Some thoughts on newsroom analytics

I recently left my job at Etsy as a data analyst to join the newsroom at the New York Times. In addition to being sad to leave Etsy, and learning a lot in my 2 years there, I’m very excited to work with talented journalists and technologists at the Times to help usher the organization into a new era.

I’ve only made it to day-2 but I thought I’d take a moment to write down some thoughts about starting on this new endeavor.

Innovation Report and audience development

The team I am joining, Audience Development, was born out of the leaked, and much discussed, innovation report. Taking a hard look at the competitive news industry, the NYT decided to set some difficult goals and make some changes. The business side (subscription, ads, finance) of the organization has long used experiments, data analysis and similar empirical tools to make decisions. The newsroom is working on building up the same competencies for news decisions. Analytics, as it happens, is one of these competencies.

Among the many things I have to learn

  1. What the NYTimes is about and how to think critically about the news consumer. I was able to advocate for the Etsy user pretty well after my 2 years there; thanks in large part to many experiments, user research and tons of data analysis. I would like to learn about and advocate for the NYT news reader in the same way.

  2. How does the NYTimes plan on carrying its success in high quality journalism over to the digital age.

  3. Because I joined the analyst team at Etsy near its beginning, I was helped with a wide variety of projects and products. I think I have a similar opportunity in joining the newsroom analytics team at its beginning at the Times. I’m eager to see what parts of the newsroom could benefit from studying user behavior in making their work better.

  4. Web experiments have had a controversial year, but I still believe they’re the best way to assess causality. Finding a smart and appropriate way to bring experiments into the newsroom will be a challenge. At the onset, though, I believe there’s a place for it in the newsroom and it can be done successfully.

  5. At Etsy, we were pretty lucky to have clear metrics of success. The more sales we could generate for our sellers, the better. A similar “north star” metric is harder to point out in news consumption. I’m sure many at the Times and in the industry have thought critically about this, but it doesn’t seem obvious to me yet. In fact, I think the lack of a clear metric of success is often what derails analytics projects. I’d like to avoid getting derailed by the wrong metrics.

Onward!

I’m excited to take on this challenge. I’m passionate about seeing the NYTimes survive into the digital age. I’m convinced that the type of journalistic expertise the Times has developed over its 150 year history deserves an audience in our new media landscape. And I’m thankful to have learned what I learned in the last 2 years to help me get started.