5 Ways That Publishers Are Using Data to Transform the Way They Work

Data journalism is all the rage; for evidence of that, look no further than the fact that Columbia University’s Tow Center for Journalism devoted an entire conference to it this past Friday. But what impact is data actually having on the industry?

As journalism and data experts gathered for a day of discussion, it became readily apparent that data is already impacting the way journalists are telling stories. In the words of leaders from Upworthy, Chartbeat, and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, here are five ways that data is changing journalism.

1. Adaptation

“As the environments in which we exist become more and more complex, our ability to predict a complex future starts to break down. The more expert we think ourselves to be, the more likely we are to misjudge something as plain wrong. We work in media, where people consider themselves to be experts. So what analytics allows us to do, in some ways, is to say not only whether you are right or wrong, but how you adapt. In a complex environment, it’s not about building a black box, but it’s about building a cockpit. Real-time news analytics allow a newsroom to adapt to a complex environment.” —Tony Haile, founder and CEO, Chartbeat

2. Decision-making

“Data is only useful in so far as it helps you make better decisions. When we’re thinking about what data we want use, how we want to deploy it, and how we want people to think about the data we’re collecting internally, we’re thinking about the decisions our staff are having to make all of the time.”

“We’re interested in data that helps us make better decisions, and then, once we make decisions, we’re interested in evaluating whether our decisions were made better because of the data. The data that did not help us make better decisions is not useful data; it just clouds judgment.” —Daniel Mintz, director of business intelligence, Upworthy

3. Raising the bar for evidence-based reporting

“Evidenced based medicine is the radical notion that before you give a treatment to patients, you test it to make sure it works. Data journalism is about using new tools and data sources. But like evidenced based medicine, and policy, it’s about raising the epistemic mark. You have to demand more and better evidence.” —Dan Gardner, Canadian journalist, author of Future Babble and co-author of Superforecasters

4. Telling better stories

“Data, code and algorithms shape how we interact, how a city functions, how our societies operate, and they shape systems of power around us. Journalists should be able to interrogate and tell stories from that data.”

“I try to get my students to think beyond the instrumental and think of data as a source of speculation and experimentation. We can think of data as a source of answers—providing some sort of answer to a question. In short, data can be a partner in creative practice and in the process of what to measure, how to model, how to express something—opportunities to figure out the group’s values, and what you stand for.” —Mark Hansen, director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and professor of journalism at Columbia University

5. Focusing on the audience

“We moved from thinking about traffic to caring about audience—a function of the challenges we’ve had making money in this business. In the early days, it was impressions, pageviews, and getting as many of those as possible. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had to learn how to monetize in a variety of ways be it through subscriptions, paywalls, native advertising, or events. Whichever way, it requires people who are not just traffic and clicks on your site, but people who know you who you are, like what you’re doing, and come back. It’s understanding the people and changing the behaviors. So it’s not did you get someone to click, but what happened after the click. It has become a move from a total number of people to have I made these people come back.” —Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat

These quotes have been edited for lucidity and length.

Image via Game Head

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