Viktor Pickard wrote an article titled Management by Metrics Is Upending Newsrooms and Killing Journalism (October 2021).  “Designed to discipline workers into producing clickable and profitable content, newsroom analytics are radically changing the nature of media work — and hastening journalism’s ugly decline.”

« Journalism is in crisis. The past two decades have seen tens of thousands of newspaper jobs vanish and hundreds of communities become news deserts.  »

« Caitlin Petre, a media sociologist at Rutgers University, has published a timely and important book that vividly captures these transmogrifications. Her engagingly written and deeply researched All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists exposes a particularly glaring manifestation of intensified commercial pressures: the growth of “newsroom metrics” that measure and gauge reader engagement with digital news content. By fetishizing these audience analytics, journalists are driven to optimize their content for clicks, ultimately in ways that deteriorate their own working conditions.   »

« She traces how the logic driving newsroom metrics aims to maximize profits by extracting greater productivity from news workers and greater commercial value from the content they produce.  »

« News outlets increasingly rely on these metrics to provide incessant feedback about their content’s online performance. Gawker even kept in full view a wall-mounted, large-screen data dashboard — sometimes referred to as the “big board” — that was essentially a scoreboard displaying the traffic metrics of specific stories. Petre notes that Chartbeat’s specialty was to go beyond simple page views to calculate engagement metrics of time spent with the content and whether the article was shared.  »

« Recalling Dean Starkman’s observations about the “hamsterization of journalism” from a decade ago, Petre reveals how struggling news organizations force journalists to work more for less under increasingly casualized and precarious conditions.  »

« Petre’s analysis implicitly draws attention to the not-so-hidden eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: the monstrosity that is Facebook (a subject to which the book could perhaps have devoted more attention). Given the platform’s gatekeeping position as the primary portal to a massive global readership, reporters internalize an almost-instinctual awareness as to what types of content capture attention and perform well on the Facebook news feed. Such dynamics incentivize journalists — many of whom face intense job insecurity — to craft their reporting according to clickbait criteria that emphasize controversy, conflict, sensationalism, and anything that prompts people to engage with stories, thereby generating more advertising revenue.  »

« Critics have long argued that metrics-driven journalism privileges fluff over high-quality news, while conditioning journalists to treat audiences as apolitical consumers and entertainment seekers rather than engaged participants within a democratic polity.  »

Victor Pickard is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His latest books are After Net Neutrality (2019) ‎ coauthored with David Elliot Berman, and Democracy Without Journalism? (2019).

See also The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller.

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