A Tale of Two Newsrooms: How Market Orientation Influences Web Analytics Use

A Tale of Two Newsrooms: How Market Orientation Influences Web Analytics Use

Patrick Ferrucci (University of Colorado-Boulder, USA) and Edson C. Tandoc Jr. (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8580-2.ch004


This chapter describes the results of a study that compared a strongly market-oriented newsroom and a less market-oriented newsroom in terms of how they used web analytics in news work. Using ethnographic methods, the study finds that web analytics influenced editorial decisions in both newsrooms. However, the two newsrooms differed in the extent to which they used analytics and in their reasons for doing so. These differences are examined using the framework of market theory in news construction.
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In September 2009, software developer and market leader Adobe Systems Inc. announced it was buying the fast-growing, but still much smaller, company behind a five-year-old analytics program called Omniture (Corkery, 2009). The price tag puzzled a lot of market analysts: Why would Adobe spend a whopping $1.8 billion on such a young company? But after three years, Adobe seemed to be a satisfied buyer, renaming Omniture as Adobe Site Catalyst (Carey, 2012). Omniture is a software program that allows for collection and analysis of audience data over long periods of time (Johnson, 2009). In buying Omniture, Adobe entered the lucrative market of selling software solutions that optimize websites by enabling owners to collect information from their audiences. This information enables website owners to better understand online behavior. Soon, other software programs hit the market, such as Chartbeat and Visual Revenue, creating pricey programs specifically tailored for news organizations that allow tracking of audience metrics in real-time (Sonderman, 2011a, 2011b).

Newsrooms have embraced web analytics, a technological ally seen as a tool that can help the journalism industry grow back a rapidly shrinking audience-base for news. Information generated by web analytics are now being used to determine placement of stories (Lee, Lewis, & Powers, 2012), to decide which stories to do follow-ups on (Vu, 2013), to guide decisions on adding photos or graphics (Vu, 2013), and even to structure payment models for contributors (Fischer, 2014). These applications of web analytics in many newsrooms are arguably motivated by survival instinct—a need to increase traffic and generate more revenues (Lowrey & Woo, 2010; Vu, 2013), a motivation that does not sit well with the normative goals of journalism (Christians, Glasser, McQuail, Nordenstreng, & White, 2009). Indeed, critics are beginning to sound alarm bells on the potential impact of web analytics on the kind of journalism being produced (Fischer, 2014). But this motivation is also something not shared by all newsrooms, particularly those that operate under business models not dependent on advertising. Does the motivation for revenues, in essence a newsroom’s market-orientation, affect how it uses web analytics?

Journalism has always been closely related to technology, and journalists have long been normalizing new communication technologies to fit existing norms and routines (Lasorsa, Lewis, & Holton, 2011; Singer, 2005). But the availability of new technologies does not directly impact news production, and the effects across organizations unfold in different ways, mediated by several factors, such as organizational structures (Boczkowski, 2004; 2005). This chapter is interested in exploring and understanding the impact of organizational structure, particularly market orientation, on the ways newsrooms use web analytics. The authors compare two newsrooms that both use web analytics, but come from the opposite sides of the continuum of market orientation.

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