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How four newsrooms actually used data—and you can, too

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While 87% of publishers have access to data analytics for the content their organization creates, only half report complete understanding of those analytics. And, according to a recent ICFJ survey, less than half of newsrooms consult analytics daily. For analytics to make an impact though, teams need to go from passive observers of site traffic to active participants.

When it comes to building data-informed company cultures, Slate, NAPCO Media, GateHouse Media, and Mashable can offer inspiration. See the steps these four world-class outlets have taken to empower their entire team to use analytics in their newsrooms.

1. To grow their loyal audience

In 2014, Slate launched a membership program, Slate Plus, which now has over 35,000 members. To grow their most loyal audience, they wanted to focus on a way to measure loyalty that didn’t just involve returning visitors or number of visits. Instead, they settled on engaged time as their “north star” metric.

Slate implemented their new metric team-by-team to ensure everyone was aligned on using engaged time as the core KPI. As said by David Stern, Director of Product Development at Slate, “Our deliberate shift in strategy stems from our belief that the engaged time goal uniquely aligns the priorities of readers, advertisers, and our editorial team.”

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Along the way, Slate’s audience dashboard provided access to data that helped its various teams, from product managers to journalists and analysts, understand how to move the needle forward on engaged time.

Anna Gilbert, Director of Research at Slate, explains, “Seeing engaged time in the dashboard helped us make a much smoother transition from unique visitors and the Big Bang Facebook days to a more real relationship with our most loyal readers.” Now, each team can contribute to forming real relationships with Slate’s readers.

2. To draw a straight line from content to business goals

Dave Leskusky, President at NAPCO Media, saw a disconnect between the content his team was producing, its audience development strategies, and its approach to sales. At the time, the editors had access to Google Analytics to measure their audience, but not all editors were pulling data. Because of this, nothing about the audience’s preferences could be incorporated into their content strategy and not all content decisions were based on data.

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After bringing the Parse.ly dashboard to the organization, they were able to embrace a culture where interaction with their readers doesn’t end once they hit “publish.” Based on data they could actually use, NAPCO adopted a goal of cultivating communities and increased engagement among readers.

“Parse.ly allows us to get immediate feedback regarding what resonates with our audiences, and what doesn’t. This is something our editors really care about, and finally they have a way to access that information,” said Leskusky.

3. To highlight the work writers, reporters, journalists, and editors do every day

GateHouse Media knew they wanted an analytics system that showed data in real-time to help editors to make data-informed decisions. The newsrooms quickly made use of new ways to see audience data, including one-click automated reporting, author data, and integrated social referrals.

With this data in hand, GateHouse Media rolled out more strategies and structure that helped their newsroom create content that readers actually want. Editors and reporters now review their metrics regularly in newsroom meetings. GateHouse Media said, “Parse.ly doesn’t just tell us what we already knew. It helps define—with each story—how readers engaged and didn’t.”

To further celebrate journalists and the positive impact they make in their communities, both inside and outside of the newsroom, GateHouse Media recently launched the “Newsroom Hero” campaign. Running across their print, digital, social media, and outdoor platforms, the campaign reaches nearly 23 million weekly readers.

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“We are extremely proud of our people and the important role they play inside the newsroom and in their communities. This campaign celebrates the hundreds of ‘Newsroom Heroes’ working to make an impact as journalists and as part of the fabric of their communities,” says Kirk Davis, Chief Executive Officer at GateHouse Media.

4. To tell great stories and monetize the audience that reads them

Mashable was on a mission to find the best way to tell the best stories. At the heart of their storytelling effort was a data-informed strategy. As a digital-only media company, Mashable has always relied on data to inform its editorial choices. However, they ran into problems when they wanted to use that same information in the most technical ways on their data science team. Their data provider would often take multiple days to pull simple information and reports, stymying efforts to do interesting analysis or make grand changes.

For example, Mashable’s data science team, led by Haile Owusu, wanted to know more about a popular feature on the site: The Retronaut. The team knew that they could dig deeper into who the readers were, what else they read, and make suggestions about what other features this group might like on the site, or what brands might appeal to them.

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After integrating Parse.ly’s Data Pipeline, Mashable gained full access to all of their historical raw data and data as it arrives in real-time. The editorial team created reader engagement, and the data science team put that engagement data to work. Said Mashable’s Chief Data Scientist, Haile Owusu, “Parse.ly provided us with the actual ability to pursue analyses beyond dashboard aggregations.”

Jumping the hurdle between analytics access and application

Making the leap in your newsroom might seem like a challenge, but you don’t need to tackle this all at once. Take baby steps! Dr. Carrie Brown, Director of the M.A. in Social Journalism program at CUNY, advises first having a conversation and coming to an agreement on measurement goals:

“It’s mostly just about having that conversation up front. I think all too often…you’re a reporter or an editor and you get sent these reports but you’re not necessarily given [context] as to exactly how that matches up with what those goals are. I think everyone in the newsroom has to be in agreement on here’s what we’re going for and here’s how we’re going to measure it.”

Whether that’s working with an analytics company like Parse.ly to allow access to an easy-to-read dashboard or holding data analytics training, there are many ways to create a data-driven culture. If we’ve learned anything in the digital media age, using data to drive your strategy isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

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