What do users click on? How much time do they spend on an article? Do they watch a video all the way to the end? In the digital world, the use of content can be analyzed with a great deal of precision – a process that has become known as ›analytics.‹ Journalists themselves also use data, learning ever more about how many people access their page, how often which articles are read, and how intensively users interact with a post on Facebook. For more than a decade now, journalism research has also focused intensively on how journalists use these new possibilities and how they are changing journalism.
There can be few researchers who have published more studies on this than Edson C. Tandoc Jr. from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Now the former newspaper journalist has also published a book: In Analyzing Analytics, he provides an overview of the literature that has been published so far, reports on his own ethnographical and survey-based studies, and discusses how the use of analytics data affects journalism.
The slim book is divided into six easy-to-read chapters. Readers with limited time will find the first chapter useful, containing as it does a concise summary of the status of research. More detail is provided in the five chapters that follow. In »Changing audiences« (Chapter 2), the author traces how great the influence of the audience, especially on editorial decisions, has been so far and explains why journalists in the analog age displayed little or no interest in audience feedback. Largely based on studies and literature from the English-speaking world, this finding is not entirely applicable to German-language media. In Germany, media began paying greater attention to the interests of the audience and to findings from audience research even before the spread of the internet and the associated spread of analytics (Hohlfeld 2002; Blöbaum et al. 2010). However, Tandoc offers an enlightening diagnosis of how digitalization has changed the relationship between journalism and the public and the effects this has had on journalism.
His definition of ›web analytics‹ as set out in Chapter 3, is also fascinating. Journalism research uses a variety of terms that refer to the application of analytics in journalism but set different focuses. Tandoc himself uses the term ›web analytics‹ in this context, by which he means the recording and analysis of usage data that a media organization collects about its own website (cf. 27) – a very narrow definition. Other authors take a broader approach to the field, with Rodrigo Zamith, for example, referring to the field of research as ›audience analytics‹, by which he means systems that record the usage behavior of audiences (Zamith 2018). This term is broader and also includes data gained from social media channels, for example. Unfortunately, it is not made entirely clear what effect these conceptual differences have when it comes to assessing the influence of analytics on journalism.
Chapter 4 is really the core of the book. In »Journalists adapting,« the author reports with a great deal of detail and insight on the empirical results now available in the field of research. The influence that analytics data has throughout the various steps of news production is carved out in an outstanding manner. In doing so, the author emphasizes that analytics is yet to fully replace journalistic intuition – there remain »wide spaces for editorial judgement« (39). It is also worth highlighting his observation that the use of analytics in journalistic work – and thus its effects on journalism – have constantly changed, as research from the past ten years shows. This is in part due to the progress of technology (analytics software is being developed further all the time), but mainly to changing patterns in the way it is used by journalists.
In the final two chapters, the author pursues the question of how analytics is changing journalism. Some of the changes are perhaps negligible: Few would criticize the fact that news websites choose the times at which content is published based on when the largest possible audience can be achieved. More relevant are questions of how analytics drives commercialization: When reach is optimized to the detriment of journalistic standards, journalism risks losing its legitimacy as an institution in society. Tandoc is keen to stress that this is a very real danger: »In my interviews, observations, and surveys, I find that the adoption of web analytics is an economic rather than a journalistic strategy« (64). But he also provides some positive examples: situations in which journalists have used analytics to increase the reach of content that is relevant to society. He therefore calls for journalists to reflect more on the use of analytics and for journalism not to limit itself to describing the situation as it is, but also to balance it against normative standards.
Unfortunately, this is where the book ends. More considerations would have been welcome: How exactly could journalists use analytics to fulfill their function in society? Should common parameters such as unique users and engaged time be replaced? Cherubini and Nielsen advocated this approach in a report published in 2016. Is the use of analytics perhaps not really essential in order to safeguard the existence of journalistic organizations? Not in order to maximize range, but in order to sell digital subscriptions successfully. Which normative standards should research apply to journalistic practice when it comes to the use of analytics? Is journalism with a wide reach not vital in order to be heard on digital platforms and in the battle for attention? The book answers none of these questions. There is only one solution, as Tandoc himself writes in the final sentence of his book: »We need to continue analyzing analytics.«
This book review was first published in rezensionen:kommunikation:medien, 23th of July 2019 accessible under https://www.rkm-journal.de/archives/21889.
About the reviewer
Stephan Mündges is a research associate at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at TU Dortmund, where he conducts research into the digital transformation of journalism. He also works as a reporter and deskman for ZDF, focusing on new technologies.
Translation: Sophie Costella
Blöbaum, Bernd; Bonk, Sophie; Karthaus, Anne; Kutscha, Annika (2010). Das Publikum im Blick. Die veränderte Publikumsorientierung des Journalismus seit 1990. http://journalistik-journal.lookingintomedia.com/?p=441; zugegriffen: 21. Oktober 2017
Cherubini, Federica; Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis (2016). Editorial Analytics. How News Media are Developing and Using Audience Data and Metrics. Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism University of Oxford
Hohlfeld, Ralf (2002). Journalismus für das Publikum? Zur Bedeutung angewandter Medienforschung für die Praxis, in: Hohlfeld, Ralf; Meier, Klaus; Neuberger, Christoph (Eds.): Innovationen im Journalismus. Forschung für die Praxis (S. 155-201). Münster, Lit.
Zamith, Rodrigo (2018). Quantified Audiences in News Production. In: Digital Journalism, 5(2), 1–18. doi: 10.1080/21670811.2018.1444999
About this book
Edson C. Tandoc Jr.: Analyzing Analytics. Disrupting Journalism One Click at a Time. London und New York [Routledge] 2019, 82 pages, approx. EUR 40