US newsrooms evaluating reporters based on story clicks?

By Mike Jenner & Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Missouri School of Journalism

Poster presented during the ICA conference in London.

Poster presented during the ICA conference in London.


An increasing number of online newsrooms in the US have started using web metrics to determine if their editors and reporters are doing well, a survey of top-level news editors found.

In a survey conducted among 114 members of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), some 21 percent reported that they use web metrics as part of the performance evaluation of their employees.

This reflects the increasing impact of how newsrooms in the country are using web metrics in their news work, based on the results of the web-based survey conducted last year.

The same survey found that more and more newsrooms are using web metrics to guide editorial decisions, such as planning coverage and deploying resources.

Web metrics were initially used to guide decisions on story selection and placement. For example, some 72 percent said they use web metrics to decide how prominently to display stories on the website while some 62 percent said they use metrics to help them design the website.

But some 73 percent said they use metrics information to decide “if we will assign additional stories or coverage,” while some 63 percent said metrics were useful in helping “determine how to write the headline.”

A possible explanation to this increasing impact of web metrics on editorial decisions is that in 51 percent of the newsrooms which participated in the survey, web metrics reports are put together by the newsroom staff.

Some 51% said their editorial staff monitors web metrics for the newsroom.

Some 51% said their editorial staff monitors web metrics for the newsroom.

Only 22 percent said their web metrics report comes from an IT division, while some 11 percent said the report comes from the marketing department.

The survey results are not generalizable to all online newsrooms in the US.

ASNE members were invited to participate in the survey last year, but only 114 completed the survey.

The results, however, provide information about the trend of how many newsrooms in the US are using web analytics in their news work.

Only one top-level editor per newsroom was invited to participate in the survey.

The survey participants reported they mainly monitor the number of unique visitors (85 percent) to the site.

The other key performance indicators that the top-level editors monitor include: most read articles (83.6 percent), number of page views (83.2 percent), top pages (82.1 percent), number of visits (80.3 percent), sources of traffic (73.8 percent), and session duration (72.9 percent).

Some 55 percent monitor web metrics using software created by a third-party vendor, such as Adobe’s Omniture (Site Catalyst) while some 41 percent still depend on free online programs, such as Google Analytics.

Of the news editors who participated in the survey, majority claimed to have had informal training on web analytics (51.4 percent) while some claimed to have self-taught knowledge or no training at all (25 percent).

A paper based on this survey was presented at the International Communication Association conference in London in June.


Study comparing bloggers, journalists wins top faculty paper

Here is the abstract of one of my three papers to be presented at the International Communication Association conference in London in June. This paper, co-authored with Dr. Bruno Takahashi of the Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, won top faculty paper from the Environmental Communication Interest Group.


An exploratory comparison of environmental journalists and bloggers

By Edson C. Tandoc Jr. & Bruno Takahashi

       In this study we present an exploratory comparison of environmental journalists and environmental bloggers. No study has investigated environmental bloggers as a source of environmental reporting. Using a web survey, we compared environmental journalists and bloggers across a range of different variables that the literature shows matter in understanding the environmental discussions that they produce. This study offers important insights about the people behind the mediated messages we get about the environment. We found that environmental journalists and environmental bloggers are similar and different at the same time. They have the same level of concern and perceived knowledge about the environment. But they also conceive different roles in society and source their information differently. We discuss the implications of these findings on the evolving nature of environmental reporting and discourse.


Teens must think about and discuss politics to learn

We presented the results of the study during the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Chicago in August 2012.

By Nathan Hurst
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (Sept. 25, 2012) — A strong democracy depends on smart voters who choose their leaders based on their knowledge of important political issues. One of the ways that Americans learn about politics is by following the news. Now, researchers from the Missouri School of Journalism have found that simply following the news is not enough.

A panel survey involving more than 1,200 teenagers from 12 to 17 years of age found that adolescents learn more about politics when they think and talk about what they read or watch on the news. Edson Tandoc, a doctoral student at the School, found that adolescents who spend more time thinking and talking about the news with their peers and relatives tend to know more about political developments in the country.

“This is important because an individual’s political identity begins long before one is eligible to vote,” Tandoc said. “Our political identity is not shaped overnight and so it is important to start molding our future voters while they are still young.”

Tandoc and his adviser, Esther Thorson, a professor and associate dean for graduate studies and research in the Missouri School of Journalism, analyzed two surveys conducted six months apart. The first survey, conducted six months before the 2008 presidential elections, asked teenagers how frequently they followed the news, how much they thought about the news, and how often they discussed political news with their peers and relatives. The second survey conducted right after the elections asked the same teenagers several questions about politics to measure their levels of political knowledge.

What Tandoc found is that news consumption does not directly lead to political knowledge. Instead, news consumption leads to thinking about the news which then leads to engagement in discussions about the news, which finally ends with political learning.

