The Traffic Factories: Metrics at Chartbeat, Gawker Media, and The New York Times
In a 2010 New Yorker profile, founder and CEO of Gawker Media Nick Denton argued, “probably the biggest change in Internet media isn’t the immediacy of it, or the low costs, but the measurability.” 1 What does all this data mean for the production of news? In the earlier days of web analytics, editorial metrics had both enthusiastic proponents and impassioned detractors. Nowadays the prevailing view is that metrics aren’t, by definition, good or bad for journalism. Rather, the thinking goes, it all depends what is measured: Some metrics, like page views, incentivize the production of celebrity slide shows and other vapid content, while others, like time on a page, reward high-quality journalism. Still, there are some who doubt that even so-called “engagement metrics” can peacefully coexist with (let alone bolster) journalistic values. This report’s premise is that it will be impossible to settle these debates until we understand how people and organizations are producing, interpreting, and using metrics. I conducted an ethnographic study of the role of metrics in contemporary news by examining three case studies: Chartbeat, Gawker Media, and The New York Times. Through a combination of observation and interviews with product managers, data scientists, reporters, bloggers, editors, and others, my intention was to unearth the assumptions and values that underlie audience measures, the effect of metrics on journalists’ daily work, and the ways in which metrics interact with organizational culture.
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