Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Surely, somewhere in those dashboards and spreadsheets, the answer to journalism’s failing business model must be hiding. Maybe if we just vacuum up more personal data…

Journalists love data. Newsrooms love data. Sales teams love data. Everyone with a challenge loves data. We’ve never had more of it and yet, we fear we don’t have enough.

In an era where journalism is only slightly more trusted than Congress, gorging on data to micro-target users won’t help us make the major difference necessary to earn people’s trust. According to the Reuters Institute 2022 Digital News Report, only 18% of people in the U.S. say they trust news websites to use their data responsibly.

Obviously, seeking data isn’t wrong, as long as the answers we seek will help us better serve communities. In 2023, the public service news sector should adopt a set of “mission-driven metrics” that help newsrooms gather and analyze data to not only drive decisions that increase reach and revenue, but also evaluate community engagement, representation, and, most importantly, community satisfaction.

The News Revenue Hub is part of a growing cohort of journalism support organizations that exist to ensure the success of independent digital news organizations. We, along with our colleagues at Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, RevLab at Texas Tribune, the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), Local Media Association (LMA), Newspack, Indiegraf, and Blue Lena are positioned to not only provide complementary services, but also advocate for user-centered practices. The Knight Foundation has begun convening service providers with this goal in mind, and we’re already making progress.

Shifting our collective mindset from data mining to mission-driven metrics will fundamentally shift how we relate to news consumers. Instead of digitally stalking users, news teams will spend more time openly engaging with communities and asking people what they want.

Truly mission-driven metrics will show organizations if they’re serving the communities they say they serve; if they’re producing reporting that benefits people. These are the North Star metrics against which we should be judged, and how funding should be justly awarded.

In the future, mission-driven metrics will emerge as the only way news organizations survive the collapse of our business model and continue to build trust in communities. If a united group of committed service providers and funders support that effort, it will answer the questions we’re all asking.

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper are cofounders of News Revenue Hub.

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