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The Shocking State of Newspaper Analytics

Written by on April 25, 2013

Here is a case of the blatantly obvious. Journalism.co.uk posted the story that the New York Times has now set up an analytics team so they can learn something from what articles their readers interact with...

Really? It took them this long to do this?

Aron Pilhofer, who also runs the Times's interactive news team, social media team and communities team said:

We know next to nothing in the newsroom about how people consume our content, whether we're publishing in the right way, whether all the time and effort we're putting into creating these interactives actually work

Although the metered paywall has been in operation for two years now, this data stays on the business-side of the company, which is kept separate from editorial.

Now, with a dedicated analytics team for editorial, the aim is to help the newsroom "make data-driven decisions" where appropriate, Pilhofer said.

I don't think everything should be approached that way. I'm not even sure most things should be approached that way, but having the ability to make data-driven decisions, I think is super important.

How could they set up a paywall without sharing the usage data with the people who had to bring value to it? And they are not even sure that most things should be approached this way? Are you kidding me?

This is just surreal. I'm absolutely shocked that the NY Times is only now starting to bring analytics into their newsroom. This should have happened 15 years... shocked. In fact, this should have happened 50 years ago, back when they were only doing print.

Of course, this is nothing new. Pretty much every single newspaper I have worked with over the past two years are separating their editorial teams from their 'innovation teams'. The people designing their digital future have no influence over the editorials of the newspaper, and the editorial teams have no insights into why or how people are consuming content differently in the digital world ... except for page views.

For instance, I do not know of a single newspaper who can tell me which type of articles that create the most amount of new subscribers. I have yet to come across anyone who can tell you what articles create the highest level of loyal readers, or what type of articles that creates the most valuable form of sharing. Most newspapers are not even measuring actual readers.

It's just shocking.

In the same sense, last month Huffington Post talked about how they were planning to use reader engagement to influence what is displayed on the front page (and how), as if that was something new.

How do they think Amazon works?

It's shocking!

The simple truth is that the newspaper industry can no longer exists by default. In the past, people would a buy a newspaper for the same reason they bought a TV. It was just something you needed to have. But in the connected world, this is no longer true.

The reality today is that newspapers have become brands. Brands that has to sell a product. And like every other brand, you need to understand what is that your customers want, what they need, why they need it, how they need it and when they need it. This means you need to look at your analytics.

I'm not saying that you should just follow the numbers. That's not it. The thing about analytics is that it only tells what happened in the past. It's your job to analyze this in such a way that you can identify the patterns, the trends, and the needs and desires for what your readers want you to do in the future.

But analytics is the key to all of this, mixed with your expertise and your influence.

I have written two reports about analytics specifically for publishers:

The first one was in 2011 called "The Future of Analytics for Publishers". It's a good starting point, but it's also somewhat traditional in its approach.

So in 2012, I took this a step further with the report "Modern Analytics for Subscription Based Media".

And if you think this is only a problem for newspapers, think again. We see the same problem with most brands. Analytics from a brand's webshop is often only shared within marketing and possibly sales. But the product team, the ones responsible for coming up with new products, rarely (if ever) see the data.

In a world of abundance, data is what helps you understand how to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Use it to win.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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