Our guest this week is James Tozer, editorial data analyst at The Economist. He tells us about the tools he uses to provide insights about the outlet's audience to the newsroom,
and how he got started in his current role.
What is your job title and what does that mean?
My role is editorial data analyst, which is a position that didn’t really exist this time last year.
I’m responsible for providing insights to our journalists about how, when and where their work is being digitally consumed – not just on Economist.com, but also on our various apps, and social networks.
I work particularly closely with the online news and audience engagement teams, who often need answers in real-time. And when I’m not crunching those numbers, I try to write for various sections of the paper as well.
How did you get started in the industry?
I wrote a bit and edited a section for one of the student papers when I was at university.
But I really got involved in news analytics when I set up a BuzzFeed-style website for Chinese students with a friend halfway through my degree.
The content (and editorial quality!) was a million miles away from The Economist, but I quickly learnt the importance of understanding how readers interact with articles, and finding signals amongst the analytics figures.
We sold the website, and I began my current role midway through last year.
What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?
Getting hold of the latest numbers – and seeing whether we had any breakout stories over the last 24 hours.
What does a normal day look like for you? In emoji.
What three tools or apps do you use most for work and why?
Insights platforms for various social networks – Facebook, Twitter and so on. These provide enormous downloadable reports, which can be a little clunky.
But with the right manipulation in Excel, they can give us some very clear messages about what is and isn’t working amongst our readers.
Chartbeat: this is a fantastic analytics tool. We think about more than just page views or unique visitors – and understanding how much time readers are investing in our content is crucial to that.
Omniture: not as exciting as some of the other tools we have, but I’m often digging around in it to find basic figures for weekly traffic.
What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now and why?
Picking up some tech skills. Just understanding the very basics of coding, knowing a bit of Excel or being able to scrape data can give you a lot more versatility than you might think, beyond merely being able to write.
What skills do you think are important to your role and why?
Having a good head for numbers helps – I studied English, and have had to dust off my mental maths!
But being creative and having a decent eye for visual detail is important too. I’m always trying to present the data in interesting new ways.
What has your current job taught you about the industry?
Click-baiting your readers with cat pictures is not the only way to be successful on digital platforms, thankfully.
There’s still plenty of interest in high quality journalism, presented sensibly. In fact, some of our most successful articles have been longer, in-depth pieces about difficult issues, which is very encouraging to see.
What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?
Read. A lot. The staff here are incredibly knowledgeable, though they wear it lightly, and it’s a very friendly place.
Having a bit of information up your sleeve is always helpful in editorial meetings.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Don’t be blind to the data, but don’t be blinded by it either.” It’s one of the mottos of Kenn Cukier, my boss, and the sage who heads up the analytics department at The Economist.
The numbers can tell us a good deal about how our articles performed. But they are a small supplement to a hefty dose of editorial judgement – not a substitute.
Check back next week for a new look into the media industry – in the meantime, you can read through our other weekly interviews with digital media experts.
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