Credit: By James Cridland on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
When journalists want to find out how successful a story they’ve written is, they often rely on the article’s number of pageviews or amount of social media shares.

But focusing too much on quantitative metrics can give publishers a narrow and superficial view of how well their stories are performing and this is an issue that NewsLynx aims to solve.

Launched on GitHub yesterday by Tow Center research fellows Michael Keller and Brian Abelson, NewsLynx aims to be both a workflow management tool and an analytics platform for newsrooms that can be "plugged into any source on the internet"

What surprised us was how much we still heard about the importance of quantitative measures of impactMichael Keller, NewsLynx developer
"As a workflow management tool, NewsLynx revolves around the concept of 'recipes'," Keller told "For example, if you want to monitor a Twitter list of all members of Congress for mentions of your work, you’d have a 'recipe' that looks for keywords and sends you an alert that you can either approve or reject."

Abelson and Keller identified patterns in how newsrooms monitor and analyse discussion around their work on social media and thought about ways to automate the process.

NewsLynx will also act as an analytics platform that pulls relevant numbers from Google Analytics and puts them into a larger context, although the founders hope to integrate with other platforms in the future. Keller said: "you won’t ever see a number that’s just by itself – for example, it will be the number of pageviews or unique visitors in comparison to the average number of all articles or of articles in that subject matter."

A number of non-profit, investigative newsrooms in the US experimented with NewsLynx for six months. "What surprised us was how much we still heard about the importance of quantitative measures of impact," Keller said.

People in these news organisations were relying on page views and unique visitors numbers as an aggregate to "tell more of a longer term story about overall newsroom growth or compare some groups to other groups."

"All of this data that is now available about who’s reading your articles, who your audience is, who is mentioning your work, is not necessarily helping an organisation do their work better, but is more serving the purpose of reporting on a grant at the end of the year," Abelson argued.

We’re trying to put ourselves in the space between Google Analytics and the journalistBrian Abelson, NewsLynx developer
This is the case for non-profit news organisations, which are usually funded by foundations, and that need to show how successful their work has been and the impact it has had on the public. Lacking a consistent format in which to do so, they "would have to spend a lot of their time collecting information... instead of using it to optimise their practices or understand their audience", he pointed out.

A common frustration expressed by journalists they surveyed was that metrics don’t necessarily give an insight into how audiences behave or interact with the content and "numbers couldn’t even answer the question [journalists] wanted to know", Keller said.

He gave the example of a radio broadcaster, which wondered if they "should even be doing web stories" or "if someone has a low time on the site on your article page, is that because the article is written in an inverted pyramid format and people get it or does the site design have an impact on that?"

The report accompanying the launch of the software gives case studies of how news organisations have applied NewsLynx, and stresses that it is not a stand-alone service but rather part of a broader toolbox for understanding an outlet's work.

Abelson and Keller developed NewsLynx as an open-source platform to work alongside existing services like Google Analytics and Chartbeat, rather than replace them, and provide a more comprehensive view of metrics.

"We’re trying to put ourselves in the space between Google Analytics and the journalist," Abelson concluded.

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