The human factor or the Chartbeat culture? This is a debate that has been raging on in newsrooms everywhere (including here in Malaysia) and the most common argument is that goofy cat photos would trump more significant issues like the Rohingya crisis, the Syrian war, political strife, etc.
Columbia Journalism Review’s Alexis Sobel Fitts wrote about a research done by Caitlin Petre where she studied how metrics influenced decision making in newsroom. She spent a lot of time in the offices of Gawker, The New York Times and Chartbeat.
At Gawker, a large monitor that displays the Chartbeat dashboard (which monitors the visitors to the site in real time) for everyone to see seems to dominate the way the reporters and writers work. (Oh my god! How familiar this must all sound to many!)
She observes that this negatively affected how they would experiment and try new things because they were too pressured to chase the numbers. In fact, apparently, the employees were evaluated on how much money they were making for the company based on CPM (how many dollars per 1000 visitors they brought in)!
This just sounds so wrong, in my honest opinion! It doesn’t reward originality and creativity, nor does it provide a healthy journalism environment.
Whereas at The New York Times, reporters do not have access to these metrics because they believe it would lead to reporters writing more about skateboarding dogs, Angelina Jolie and probably the Kardashians!
However, with all that being said, reporters and writers still constantly checked how well their stories were doing.
At the end of Petre’s studies, she found out that The New York Times ended up hiring audience engagement analysts to make sense of how these metrics could play a role in editorial decision making, while at Gawker, a new system of putting editors in charge of determining writers’ compensation rather than numbers was implemented.