How having access to more and more data about who is reading your stories when and where could help make journalism better
Over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram has a fine write-up about NewsBeat, the journalism-centric product from the real-time analytics company ChartBeat. The thesis is that having more and better data about the traffic to stories may actually be good thing. That runs counter to the conventional wisdom that if journalists know how many people are visiting their stories, they'll immediately start writing about [fill in pop culture reference du jour] and [reference to cats]. Having been in places where journalists had access to data, I completely agree with Ingram that stats don't cause a race to the bottom. It's just another one of a dozen competing concerns that enter into writing the next story (always the next).
From an editor's perspective, ChartBeat -- and I'm assuming NewsBeat, though I haven't personally used it -- is fantastic. You can see at a glance how and why something is generating a lot of traffic. The data exposes the plumbing of the Interwebs, all the little mini-networks that pick something up and turn it from something published on your site to something living on the Internet. Traditional analytics were good at letting you see that kind of thing the day after, but the real-time stats let you see it as it's happening. That's both wonderful and addicting and exhausting. ChartBeat is like a drug, or at least it activates the same neurochemical pathways in your brain. Must. Have. More. Data. Who needs food? I got ChartBeat. (So, journalists, be forewarned. Please use ChartBeat responsibly.)