Why Reporters Need to Understand Analytics

Apr 8, 2013

Journalists at Louisville member station WFPL gaze at Chartbeat as a story on their site goes viral.
Credit Gabe Bullard

Knowledge is power. A cliche, yes, but it's something that many digital newsrooms forget about when it comes to studying analytics. Or maybe they're selectively ignoring the numbers. Is it because the audience might be too small? Or that story they invested huge resources in is only managing a few retweets and likes on Facebook?

When you know how your audience is arriving at your site (a Google search vs. a Facebook share), what they're doing on your site (streaming audio vs. reading news stories) and how much they're absorbing (reading one story and leaving vs. seeing several articles and commenting), you'll be able to make better decisions with your newsroom resources. Remember, knowledge is power. With it, you'll know your audience and know what they're looking for.

We use two high level questions to start the analytics conversation:

1. Are you growing your audience?
2. Is your audience engaged? 

The first question can be measured by the number of unique visitors to your site. You can calculate engagement by looking at pageviews per visitor (not the more common pageviews per visit). With those two you'll know the basics. 

Now, how do you calculate all of this? With Google Analytics and Chartbeat. Google Analytics gives you a baseline for your site. It's great for the long term. Chartbeat tells you what is happening right now. Combine the two and you have a wealth of knowledge, which you can use to drive content decisions. What you'll find is that there's room for both heavy duty reporting on major topics as well as those fun pieces like slideshows of cute kittens. But be sure your newsroom is talking about the numbers and making decisions based on what works.

Use this webinar to create an analytics foundation for your newsroom. Don't be afraid. Analytics are like that aphorism on the truth. They will set you free.  VIDEO

Analytics for Reporters from NPR Digital Services on Vimeo.