Creative Commons image by: NS Newsflash

Measuring Journalism With Action

on Friday, Dec. 20th

The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard has unleashed a set of predictions for journalism in 2014. It’s a big set that could take all day to read, but one stood out quickly for me.

That would be the piece from NPR’s Elsie Hu about how “tomorrow’s metric for news is action“:

This year, the problematic pageview seemed to give way to “social lift” or some measure of sharing reach. And time on site or time reading became key proxies for the “engagement” we all seek. The innovative platform (and aggregator) Medium considers time reading its key metric. And the squishy definition of “quality” for Facebook includes “something that leads you to stay away from Facebook for awhile.”

By next year, I expect someone will crack the code of how to measure something more sophisticated: journalism’s influence, be it in civic action or cultural outcomes. Today’s metric may be time, but tomorrow’s is action.

This is an exciting, but also problematic idea. After all, action implies change and change requires a point of view. Points of view are, at least in the popular consciousness, something that journalism is supposed to encompass but not have.

That is a journalist, in journalist mode, is supposed to present the points of view in contention on a given topic. If the measure of success were action, then an inherent bias against the status quo is assumed.

Personally I don’t have a problem with this, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how work that is measured by the amount of change it creates would be quickly rejected by entrenched interests. Of course, there are those of us who believe that it is the proper role of a journalist to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but we were raised by wolves.

If Hu hasn’t already, she might find it interesting to check out the way in which Participant Media, an entertainment company with a “real issues” focus, uses a kind of “double ledger” for measuring their properties’ success.

“For each of its projects, Participant creates social action and advocacy programs to transform the impact of the media experience into individual and community action.”

Participant doesn’t face the same kind of scrutiny that journalistic endeavors do, but the system they’ve developed hits on what Hu is looking for. Not that I’ve personally seen the “action ledger,” but the evidence of its existence can be seen in the social campaigns the company runs. (You can see the social media aspect of Participant’s activism via the Twitter handle @TakePart.)

I’ll be digging into the prediction bag over the holidays, it seems like there’s plenty of food for thought in there.

Creative Commons image by: NS Newsflash


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