Debate: How Many Metrics Are Too Many?

Do journalists have too much information about the online reader or not enough? It depends on whom you ask.
It’s a debate that continues as the New York Times published a story earlier this week about how the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the NYT use metrics. But does the newsroom have too much info about their readers? Can a writer have too much information about the customer?

Former Guardian director of digital content and current Columbia University professor Emily Bell thinks journalists should have more information, while the marketing department could use a little less.

If an editor now seizes on a story which is highly complicated, but deeply important, and it is not well read, or read at all, then the information should be used to make sure that story presentation, linking and marketing improves so that it is. Too often the filtering of metrics are left in the hands of the commercial departments, when journalists should be able to use a whole series of tools and feedback data to put important journalism in front of readers.

But the WSJ’s Digits blog brought in arguments that would disagree with Bell.

Digits blogger Jennifer Valentino-DeVries told about a Colombia University report that said all the numbers online “often conflict, and there is such a cacophony of information that it ‘impedes editorial decision-making,'” wrote DeVries.

She goes on to point out that other forms of communication have had one clear way of measuring traffic. Television has Nielsen ratings, for example. Online traffic doesn’t have one answer, and the many different options often show different results.

“Ironically it’s still like being a traditional editor making calls based on your gut instinct – you have more data, but it’s conflicting,” said multimedia editor at the Miami Herald Rick Hirsch to DeVries.

So what’s the answer? Would you rather have more options, or do you abide by the less is more argument? Personally, I would like to see every person reading this blog at every moment. Maybe that’s too much.

Photo by RambergMediaImages