By Kevin Davis, MIP Senior Fellow
Media and metrics.
Ever since the first days of the news industry as we know it, publishers have been using insightful data about the reach and impact of their news to drive their business. Whether it's the number of copies sold and distributed, the size of the subscriber base, the affluence and buying power of the audience, the number of awards won or the number of bad guys or products taken off the streets, news organizations (and the people that fund them) have always used a combination of objective and subjective measurements to justify financial support.
With the rise of digital distribution, expectations from funders both commercial and philanthropic rose. While many of the methodologies for measuring older, analog media used sampling and approximations of what was happening, expectations rose with the coming of digital distribution. Surely now, it was thought, we can directly measure and count actual interactions with content and the effect that content has on people’s behavior.
In reality, concerns about privacy, the emergence of many, disparate digital platforms and a lack of standards have left mainstream and independent news media with both an opportunity and a conundrum: If there are no longer generally accepted standards for measuring the impact and reach of our content, how do we know how well we’re doing and how can we justify further investment?
Since its inception, the Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg has been focused on helping media organizations of all sizes and structures develop, deploy, learn and monetize using advanced metrics derived primarily from tools that are as widely-available as possible. Working with some of the most forward-thinking news and media companies around the world, the Media Impact Project has been on the forefront of a revolution in media metrics, developing techniques and best-practices that can be adapted and replicated across the media landscape.
For the past five years, I personally have been focused on helping fledgling nonprofit, investigative and non-traditional media outlets get off the ground, grow their revenue sources and achieve desired impact. It is the independent media sector - which has so valiantly stepped into the void left by the massive pull-back in commercial news media - that is in danger of falling-behind in its ability to articulate its value in terms of measurable metrics.
Like the underserved communities these mission-driven news organizations are often focused on serving, independent news outlets generally do not have the financial, human or technical resources necessary to develop these key performance indicators themselves. As a result they are in danger of missing-out on innovations and cross-platform techniques that are driving more and more financial decisions by consumers, advertisers, sponsors and foundations alike.
It is to address this key issue that I will be spending my time as a Senior Fellow of the Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, leveraging the combined experience of the world-class team at the Media Impact Project and my years of working with independent publishers. Specifically, I will be looking to help answer the questions what metrics are appropriate for today’s indy and non-profit publishers? What are the tools and techniques that every news organization can and should use? How do we scale knowledge transfer to ensure that every independent publisher has the opportunity to adopt and benefit?
Independent news publishers of all sizes and business models today are helping fill information gaps, hold the powerful accountable and help keep society free. With this program we hope to ensure that news publishers large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, are are able to effectively measure and articulate the value of their labor in order to achieve these goals.