Vancouver journalists learn to read between the numbers in the digital age
By RICA TALAY
The digital revolution has given journalists an unparalleled ability to gauge audience reception to a story and boost traffic numbers. But does data change the way media are covering the news?
It’s a question many media organizations are asking themselves. In 2018, Corus Entertainment Inc.—the media and content company that owns Global Television and CKNW, among other assets—decided to double their investment in data analytics due to a decline in traditional ad revenues. According to an article in The Globe and Mail, Corus’ goal is to sell targeted ads “that reach smaller, better-defined audiences.”
Vancouver Sun digital editor Carey Bermingham says that while stats don’t necessarily change how they cover the news, they do signal what readers want more of—say, real estate or crime stories—and that the Sun should put more resources into those sections.
From analytics, says Bermingham, the Sun also knows that 7 a.m. is prime time for posting on the website (it peaks around noon); for Facebook, noon and evenings are the best time for engagement. With this information, Bermingham and her team can post at a specific time on the Sun site and post on social media at peak hours.
For CKNW digital reporter Estefania Duran, the number of shares and clicks on a given article should be taken with a grain of salt,“We have to be careful to associate clicks with something else.”
Duran, who has worked on the digital side of the business for over two years, says there’s no perfect formula to make something a viral hit, but finding great stories that are important for your audience is a good start. “But yeah, if there was a formula, I wouldn’t give it away anyways.”
Paul Bucci, digital growth manager at Black Press, says that younger people already have a better sense of analytics than a reporter working in 1990s, because they’ve grown up immersed in the world of likes and shares.
Bucci, a former Vancouver Sun editor, says that what newsrooms really want are people “who understand the importance intrinsically of writing for an online audience.”
But Vancouver is Awesome senior writer Lindsay William-Ross says that, despite spending 15 years in digital media, she still looks beyond how a story is received online.
“For me, it’s not limited to those social metrics,” she notes. “I’m also older, so it’s not as ingrained in my nature to be driven by little hearts and thumbs.”