Is impact the most important metric in journalism?August 22, 2012 - When metrics are mentioned in publishing, many think revenue, engagement or reach. But in a blog published on Nieman Journalism Lab, Jonathan Stray advocates that the most powerful metric in journalism is impact, and more publishers should take steps to measure it.
Stray's blog was inspired by the recent announcement of a Knight-Mozilla Fellowship at The New York Times on "finding the right metric for news." The fellow will help tackle the best metrics for journalism, including how to measure impact.
"Evaluating the impact of journalism is a maddeningly difficult task," writes Stray. "To begin with, thereís no single definition of what journalism is. Itís also very hard to track what happens to a story once it is released into the wild, and even harder to know for sure if any particular change was really caused by that story. It may not even be possible to find a quantifiable something to count, because each story might be its own special case."
Although the task may be difficult, Stray notes that many other industries measure impact, including academic, social science and NGOs/philanthropic organizations. Page views and evolving engagement measuring tactics may play a part, but an important factor is how users (readers, viewers) apply news and information in their personal and civic lives.
"The first challenge may be a shift in thinking, as measuring the effect of journalism is a radical idea," writes Stray. "The dominant professional ethos has often been uncomfortable with the idea of having any effect at all, fearing 'advocacy' or 'activism.'"
"The practical challenges are equally daunting. Some data, like web analytics, is easy to collect but doesnít necessarily coincide with what a news organization ultimately values. And some things canít really be counted. But they can still be considered."
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By Elizabeth A. Reid