Survey: Media Outlets Measure Engagement, But Don’t Act on It

A new survey from the Engaging News Project finds that most newsrooms track a number of data points but fail to use the data to boost reader engagement. The report has many parallels for associations—including advice that could come in handy.

The media world, much like the world of associations, is increasingly data-driven.

But newspapers and other journalistic news outlets have a problem that could prove an important warning for associations: If you collect data but don’t do anything with it, it’s not worth very much.

That’s a key finding from a new survey by the Engaging News Project, a think tank located in the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, at the University of Texas at Austin. The Survey of News Editors and Directors, which polled 525 editors at news outlets around the country, found that while many media outlets gathered metrics related to reader engagement (87 percent), only around 20 percent were working with researchers to test out different strategies for audience engagement, and just 10 percent were relying on researchers for A/B testing, a common strategy used for websites.

(In fact, it was far more common for respondents—41 percent—to say that they didn’t know whether their newsrooms used A/B testing, relatively close to the 48 percent of respondents who said their newsrooms didn’t use A/B testing.)

“For several of these practices, we think that there’s a lost opportunity,” the report stated [PDF]. “For A/B testing in particular, the use of this practice can help to inform newsroom practices based on audience preferences.”

Additionally, the study found that the newspapers, in many cases, were behind their competitors in the television and online news spaces. Newspapers tended to be less likely to have a responsive website (73 percent, versus 97 percent for television stations), and tended to be less likely to use engagement tools, such as quizzes (31 percent, versus 50 percent for television stations and 49 percent for websites).

One thing that was fairly uncommon in the world of journalism was the use of incentives based on metrics, such as bonuses for increasing traffic. Just 5 percent of newspapers and 6 percent of radio-based organizations say they were using such metrics.

Call Up Your Local University

In comments to Media Shift, Engaging News Project Director Talia Stroud said it was heartwarming to see that many organizations were using metrics, but she underlined that by failing to take action on those metrics, news outlets were stopping halfway through the process.

“The part to me that was just so interesting, there’s a use of these metrics, but not the second part, testing, learning,” she said.

Stroud said that news outlets not currently using metrics should partner with a local university to work with researchers on engagement metrics.

“What questions does your newsroom have? Bring those to the table, say ‘What do you think?’” she told MediaShift.

Could associations borrow that idea? Potentially, but no matter the case, the survey makes some important points on engagement that could easily be translated to membership organizations.

Check out the Engaging News Project website to read more highlights from the survey.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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