American journalists still find page views and social sharing to be the most useful audience metrics. Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Rodrigo Zamith and Avery E. Holton surveyed 520 American newspaper, magazine and online journalists. The authors represent the universities of Minnesota, Massachusetts Amherst, and Utah, respectively.
Aside from the journalists’ metric preference, the authors wanted to investigate how and why journalists’ opinions on the metrics differ. The survey asked journalists of their personal details, their employer’s qualities, and their thoughts on what is important in journalism.
On average, the respondents believed it is more important for journalism to give audiences what they need than what they want. Belair-Gagnon, Zamith and Holton call these two ways of thinking as the “citizen” and the “consumer orientation”. Journalists in managerial positions tend to be both more consumer oriented and metrics-appreciating than file-and-rank journalists. Also magazine journalists appear more consumer oriented than newspaper and online journalists.
The respondents found metrics to be more useful to pursuing consumer oriented goals than citizen oriented goals. For example, they believe metrics to be helpful in attracting large audiences but less so for motivating political discussion.
The same two metrics were deemed most useful for both citizen and consumer orientations: page views and social sharing, both within a small margin. The other two metrics, time on page and new/returning visitors, were seen noticeably less useful – even though the latter two have been suggested by many to be superior, the authors note.
The article “Role Orientations and Audience Metrics in Newsrooms” was published by the journal Digital Journalism. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).
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