You have probably read articles and books or attended conferences that convinced you to introduce data in your newsroom. But for many journalists, this is a big change from the way they are used to work. Using metrics to make editorial decisions can prove an unpopular idea and you will need to do a lot of groundwork to persuade your colleagues, editors or shareholders that this is a good idea.
If you are convinced about the necessity to introduce data in your newsroom but encounter scepticism or even hostility, start by explaining why the change is necessary. Although that may take a lot of time and effort, you need to make the purpose and the goals clear to get people on board.
But it is not just about talking at your team, you also need to listen to what they are saying and be transparent about why you want to introduce data. Sometimes, your colleagues' objections are valid and another time apprehension may come from the lack of understanding of what you are asking them to do or trying to achieve.
Editorial analytics company smartocto gathered 12 most common objections to introducing data to a news organisation from journalists around the world. CMO Rutger Verhoeven and CEO Erik Van Heeswijk offer some practical ideas on how to answer them to help you have a constructive conversation with your colleagues.
1. I am afraid it will mean more work
Most newsrooms are understaffed and overstretched so the idea of having another task added to the workload is legitimately scary.
Answer: Shift priorities. Using data to inform your journalism should result in not more, but less work. You can decide to write fewer stories and invest that extra time and effort into understanding what stories are worth reporting.
Most newsrooms are overproducing content and many articles end up sitting on the website barely read. The general rule is that about 30 per cent of stories you are currently publishing can be dropped without your audience really noticing. The trick is to understand which ones.
And that is when data comes in handy. By understanding what content your readers or viewers value and what they do not care about will help you decide what to start, stop and continue doing.
2. I am afraid to be data unskilled
Journalists will often say that they did not choose their job to analyse data but to write stories.
Answer: No one is expected to learn everything in one day so if you start using data, everyone will be trained and supported along the way. No one likes to be set up for failure so it is your job to make sure every person is properly taught to use the new tools and that they understand what is expected of them and why.
You can also help your team by making it safe to make mistakes and showing them how to learn from failures. This will encourage more experimentation and ease anxiety.
3. I am afraid to lose my autonomy and I do not like that
An experienced journalist or editor will not take orders from a robot about what to publish and when.
Answer: Make sure data never kills creativity but just provides support for journalists to make decisions. You can also reverse the approach to data dashboards - they are not there to give answers but for journalists to ask questions. Why does something work? Why does it not work? Why this story is read until the last line and another is not? Or why does it attract more loyal readers?
4. Data is complex and boring
Journalists will often say they work with words, not with numbers and many genuinely dislike them.
Answer: Let your colleagues explore user cases and help them discover role models at other companies who successfully used data to improve their journalism. After all, this is not about maths but about knowledge that will help you write better stories.
5. There is too much data and it is overwhelming
In a fast-paced newsroom, no one has the time to go through a mountain of analytics to extract nuggets of knowledge.
Answer: Dashboards need to change. Place the metrics that matter at the top for easy access and do not complicate them with graphs and less relevant data displays. Be smart, not big.
6. I do not think there is workflow integration
If there are too many screens and tools, it takes too much time and energy to use them.
Answer: Book a specific time for working with data and let it talk to you where and when you need it.
7. Working with data costs too much and we have other expenses
Sometimes editors look at the bill and feel the money could be better used to hire more people, not pay for new tools.
Answer: Show the return on investment (ROI) on time and money. Use user cases to show it is money well spent. Also, calculate and show the cost of doing nothing which will hurt the company in the long run.
8. It will make us weak and dependent on the IT department
This could be a valid objection. Data analysts and developers do not necessarily understand journalism (and vice-versa) which could add to the workload or bring about conflicts.
Answer: Discuss roles, relationships and dependencies in the company and look for solutions. Data should talk to you and work for you, not the other way around.
9. Data will lead to a rat race that I am not going to win
This is often an issue when journalists write about niche topics that cannot compete with the main news, and many worry that introducing data to measure success will force them to produce clickbait content.
Answer: Data can look at all kinds of metrics, page views are just one of them. Ask your colleagues how they define success in your organisation and you will learn a lot about what metrics really matter to achieve it.
Another advantage of using data is that it can help us compare the right things and avoid competition between, say, sports stories and breaking news since this does not help anyone.
10. It was not my choice
No one likes to have new rules and requirements imposed on them and journalists are no exception.
Answer: Show consideration and respect and get everyone involved. A good strategy is to highlight past attempts to bring change that have led to new insights or improved your work.
11. I do not see the need for this at all
As the saying goes, do not fix what is not broken. Plus, change does not necessarily mean improvement.
Answer: Explain the big challenges of a digital content strategy and learn from history, Show that if you do not innovate, your organisation will die.
People also often worry that in every innovation effort, something gets lost. Find out what really matters and make sure you preserve the core values that your colleagues or editor hold dear.
12. I am afraid it will cost my job in the end
Journalists are often worried that tech will replace them in the newsroom or that a robot will not recognise the great niche stories they write and they will get fired.
Answer: Talk to people about the future, your business model and the impact that using data will have. Define what matters to the business model and make sure people’s work and the vision of success align.
Show that data can also help gain more subscribers and finance people’s jobs, or attract more advertising. It is important for journalists to understand the upsides as well as explore the downsides.
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