Data Driven Editorial

9 years ago


It’s no longer simply about the art of the written word in the ‘lede’ or headline to capture the reader’s attention. It has to do with the practice of analytics and applying that to creative output, such as a news story, explains Rich Young.

It’s no longer simply about the art of the written word in the ‘lede’ or headline to capture the reader’s attention. It has to do with the practice of analytics and applying that to creative output, such as a news story, explains Rich Young.

In the "old days," PR professionals were typically judged by the copy they could write, the size of their Rolodex and the column inches they could generate. All of those skills remain important, however, becoming just as critical to our jobs is understanding data and analytics. Yikes – we have degrees in English. Or Communications. Perhaps, a journalism degree. No one ever said anything about mathematics or, worse, analytics?

As PR pros become increasingly savvy about digital and help transform the industry from a "soft art" into something accountable and actionable (in the words of Adam Singer), our peers in media news organizations are facing similar challenges and opportunities.

Eyecatching intrigue

A shiny new start up, Visual Revenue, caught my eye a few months back and intrigued me no end. According to its site:

Visual Revenue provides a predictive analytics solution that helps online media organizations set a better front page and provides online publishers with real-time recommendations on how to maximize the performance of their current content by treating the Primary Front Page and Section Front Pages as traffic channels unto themselves.

It’s refreshing that Dennis Mortensen is building a platform that ultimately serves readers and not solely search engines.

So why is this a game changing analytic tool for editorial professionals? It augments one of the most important skill sets required of a top-notch editor – having a nose for news.

After all, news organizations are using algorithms to create story ideas, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that despite the heat they’re receiving. So, why wouldn’t editors and content producers use predictive analytics to devise the most effective online news page?

Top to bottom

For example, I recently randomly picked and looked at its News section front page. The "above the scroll" news story was about Google enhancing email security. As I scrolled down, I noticed a story about how the Fed is boosting data security due to the WikiLeaks fiasco. No argument about the newsworthiness of either story – both were timely and relevant at the time I reviewed the site.

However, by nature of its very placement, the Google security piece receives more traffic than the Fed WikiLeaks piece. Simple web analytics tools such as Google Analytics or Omniture will inform the Computerworld editor of that fact. The new tools now available to editors claim to take it a step further by recommending to her to potentially relocate the Fed story, which will lead to more clickthroughs and more sticky readers.

Though I’m not an editor or content producer for an online publication, my team and I work with them daily. As I’m sure you do as well.

They are stressed, and for good reason. In addition to finding, interviewing, sourcing, checking, writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, editing, and posting news, many outlets require their editors be responsible for "engaging visitors and boosting traffic." All skills not taught in "yesterday’s" journalism school.

Healthy debate

Will we see the "Editors Replaced By Algorithms" narrative in the coming months and years? Of course we will. In fact, the New York Times kicked off a healthy debate last summer with At Yahoo, Using Searches to Steer News Coverage.

But, I would disagree with that sentiment. Nothing will replace an editor’s nose for news, nor their ability to create quality content. As with everything else in digital, they simply need a boost to augment the creative and that’s where I see the opportunity for these new analytic platforms.

All this said, it might be a while before PR professionals apply predictive technology to our media pitching? For example, would it be possible to pitch in a story angle to that same Computerworld editor while including potential recommendations on position and how the piece and placement will improve the front page, thus making the editor a star?

As our industries move from ones built on "gut feeling" to ones succeeding being more "data driven," the above scenario may occur sooner than later.


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The Author

Rich Young

Rich Young is Vice President at LEWIS PR in Boston. Rich’s professional background as a broadcast journalist, technology industry analyst and PR practitioner has proved invaluable in servicing clients. With a combined 12 years of marketing, communications and PR experience, Rich has worked with companies of all sizes in the software, services, networking and telecommunications sectors including such as Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), SPSS, Lexmark, and Progress Software, to name a few. Read more articles by Rich

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