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Does Your Newsroom Have A Data Culture? Creating It Could Be Harder Than You Think

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World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Does Your Newsroom Have A Data Culture? Creating It Could Be Harder Than You Think

By Ananta Agarwal 

Online news media are recognizing just how important it is to analyse and leverage readership data if they want to expand their business, monetize their content and dominate the global news discussion. Which kind of articles get the most page views and more ad revenue? How many monthly unique visitors is my news website receiving? Is that number consistently increasing? These are some of the important questions digital news outlets have started asking themselves. A new data culture is emerging in media organizations across the globe, but with it come a host of fresh challenges, too.

The Head of Data for the South China Morning Post, Korey Lee, moderated a panel discussion with members of emerging digital media organizations and data companies to discuss some of these challenges at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Asia 2019 conference held in Hong Kong in October.


From L-R: Moderator Korey Lee - Head of Data, SCMP, Rifa Nadia Nurfuadah - Digital Strategist for, Joey Chung - Co-founder and CEO of the News Lens and Cedric Delzenne - Managing Director, Hong Kong, Taiwan & Southeast Asia of 55 The Data Company.


Transformation towards a data culture has to happen from within

Possibly the greatest challenge is the shift itself towards embracing data analysis. Many news outlets are not quick to let go of the traditional methods of news dissemination. They don’t use Google Analytics to track the traffic on their websites, or they don’t have data analysts and AI models that can make sense of the numbers. Extensive training is required within a media organization to not only teach experienced journalists how to make sense of data, but also how to leverage it to churn out stories that readers want. The greatest challenge is to bring about a change in their perspective.

“Journalists have all the data that they require, but we need to change their perspective to get them to use it,” said Rifa Nadia Nurfuadah, Digital Strategist at “It’s not an easy task, but we are getting there.”

Cedric Delzenne, the Managing Director for Hong Kong, Taiwan & Southeast Asia of 55 The Data Company, also highlighted the importance of how this transformation should come from within.

“There are some companies who rely on partners to run data tests, from the most advanced to the most basic. They face the risk of failure or stagnation because they have no skills internally.”


What kind of data should news outlets track?

Page views and monthly unique visitors can give insight into how rapidly or slowly the news outlet is expanding, but these numbers give only a superficial idea of whether a news outlet is helping people to make sense of the information around them. A more sophisticated data analysis is required to figure out if a news organization is leading the discussion on the most viral news topics. Joey Chung, CEO of The News Lens, said his newsroom uses an algorithm to track which are the most discussed news topics on Facebook and the number of topics leading the conversation in Taiwan as a result of their stories. Rifa’s company in Indonesia uses Intelligent Perception Analysis (IPA) to capture the myriad of perspectives on social media and understand where the interest of the public lies in order to provide context on news stories. Delzenne said that, for a lot of publishers, it is also important to look at the social and demographic data of the readers to better target advertisements and to package news in more appealing ways. These highly sophisticated systems require not only investment but also training.


Sensationalism vs Quality Journalism

“What readers often want statistically is not newsworthy, not relevant or high-quality journalism,'' said Chung. “Editors have a sense of journalistic pride. They want to write about what is newsworthy, so there is a disconnect. Stuff that is too high quality or too serious often does not get sold.”

Chung highlighted a problem embedded in data culture. Often what gets the most page views and the most monthly visitors is not contextual news analysis but sensationalism. This means that while the data collected might benefit the sales and marketing teams in a news outlet, the editorial team may be reluctant to use it, if it perceives that the content that gets the most engagement is of a low journalistic standard. Then the challenge is to keep up the reader engagement with content that can be easily monetized and at the same time draw the reader to more quality in-depth news analysis.


Author Ananta Agarwal is an undergraduate student at the University of Hong Kong pursuing a double major in Journalism and English.


WAN-IFRA External Contributor


2019-11-21 09:54

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