Modern Journalism's Obsession with Metrics

created Jun 24, 2019

New technology provides new avenues. Over the past 10 years, at least, media orgs have become obsessed with metrics and analytics, regarding their news stories. It seems that media orgs are more interested in creating stories that satisfy metrics, instead of informing the public.

Part of the problem could be due to media orgs becoming heavily dependent upon referral traffic from social media silos and Google because the media orgs' business models require displaying web ads, even to subscribers.

Here's a little insight into the current and most likely future trend for "modern" journalism.

Jun 24, 2019 - washingtonpost.com - Ex-Fox Newser Carl Cameron takes his ‘unfinished business’ to progressive startup

Romm sees FrontPageLive.com as a “viralizing engine” for the other side. It will populate frequently with audience-tested headlines, while pairing stories with links to action campaigns working on the issue at hand.

The concept stems from Romm’s love of Internet metrics. Over 13 years of blogging at ThinkProgress, Romm has tracked the Web prints for his thousands of postings, with a particular focus on traffic sources.

Over the years, he has watched as referral engines for his stuff have gone poof. Years ago, the Huffington Post drove good numbers; the modern, rebranded HuffPost doesn’t. Years ago, Yahoo provided helpful aggregation; no more, he says. And when Facebook changed its algorithm in 2018, says Romm, ThinkProgress traffic took a dive.

And what has Romm learned? Maybe he learned that being obsessed with metrics has proven to be a failed business model. Pivot to metrics equals failure. I have no sympathy for media orgs that base most of their revenue on referral traffic from other websites.

More from the WaPo story:

“There is no progressive equivalent to the Drudge Report.”

That's false. The Drudge Retort has existed for nearly as long as the Drudge Report.

Wikipedia info about the Drudge Retort:

When news aggregator Matt Drudge failed to register drudge.com for his news website Drudge Report, Cadenhead registered drudge.com in 1998 and started the Drudge Retort as a liberal alternative to what he perceived to be the right-leaning Drudge Report, and as "a send-up of Mr. Drudge's breathless style".

Cadenhead edits the site with television writer Jonathan Bourne. Both conservative and liberal bloggers utilize the open forum format, encouraged by Cadenhead. The headline selections for discussion are the liberal alternative to the Drudge Report.

Some readers may be confused between the two websites because the typography and page layouts are almost identical, and this is no coincidence since the site was deliberately designed to be like Drudge's website, using "the same style of type, the same rows of links to other journalists and columnists, the same screaming, sensational headlines trumpeting world exclusives". Cadenhead uses a yellow background, which implies that Drudge is a yellow journalist.

Even Matt Drudge visits the Drudge Retort, saying "I go there when I can't get into my own Web site because mine's so popular" in a 1999 interview with the New York Times.

Back to the WaPo story about the new media website FrontPageLive.com.

The revenue model is simple: site ads, though it won’t be launching with any paid advertising.

Cameron, 57, says conservatives have funded news sites to circumvent limits on campaign spending and more oomph is needed on the left. “The right has figured out that you can have unregulated advertising by paying for media entities who do it for you in totality. Democrats haven’t figured it out yet,” says Cameron, who also believes the left is stuck in a sit-in mentality and hasn’t perfected methods of targeting mass audiences.

That's an interesting business model for a media org: receive campaign funding.

The excerpt shown below is an unfortunate reality for all websites, but it's not an excuse to throw in the towel and create stories that are "audience-tested" and to build business models that rely upon referral traffic from the silos.

Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for the Intercept and a former editor at the Huffington Post (rebranded as HuffPost), tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Romm’s venture is “worth a shot. ... Problem is, user behavior is so geared toward social and away from homepages [that] it’s gonna be hard to crack in.”