Analytics: What are they and how are they used?

Analytics are a helpful tool for news organizations in measuring audience engagement, but they should not be the only factor when considering future publishing decisions.

According to dictionary.com, the definition of analytics is: “the analysis of data, typically large sets of business data, by the use of mathematics, statistics, and  computer software”. This does appear like it would benefit news organizations at surface level, but news organizations use analytics in a variety of ways to measure their audience’s engagement with their content. 

There are a variety of ways that analytics can be used, and a variety of measurements that can be taken from them. The number of page views, the length of time readers spend engaging with content, and much more can be measured through various means. This means that the tool can then be tailored to an individual company depending on what that company wishes to achieve with the data.

BBC, for example, has several goals as a company that they place emphasis on when considering what sort of content to publish. Engagement, reaching under-serviced audiences, social media, and video content are a few examples, and each focus area has several different softwares that can be used to measure them individually, according to journalism.co.uk. BBC can then use the information gathered from these softwares concerning these topics to make better informed decisions about what their audiences want to see published.

However, many journalists also state that metrics aren’t enough on their own, that they are a helpful tool but should not stand alone as a sole informant on what an organization’s audience wants. digitalnewsreport.org even goes as far as to say: “The most sophisticated audience teams are keenly aware that analytics are not perfect. the data never tell the full story, and quantitative analysis always has to be supplemented by editorial expertise and other forms of qualitative judgement.” 

“Qualitative judgement” is the missing factor that many experts think news organizations needs to couple with analytics. Christopher Schlemmer with mediashift.org says “Audience data is a relevant source of information, but direct contact with customers is just as important.” And many other big names, such as AP and Bloomberg, seem to agree. It’s that direct communication between public and press that is lacking in a quantitative analysis like what analytics provides. But with both analytics and qualitative feedback, a news organization can gain a comprehensive understanding of what their audience is looking for.

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