Newsroom Incentives By The Numbers
Is using digital content metrics a smart way to measure output quality?
Newsroom managers are fighting a tough battle between the tidal wave of consumer demands for instant news and financial restrictions cutting production budgets to the bone. Digital or print, magazines are struggling to fill the gap.
The best way, especially in digital, is to drive up metrics counts. Quality content still makes the news world spin, so how do you encourage your writers to do even more? Incentivize.
“Web metrics are being used by some newsrooms in evaluating the performance of editors and reporters,” says Michael Jenner, Houston Harte Chair in Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Jenner conducted a survey of more than 100 ASNE members about their use of Web metrics and found that one in five respondents reported using those figures as part of the performance evaluation of their employees.
“Your job depends on something that’s measureable like a headline or pageviews?” Jenner says. “I thought, holy cow!”
Jenner, a veteran editor at The Bakersfield Californian, says the survey indicates a shift in modern newsrooms toward metrics-based decision-making.
“As an editor, I’d be concerned about building metrics to analyze whether the quality of writing is really driving the story,” Jenner contends. “There are so many other things that can drive the numbers.”
So, can a pay-for-performance or metrics-evaluated system work?
Forbes Media thinks so. Hundreds of Forbes’ content contributors are paid in relation to their total audience size. A baseline sum is paid to the author of a story for every unique monthly visitor with payment amplified if one-time visitors shift to returning readers. The higher number of visitors, unique or repeat, the more the author is paid.
However, not all media companies find incentives-filled newsrooms appealing.
“We love data, but data isn’t used to evaluate people,” says Jimmy Soni, managing editor for The Huffington Post. “If someone is doing great Web publishing, what we like to say is, ‘We can make anything sell.’”
Soni says The Huffington Post would never employ an incentives-based payment system.
“I’m not interested in tracking someone to a number,” Soni says. “Also, we’re in a creative business and that seems to me to suck the soul out of that creative process.”
For a top social publisher like The Huffington Post digital content performance is very healthy. However, print-centric magazine publishers looking to expand in the digital space or newsrooms making the shift to an all-online format could still benefit from tying financial incentives to content output.
In the ASNE survey, 49.5 percent of respondents claimed analytics improved the journalism they produced, however only 39 percent agreed that those same analytics made their organizations more profitable.
Tips to make the process of setting up an incentives program easier.
Know your employees.
Incentives help motivate some, but can also be pressure to others, stifling the creative process. It is important to know the personalities that populate your newsroom before making any decisions. Can your staff handle a program like this?
Set the right tone.
It is important to set a strong, but even-tempered tone. The point of the program is to help workers self-motivate, not be a tool to punish workers who do not rise to the challenge.
Identify your motives.
Be clear about your program’s goals. Whether incentives are meant to boost metrics in the short-term or set a tone for a full newsroom culture overhaul, you need to be clear about your objectives to keep everyone on the same page.
Use targeted measures.
Identify whom you are trying to motivate most, the whole workforce or newsroom stars, and tailor the incentives to that group. What you want from workers is different, so what you offer them should be different too.