Ever since the first days of the news industry as we know it, publishers have been using insightful data about the reach and impact of their news to drive their business. Whether it’s the number of copies sold and distributed, the size of the subscriber base, the affluence and buying power of the audience, the number of awards won or the number of bad guys or products taken off the streets, news organizations (and the people that fund them) have always used a combination of objective and subjective measurements to justify financial support.
With the rise of digital distribution, expectations from funders both commercial and philanthropic rose. While many of the methodologies for measuring older, analog media used sampling and approximations of what was happening, expectations rose with the coming of digital distribution. Surely now, it was thought, we can directly measure and count actual interactions with content and the effect that content has on people’s behavior.
In reality, concerns about privacy, the emergence of many, disparate digital platforms and a lack of standards have left mainstream and independent news media with both an opportunity and a conundrum: If there are no longer generally accepted standards for measuring the impact and reach of our content, how do we know how well we’re doing and how can we justify further investment?
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