the right measurement to the right goal will help you define success for each person on the staff. And it will make things run a lot more smoothly.