Curated Inspiration: How to Build a Data-Informed Culture in Digital Newsrooms

by Martina Dellepiane

As Data and Analytics took the web by storm, publishers were also hit by the numbers-fever.

Big screens displaying real-time data dashboard appeared on newsrooms’ walls and reports started flooding peoples’ inbox. Organizations set up dedicated teams and created new positions under names such as “Audience Development Team”, “Growth Editor” or “Audience Engagement Editor.”

Data has never been easier to access and more abundant. But what shall we do with it now?

If you too are trying to put data-informed decisions at the heart of your organization, here are three inspiring ideas that will make you rethink your approach to data and digital content publishing.

One metric. Zero Truth.

In the beginning were Pageviews…

“For 20 years, publishers have been chasing pageviews, the metric that counts the number of times people load a web page. The more pageviews a site gets, the more people are reading, the more successful the site. Or so we thought.”

Here’s how Tony Haile — founder and former CEO of Chartbeat — describes what has been the dominating metric of the web, until quite recently.

Today what happens between the clicks is becoming increasingly important and publishers started to develop their own attention-focused metrics. “It’s no longer just your clicks they want, it’s your time and attention. Welcome to the Attention Web.”

In this factual and thought-provoking article, Haile runs through four common myths on how we consume content online and explains how data can cast a light on such mistaken beliefs. But which data?

Single metrics, monitored as an isolated source of evidence, are often misleading, Haile explains. They tell the story of technical occurrences taking place. Nothing more.

We need to aim at understanding how the strings of data that we gather relate to one another. Only then can data tell a story about engagement.


Data is pointless. But insights get to the point.

What role, if any, does data play in the creative process today? Can data empower creatives in the production of digital content? How can data inform a media company’s editorial strategy?

Lindsay Nelson (CMO of Vox Media), Barry Lowenthal (President at the Media Kitchen), Jonathan Perelman (Head of Digital Ventures at ICM Partners), Brand Simms (CEO and President at Gale) and Will Doherty (VP, Business Development at Index Exchange) discuss these questions at last year’s Cannes Lions.

As Nelson says “We talk so much about data, but the data doesn’t actually get packaged and delivered back to creatives so that they can actually action on it”.

Publishers widely embrace the use of analytics to try to understand their audiences and create more personalized and meaningful experiences. It then becomes crucial to go beyond the mere metrics and start looking for insights rather than numbers. At this stage differentiating the two becomes decisive — especially for those who need to create content in their light.

Ultimately, in Lowenthal’s words, “relevance is the most important thing that we can deliver. And in order to drive relevance, you have to have both creative and media working together. Today that means having data people working with creative people”.


Tools and Organisational Change are not Enough. Culture is key.

If you want to get the full picture of the current state of the art of Editorial Analytics in Europe and in the US, this exceptionally comprehensive report needs to be your next read.

The authors, Federica Cherubini and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, outline a model where Tools, Organisation and Culture are the three dimensions of a triangle that assesses a news outlet’s analytics capability — which is either rudimentary, generic or editorial.

The third dimension, Culture is identified as the attitude of the whole editorial staff to “routinely and willingly use analytics and data as part of their decision-making,” both short-term and long-term. This is certainly the hardest to achieve. Yet, it is the real pot of gold for newsrooms that want to truly understand how their audiences engage with their content.

Examples of cutting-edge bespoke editorial analytics tools and best-practices are examined in the report.

However, as there is no common solution that fits two different organizations, the definition of the right metrics and tools has to be carefully shaped around the organization’s editorial priorities and editorial workflow.

As Dr. Nielsen reminds us: “People can be the hardest part of analytics. Without the right expertise and a newsroom culture where people understand and value data, newsrooms will fail to make the most of analytics.”


Getting inspiration is good. Getting started is better.

If you find these three ideas as inspiring as we do, here are the first steps we recommend you to take in order to build a data culture in your organization:

  1. First, assess your company’s analytics capability. Are you at the rudimentary or generic stage? We suggest you start putting your tools and organization in place. Are you using the right analytics tool? Are your KPIs matching your content strategy? Do you have the right people in the right positions? Answering these questions will lay the foundation for your success. But don’t fool yourself. That’s not how you win the game.
  2. Working side-by-side with content-driven companies — whether it’s newsrooms, retailers or hospitals, every day has taught us that PEOPLE are key.Yes, we’re talking about your customers, users, readers, whoever they might be — but especially your TEAM.
  3. Involving people, changing workflows, empowering a culture of experimentation and collaboration are the game changers.

Don’t worry. You can always start small. Even talking about these topics within your organization will show you surprising results. We are ready to bet on that. Are you?

Originally published at



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