The role data and analytics play in editorial decisions depends on the newsroom and its business model, according to Australia’s top editors.

During a Sydney panel discussion at the NewsMediaWorks Inform Summit, an annual industry event, editors from Australia’s leading online publications weighed in on the role of data in newsrooms in revenue and editorial decisions.

“It’s not just about clicks, although obviously we’re a free online site [so] reach is very important to us,” said editor-in-chief Kate de Brito.

“It’s about understanding what the reader wants. And I think that’s been a bit of a bubble for journalism in the past: we’ve, as editors and reporters, assumed we’ve always known what our readers want.”

De Brito, who oversees Australia’s most read online news publication, said major newsrooms like will always have to make editorial choices including presenting new coverage, but when data and analytics shows content is not working editors need to know when to cut bait. 

“If readers are consistently telling you, through the use of analytics and data, that they’re not interested in something you need to change your way of intriguing them or trying to get them into that subject, or realise that it’s not of interest to them.”

“I think there can be arrogance in journalism still … the readers are telling you very clearly what they like and don’t like.”

It is not as simple as doubling down on the most read topics, De Brito says, but when the data revealed sore or soft spots editors needed to respond. She said, in this regard, readers are still often ignored and argued some stories are still being “written for a newsroom”.

More to the story

Guardian Australia Editor, Lenore Taylor, agreed data and analytics are a useful tool for editors but cautioned against an over reliance on them and said editorial and commercial objectives are not necessarily the same at The Guardian. The media organisation relies on a roughly 50-50 split of ad revenue and reader contributions for funding.

“Both the analytics of page views and the analytics of engagement, I think we need to use quite carefully. Because it doesn’t mean that those commercial objectives and editorial objectives are exactly the same,” Taylor said.

Guardian Australia Editor Lenore Taylor speaking in Sydney. Image: Joseph Brookes.

Taylor’s example is content that challenges readers, including analysis they may not agree with. While it likely won’t drive subscriptions directly, Taylor says it is vital.

“That’s still got to be part of what we do. We can’t just feed people what they want to hear or what they already agree with. I think we’ve got to use analytics and use data carefully to make sure we’re still delivering on that journalistic purpose but also listening to what our readers want and what they’re saying.”

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