“Engaging teenagers in the political process is vital for the future of democracy,” Tandoc said. “Our study shows that if parents and educators want to increase political knowledge and action among younger generations, it is important to involve them in discussions about what they are reading in the news. Just giving them a story to read is not enough. Teenagers need to be able to think through and talk about political issues in order to retain knowledge about them.”

This is a reprint of the press release published in the Missouri School of Journalism’s website about the research I did with our Graduate Studies Dean Dr. Esther Thorson. You will find the actual post here 

Why freedom of information can make people happy

Dr. Takahashi and I presented a version of this paper at the ICA Conference in Phoenix in May 2012.

Dr. Takahashi and I presented a version of this paper at the ICA Conference in Phoenix in May 2012.

The Philippines takes pride in having a free press, and yet the Freedom House Index (FHI), the most cited index of press freedom, rates the country as only “partly free.” Having a free press is important for democracy to flourish, and this is especially true for young democracies such as the Philippines.

In a study I co-authored with Dr. Bruno Takahashi of Michigan State University, published by the Social Indicators Research journal, we found that press freedom also contributes to increasing life satisfaction among citizens. Using a path analysis model involving data from 161 countries collected by different organizations, we found that countries with press freedom tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction among their citizens. Press freedom also contributes to having healthier environments and better standards of living, which then also contribute to happiness.

So where’s the link to having freedom of information (FOI), something the Philippines still does not have?

Having established that press freedom contributes to happiness, the next step is to understand what conditions are linked to it. Freedom House Index’s ratings look at three broad categories: the legal environment (e.g. laws and regulations that could influence media content), the political environment (e.g. pressure by the government, censorship, and violence against journalists), and the economic environment (e.g. structure of media ownership). FOI, I believe, is an important legal mechanism to ensure a free flow of information that guarantees press freedom.

With my happiness research as the springboard, I embarked on a new project, this time comparing press freedom, corruption ratings and freedom of information laws among 168 countries. In this still unpublished paper, I found that countries which have institutionalized FOI laws for a longer period of time tend to enjoy higher press freedom ratings.

Having an FOI law also leads to lower corruption levels and higher levels of human development. The global trend points to a positive effect of institutionalizing an FOI law on lowering corruption and improving human development.

This empirical evidence from the experiences of countries around the world shows how the Philippines, a country still wiggling out of economic inequality and corruption, can benefit from having its own FOI law.

Of course, enforcement is another matter, but let’s cross the bridge when we get there.

A story about these rants was published today on Inquirer’s frontpage. You will also find the article here:

And here is what our school had posted on its website:

Accepting rejections


Lima, Peru

I have learned to accept rejections.

Two years into my doctoral degree, I have had my share of rejected conference paper submissions. A classmate even asked me once how it felt to have a paper rejected because she had never experienced having one. Ouch. But I have learned to accept rejections. They are part of my academic experience, of my learning process, and sometimes even of my nightmares.

There is always a reason behind every rejection. No, I am not referring to reviews such as questioning a non-generalizable sample in a qualitative study. I am referring to a paper I presented in a conference last year in Peru, a paper that was previously rejected by another conference.

So what’s the reason behind that particular rejection?

1. I believe that rejections—at least for mortals like me who experience them—happen to make scholars persistent. When my paper got rejected, it broke my heart. But after sobbing—and I may not be exaggerating here—I went back to my computer, read my paper again, and reflected on what went wrong. I rewrote some parts. I added more literature. I ran more analyses. I revised the paper. And then revised it again. I rewrote some more sentences, some more paragraphs, and then some more sections, until I believed it has become unworthy of another rejection.

2. I believe that rejections happen to bring about surprises. When I learned about the call for papers from the World Communication Association for the 2011 conference in Peru, I took the chance. I have never joined WCA before. But the prospect of going to Peru was enough motivation. I have never been to Peru before. So I submitted my previously-rejected-now-improved paper and a few weeks later got a pleasant surprise: My paper was accepted.

Pollo a la Brasa

3. I believe that rejections in one’s academic career can eventually bring people to places. In my experience, it literally brought me to Peru. I was destined to try sumptuous dishes such as ceviche (fresh seafood in lime sauce), pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), and even anticucho (grilled beef heart). I was destined to drink chicha (sweet drink made of purple corn) and Inca cola (the most popular soda in Peru). Two necessary conditions allowed me to come to Peru. First, my school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, graciously gave me a travel grant enough to cover my pricey airfare. Second, I got a free place to stay, thanks to the nicest Peruvians I know, Dr. Bruno Takahashi (whom I first met in a conference in Singapore the previous year and who is now an assistant professor at Michigan State University) and his father Luis. 

4. I believe that rejections can build and strengthen friendships. My friends in Mizzou consoled me when my paper was rejected. The same paper brought me to Peru and reunited me with a good friend. I also made new friends from countries I have never been. 

