Editorial analytics: news organisations embracing analytics and metrics, but most have far to go

News organisations are increasingly embracing the use of analytics and metrics as part of editorial decision making, but what constitutes a sophisticated analytics strategy? And why are so many media organisations still using such a rudimentary approach to analytics?

A new report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looks at which organisations are building a competitive advantage over less advanced competitors through a better understanding of their audience, and what lessons others can take from their approaches.

“Newsrooms used to be sceptical of analytics. Now they are interested, and most use generic tools like Omniture and Chartbeat. The next step is to develop tailored analytics that effectively underpin editorial priorities and organisational goals. Many organisations have only begun to do that, most rely on rudimentary forms of analytics,” says Federica Cherubini, media consultant and lead author of the report.

A few organisations like The Guardian and Quartz are ahead in developing more tailored approaches to analytics that underpin their editorial priorities and organisational goals and help inform both short-term and long-term decision making.

“It’s encouraging to see journalists and newsrooms taking a greater interest in actually understanding their audience. Without good analytics, you are flying blind. That’s very dangerous in a competitive and constantly changing media environment,” says Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and co-author of the report.

Based on over 30 interviews with senior figures involved in developing analytics in news organisations, the report, authored by Cherubini and Nielsen, examines analytics at leading organisations, provides a review of current trends – and looks at where others are falling behind.

The report examines several best-practice case studies, including sophisticated tailored approaches at The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Die Welt, and The BBC. It breaks down approaches used by media organisations as falling into three categories – editorial, generic and rudimentary, and examines the tools, organisational support and news room culture that must be in place to develop the high-level tools required for media organisations to truly understand how their audiences are engaging with their content.

What’s the future for editorial analytics? One thing the authors found is that there is no one formula for success – the best analytics strategies are carefully shaped around the organisation’s editorial priorities and business model, and agile enough to carry on developing to remain competitive in the ever-changing digital media landscape.

Cherubini explains: “Analytics is not perfect, and the data never tells the whole story. The best analytics teams combine editorial judgement and quantitative analysis to make data-informed decisions.”

Dr Nielsen says: “Getting the tools right is an important part of getting analytics right. But getting the organisation and culture right is just as important. People can be the hardest part of analytics. Without the right expertise and a newsroom culture where people understand and value data, newsrooms will fail to make the most of analytics.”

Editorial analytics: how news media are developing and using audience data and metrics, by Federica Cherubini and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, is published as part of the Digital News Project by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Explore the report on the Digital News Project website, alongside other reports, essays and material.