Beyond pageviews: Measuring the impact of local independent online news

By Denise Lockwood | Oct. 1, 2016

Lauren Furhmann of Wisconsin Watch, Jay Allred of Richland Source, Josh Stearns of the Democracy Fund and Jan Schaffer of J-Lab talk about measuring the impact of local independent online news coverage at the LION Publishers 2016 Summit Friday in Chicago.

To thrive, independent news publishers must demonstrate the impact their work has had on their community.

But that impact is central to the conversations they need to have to attract advertisers or funding sources. This was the message four panelists conveyed to attendees at the LION Publishers 2016 Summit in Chicago Friday afternoon.

“We need to focus on closing the loop,” said Jay Allred, publisher of the Richland Source. “We need to show the gist of what we do and give meaning to the work we do.”

The Richland Source has demonstrated this value by having reporters employ social journalism techniques. This means reporters don’t just highlight problems in their community, they work to provide solutions and partner with foundations to help address those issues. Allred highlighted their work around Richland County’s infant mortality problem and how they partnered with a local foundation to find solutions to the issue.

“We really started focusing on: Could we possibly save a baby’s life? And the answer is: I think we could,” Allred said.

Telling readers and funding sources about the impact they have also shows the commitment independent news websites have in addressing community issues, said Josh Stearns, of the Democracy Fund.

“It’s important to be transparent about what we do and why we do it, but we also need to do the work of demonstrating our value in the community,” he said.

Key metric questions to focus on: How are we doing, where are we going and who cares about the work we do? The answers to these questions can help guide publishers to funding sources or advertisers.

Journalist can tap into several resources to gather these metrics, including the American Press Institute’s Metrics for News or the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Impact Tracker.

Publishers also need to understand the impact their stories have on their readers, their communities, and power systems, said Jan Schaffer, of J-Lab.

“We know people don’t see a lot about what they care about,” she said.

She suggested that publishers promote how they’ve helped solve problems in their communities, and chronicle how they’ve changed civic structures.

Lauren Fuhmann, of Wisconsin Watch, said her group conducts investigations and they keep an impact folder and a spreadsheet that tracks their impact.

Suggested tools included:

MORI, an impact tracker plugin for Wordpress by Chalkbeat

Impact Media Project by USC.

Check out more entries in our 2016 conference blog »