Paracas, Peru

5. Finally, I believe that rejections can lead to unforgettable experiences. And I don’t mean the heartbreak that comes with them, or even the laborious work of revising. In my experience, having that paper rejected, and choosing to improve the manuscript rather than wallow in misery, gave me precious memories (and wonderful photos for Facebook). I drove by the Andes Mountains on our way to Huaral and marveled at the sight of reddish peaks that glinted with the sun. I saw penguins and sea lions during our trip to Paracas and took photos of rock formations protruding from the pristine blue sea. Bruno, whose paper won best student paper, had the humor to nominate me for best student presentation. I now have a nice glass trophy to remind me of my visit.

In a system that privileges approval, rejections are always disappointing. But how we respond to them defines our experience.

I have learned to accept rejections. I have learned that there is always room to grow, a chance for improvement, and an opportunity to be better.

There is a reason behind every rejection, especially if you accept it not as an end but as a beginning: There are always new memories to create, more experiences to make, and lots of Facebook photos to take.

For me, there was Peru.

The theory that theory doesn’t work

One night I read a book about building theories. Nope, I did not build a new theory after reading it, but at least it made me write again. So how about discussing “theory” in a national paper?

Here is how it looked, as published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

University of Missouri’s Memorial Union

COLUMBIA, Missouri—For many industry people, theory and practice don’t mix. Outside the school, you will often hear the cliché that something is “good only in theory.”

I have heard this as a journalist. What you learned in school, I was told, was different from how things worked on the news beat.

This disdain for the theoretical among people focusing on what’s practical is a surprise to me, especially now that I am a student again.

A theory is a set of statements about the relationships between concepts. Theories not only help explain things but also predict outcomes.

In our everyday routines, we make our own theories.

We avoid a particular road during rush hour. We know there is a relationship between the time of day and traffic jams based on personal experiences.

We pick a restaurant with lots of people, theorizing that having lots of customers means the food is good.

It is the same principle behind the theories we come across in books.

In one of my research projects, I wanted to test the assumption that the Internet displaced traditional media like television and newspapers.

The claim is that as people’s use of the Internet increases, their use of traditional media decreases. This understandably worries traditional news organizations.

I turned to two theories to better understand the issue.

Maxwell McCombs’ relative constancy theory says resources allocated to the media, such as time and money, are finite, so if a new technology gets a share of the pie, the slices for the existing technologies become smaller.

John Dimmick’s niche theory also says that no two mediums can occupy the same niche; if both mediums serve the same uses, only one will survive for that particular niche.

These theories guided my research. From them, I deduced some expectations (or what we call hypotheses). For example, that Internet use drives down the use of other traditional media.

But theories are meant to be tested. That’s why it is important that we apply theory to practice.

To test these theories, I used data from the literacy surveys of the National Statistics Office. These surveys asked respondents to report their use of each medium, like newspapers, radio, television and the Internet, among others.

I compared media uses reported in 2003 and 2008.

What my analysis showed is that, consistent with the two theories, the resources allocated to Internet use increased in 2008 compared to 2003. The resources allocated to radio and newspapers decreased.

However, the resources allocated to television—and even moviegoing—increased in 2008 compared to 2003.

Does this prove the theories wrong? Not really.

It points to a need to reformulate the theories. What I think my findings showed is that while a new medium might displace the resources allocated to old mediums, some of these displaced resources get redistributed to mediums that survive.

We reformulate our theories even in our everyday lives.

We eat in that restaurant filled with people and find out the food is not really that good. It is actually the cheap price that drives traffic.

We drive on Edsa outside rush hour, but still get caught in a jam, and realize that the Ortigas malls are holding sales. Then we realize that the volume of cars, and not just the time of day, is the culprit.

When we find that something is “good only in theory,” then we might have been using the wrong theory after all. Or maybe we need to reformulate the theory—even create our own theory—to better guide our behavior.

Theories are helpful not only because they provide tentative explanations. They are helpful because they make us think.

They work if we make them work.

(The author is a Fulbright scholar and a Ph.D. candidate at Missouri School of Journalism. He is scheduled to present the results of his Internet displacement study at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago in August. If you have questions, or want to know more about the paper, e-mail

Breaking news or breaking the newspaper?

This is the abstract of a paper I presented in a conference in Peru, my second conference presentation as a doctoral student.

In a survey of 110 newspaper and website reporters in the Philippines, this study found a manifestation of medium-based loyalties, consistent with previous studies that found differences between perceptions of journalists tied to different media: Newspaper reporters were more optimistic about the future of their own medium while website reporters rated their own medium more positively.

Though journalists get socialized into the practice of journalism, it is apparent that within the profession are several sub-groups. A sub-group could be based on medium. But in as much as medium-based loyalties have significant effects on media convergence, the shift to converged newsrooms is also likely to affect the conceptualization of medium-based loyalties: If converged newsrooms succeed in creating multi-media journalists, where will their loyalties lie?

Presented at the World Communication Association 2011 Conference in Lima, Peru.