MozFest 2013: Measuring news engagement and impact

I’ve been thinking and writing recently about how news organizations can purposefully and meaningfully measure engagement and impact.

It turns out to be a common question and at MozFest on Saturday morning Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellows Brian Abelson, Stijn Debrouwere, Annabel Church, Sonya Song and MIT Center for Civic Media researchers Erhardt Graeff and J. Nathan Matias helped lead a session on the subject.

Organizing thoughts and ideas in the news analytics sessions.

The session started with a brainstorm around a range of ideas related to news measurement, which boiled down to five broad concepts:

  1. Engagement: Which metrics of engagement really matter?
  2. Impact: What is the effect of journalism?
  3. Social metrics and the article lifecycle: How can we track how an article moves around the web?
  4. Monetization: How can news organizations use measurement to sustain revenue?
  5. Numbers in the Newsroom: What numbers can help journalists?


After breaking into groups to discuss these different ideas we regrouped to share our findings and the metrics discussed.

A few interesting concepts emerged:

  • No single metric is the silver bullet to tracking a reader’s engagement. For example, measuring time spent on a website can be informative but can also obscure the context of the data. A reader could be on an article for a relatively long period of time because the site is engaging, or she might stay on an article because the site is difficult to navigate or the story is confusing and difficult to read. Measuring engagement requires a combination of metrics including social shares, time on site, page views and return users.
  • Commercial digital analytics services may not be suitable for news. Topsy, for example, allows its users to find social influencers on any topic. While everyone at my session agreed that finding influencers is fundamental to tracking an article, the proprietary methods for determining influence may not allow for the best definition of influencer in a journalism context.
  • Measuring impact is even more difficult than measuring engagement. One group sketched out the pyramid in the image below to represent possible levels of engagement and impact. You'll notice that some important engagement — "slacktivism" — likely happens offline, and it’s an open question as to how to measure it.


A possible hierarchy to help determine news engagement and impact?

Erhardt Graeff, one of the session's leaders and a research assistant at the MIT Center for Civic Media, pointed out that the relationship between the quantitative and qualitative assessment of impact is still undefined. Offline qualitative impact also needs metrics and there’s an open question as to how we think about those.

One of the most encouraging aspects of my first MozFest is that the festival really about starting conversations and projects and finding new ideas.

The discussion doesn’t end at MozFest — it only begins here. If you're interested in talking more about engagement be sure to reach out so we can continue the discussion.

About the author

Jessica Soberman

Graduate Fellow

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