Online Journalism: Editing by the numbers

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[Andrew Grant Adamson](http://www.wordblog.co.uk/2007/02/15/a-formula-for-online-journalism-productivity/) pointed me towards Lucas Grindley’s post on trying to come up with a formula to decide which stories get web coverage

A growing culture change and fear that the printed page might die are sending more reporters and editors to my desk. Everyone has an idea; a lot of which are good. Here’s how I decide which projects make the list, and in what order.

His method? Grindley’s page impression formula

First, estimate how many page views the project will earn per quarter. Let’s say Project X is estimated to earn 1,000 page views per day, which is 91,000 page views per quarter. Then estimate how many hours of work it will take for the team to complete the project. Let’s say Project X requires 40 hours of your team’s time to create. Now divide to find the rate of page views per work hour.Project X generates 2,275 page views per work hour. (91,000 / 40 = 2,275)

Lucas is careful to say that ‘good journalism’ should transcend the formula but this whole idea of guessing, and it is guessing isn’t it, the popularity of a piece seems unnecessarily, well, numeric.

The numbers of page impression/view is only really of interest to the advertising who can charge per serving. It might give you an indication of popularity but it is less than reliable, especially during working hours.Without a lot more external information the page impressions are misleading at a site centric level.

At what’s your benchmark? What constitutes a popular piece and do you only take editorial ideas on that basis.

Take this example from Matt Waite from the St. Petersburg Times:

This morning, my employer ran a story about a poor girl who has had the hiccups for the last three weeks (look for her on the Today show Friday morning). Readers have responded in amazing and massive ways. Mary Jane Park, the reporter who wrote the story, was stunned this morning when she came in and had 148 voice mail messages waiting for her. People by the hundreds — nearly 300 by mid afternoon — wanted to call her and give cures for the hiccups.

No page impressions there No mention of page impressions there, but a really popular story. Does that mean only fluffy hiccup stories make the grade.

It’s a little unfair to question the formula, I know. I think this is just as likely to work because of Lucas’ experience of what works for his audience as it is the numbers.

But, bearing in mind Rob Curley’s comments on the pressure to monetise content, I would be very surprised if anyone would stand for this kind of formulaic editorial decision making in print.

Just because we can get the data, should we be such slaves to the numbers online?

Is your MD short sighted and digitally illiterate?

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