TLP: Is This Any Way To Run A Newspaper?

online newspapers
It's no secret that the newspaper business is sucking wind. Hard. So it's not surprising that editors are trying just about anything to get and hook readers. Like stalking them online.

Now, because of technology that can pinpoint what people online are viewing and commenting on, how much time they spend with an article and even how much money an article makes in advertising revenue, newspapers can make more scientific decisions about allocating their ever scarcer resources.

Such data has never been available with such specificity and timeliness. The reader surveys that newspapers relied on for decades took months to produce, often leaving editors with stale data.

Looking to the public for insight on how to cover a topic is never comfortable for newsrooms, which have the deeply held belief that readers come to a newspaper not only for its information but also for its editorial judgment. But many newsrooms now seem to be re-examining that idea and embracing, albeit cautiously, a more democratic approach to serving up the news, particularly online.

“How can you say you don’t care what your customers think?” asked Alan Murray, who oversees online news at The Wall Street Journal. “We care a lot about what our readers think. But our readers also care a lot about our editorial judgment. So we’re always trying to balance the two.”

Editors at The Journal, like those at other large newspapers, follow the Web traffic metrics closely. The paper’s top editors begin their morning news meetings with a rundown of data points, including the most popular search terms on, which articles are generating the most traffic and what posts are generating buzz on Twitter.
The NYT runs through how the competition handles reader input, whether the readers are aware of that they're doing or not. The Washington Post displays a TV screen in its newsroom with information about visitors to the newspaper's website, including how many articles they read and where on the Web they came from. There's a daily newsroom email that tracks 46 different metrics. The Los Angeles Times offers Web readers a "personality quiz" as a way to create customized feeds on return visits. Don't delete those cookies!

The Times, of course, says it "does not use Web metrics to determine how articles are presented, but it does use them to make strategic decisions about its online report." Executive editor Bill Keller scoffs: “We don’t let metrics dictate our assignments and play,” he said, “because we believe readers come to us for our judgment, not the judgment of the crowd. We’re not ‘American Idol.’ ”

Bet you'd like to score their numbers, wouldn't you, Bill?

The Lazy Paperboy

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.