How much do analytics influence news coverage?

May 23, 2017 01:30

By Pat Duggins, RTDNA Contributor

Have you ever met someone who listens intently to the advice of others, then generally does what he or she wanted to do anyway?

That’s how public radio newsroom leaders, and managers with greater experience, responded in the survey for my Master’s thesis at the University of Alabama. These journalism managers were among the nearly 400 respondents, both commercial and non-profit, who agreed to fill out my questionnaire about internet audience data. These computer programs count the number of “clicks” a web story is getting, or not getting, on a radio station’s web site. I wanted to measure how this data influences what future stories get picked for coverage.

In my most recent article for, I wrote how 74% of radio managers said they’d post material similar to stories that get lots of clicks from web visitors. That supports the idea that internet audience data plays a role in story selection. That’s what the respondents said when they were all clumped together. Next, I broke this collection of newsroom leaders into smaller groups, non-commercial stations in one bunch and for-profit in another. I also examined people with a lot of experience in journalism compared to those with less. That’s when differences appeared.

On the first question we talked about, whether they’d run materials similar to stories that received lots of “clicks,” 85% of the for-profit managers said they would do that. Only 66% of public radio managers would do likewise. That difference was reflected in a follow-up survey question that inquired about assigning follow-up stories to a popular web feature. There, 79% of commercial newsroom leaders said yes, while only 51% of the non-profit leaders agreed. In short, public radio news managers seem less likely to act on internet audience data, despite the fact they are more likely (at 86%) to look at web analytics compared to commercial newsroom leaders.

The level of experience among the respondents made a difference as well. Radio newsrooms managers with more years on the job appear less likely to trust internet data that counts web clicks. This may be due to confidence that comes with experience, or it could be that more mature professionals are leery of technology they’re not as familiar with compared to younger respondents. A follow-up academic study down the road could see if these less experienced, yet tech savvy, managers begin to trust their own judgment over audience data as they grow in the business.

Any takers?

Pat Duggins is news director of Alabama Public Radio. His newsroom has won 64 awards for journalism excellence since his arrival, one-third of which are national and international. Pat also spent 14 years covering NASA’s Space Shuttle program for NPR, and eight years for the USA Radio News Network.