ARTICLE: Journalists seek impact – but are anxious to publicize it

Untitled by Felix Mittermeier, licence CC0 1.0

Local journalists want their work to have an “impact”, but they are unsure whether they should mention the impact to their audience, Elia Powers, of Towson University, writes. Powers interviewed 20 American local journalists, all working in a particular metropolitan area. The interviewees represented both for-profit and non-profit news organisations, as well as print, online, radio and television news organisations.

First Powers investigated how the journalists define “impact” and how do they measure it. The answers reveal local journalists define impact as having a tangible effect in their audiences’ lives: increased knowledge and interest, maybe even policy changes. Simple reach, for example measured by the amount of visitors to a website, was seen as insufficient to be a useful metric.

Instead, the interviewees preferred metrics like length of stay or commenting behavior. Despite finding some of these methods useful, many interviewees emphasized the need for more sophisticated, qualitative ways to measure journalism’s impact.

Journalists are comfortable discussing their stories’ impact among colleagues, but are apprehensive about mentioning it to the audience. Self-promotion, as it was often described as, was seen as something best reserved for PR professionals targeting advertisers and stock owners. This anxiety was partially due to worries over being seen as biased – as celebrating a particular outcome. Journalists working for “advocacy journalism news outlets”, however, were more accepting of promoting their goals and achievements to the public.

The article “Selecting Metrics, Reflecting Norms” was published by the journal Digital Journalism. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free). A free-to-read link to the article is available on the author’s personal website (open access).

Picture: Untitled by Felix Mittermeier, licence CC0 1.0.

Give us feedback