So you want to measure impact: BarCamp 2013

While some journalists were relaxing in Italy, the coolest of the cool kids were hanging out in Philly. (But isn't that always the case? Yes, yes it is.)  During a panel in Perugia last week, Aron Pilhofer described the New York Times' in-house analytics team, which teed up nicely a conversation at BarCamp News Innovation between Brian Abelson, the Knight-Mozilla Fellow working on analytics at the Times, and Greg Linch, the guy who helped spark the idea for the position.

Brian, Greg and I kicked off BarCamp with a discussion of impact and a flurry of links, examples, and takeaways. The session followed up from sessions Greg led last year on impact and an ongoing conversation about how to define and incorporate analytics and ideas about impact into journalism. As Brian has been researching the topic, he's compiled a bibliography of writing on impact. He noted that a great white paper from ProPublica includes case study descriptions of different stories and how ProPublica has defined impact.

In addition to research on impact, Brian shared how an editor at the New York Times described his system to track the impact of investigative series: manila envelopes. He keeps physical envelopes and throughout the year adds outcomes from each series to its envelopes. The thicker envelopes end up being the starting place for the Times' Pulitzer applications. Greg shared some thoughts on impact from outside of journalism. A Harvard Business School report on impact in nonprofit organizations included a logic model (pg 49) that Greg suggested news organizations, including for profit orgs, could also learn from.

Moving from the theoretical to the practical, Brian showed an example of impact directly mixed with reporting: the Los Angeles Times' timeline of coverage of  911 response times by the LA Fire Department. The timeline includes stories produced by the LA Times as well as key event updates and items of impact. Brian noted how the timeline "becomes a piece of news content itself."

The discussion that followed centered around appropriate measures of impact for different types of content and the tension between work that may be difficult to measure via analytics and the temptations of link bait. There was also a lot of discussion about who in a newsroom has access to what analytics.  William Davis of the Bangor Daily News told how at his paper reporters had access to story level analytics, editors had broader analytics access, and he could use Chartbeat to watch how readers moved throughout the page. Greg came back to looking to other fields for ideas about impact in explaining that news organizations need to set their own baselines and create their own metrics. The crowd included a mix of people who probably spend the day with an analytics dashboard on a monitor as well as reporters who work with organizations that are still trying to figure out what to do with all that data. Across that spectrum, people were able to share their concerns and learn from colleagues at news orgs of all different sizes and types.

And, of course, that conversation will keep going. It continued in a session with Andrew Mendelson in the afternoon, and online in a Google Group on journalism impact. Greg recapped both sessions from the day. Thanks to the Center for Public Interest Journalism for support of this session (and the video). Join the conversation in the next OpenNews community call for updates on work the Fellows are doing on impact or join the Google Group.