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Archive for June, 2014

#jcarn question: Measuring meaningful journalism

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Boston Globe journalist Billy Baker told a story on Twitter about the impact of one of his stories.

Lots of very smart people are writing about metrics for measuring engagement with content, topics, brands and sites. I wanted to think about measuring meaning on a more intimate scale.

It seems counter-intuitive to evaluate longevity and meaningfulness by asking journalists about their own work. Yet journalists are the first ones to know what work is thin or contrived.

This isn’t about journalistic prizes or awards. It’s about what individual writers/producers/ creators experience personally and within their own networks as a result of a particular piece of work.

If we find journalists who are moved and excited by what they are doing, it’s likely they will be connected to subjects and communities that feel similarly. It’s another set of data points to help us define and measure what has lasting impact, what engages, what is meaningful.

If the role of a journalist is to be a neutral, dispassionate observer, this approach might not yield much of interest. But as journalists develop agency and autonomy to create content, tracking their work in terms of longevity could yield useful insights about what engages a creator as well as a participating audience.

Here are some (rough draft) types of questions researchers could ask journalists:

  1. In the past week, which story (video, dataset, interview, photo…) has meant the most to you personally? On a scale of one to five, how much did this particular story change your thinking or behavior?  (For an example of a “5” on this scale, see this story about Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker.)
  2. How many people from outside your organization or immediate circles contacted you this week about a story you wrote/edited/produced/shot? This could be face to face, email, text, phone. What stories did they contact you about? Why?
  3. Which story, to your knowledge, received the most interaction on social media this week? What kind of interaction did you notice? What was your role in it?
  4. Which story, to your knowledge, received the most online comments this week? What general themes did you see in the comments?

Other questions could be developed to draw out the impact of stories on anyone connected to a particular piece of content. Did their lives, experiences, judgments change as a result of a particular piece of journalism?

These questions could ask journalists to consider longer periods of time as well. If answers were collected by researchers in different communities, read carefully, organized into themes and insights, we could learn about the patterns of content/news/journalism that has meaning to the people most intimately connected to it, and potentially, has meaning to others as well. (Anyone up for a collaboration?)

Information/technology companies value human capital far more than many traditional news organizations. Paying attention to the judgments of the people who create the products we want to measure honors their role in the making of media and meaning. Other metrics are useful, too, but talking to the makers could enrich our understanding of value. Genuine engagement takes genuine commitment.

(This post is part of the Carnival of Journalism; many thanks to Jonathan Groves for the question!)

Written by Donica

June 27th, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Posted in journalism,Research