In search of the formula for gut instinct

Will news judgment eventually be reduced to a formula that can be charted or is it best practiced by those, like Neetzan Zimmerman, with a particularly good gut instinct for what is news, or at lesat what will grab reader’s attention?

Or, like in baseball, will there be quite a bit of space for both?

What does a graph like this mean for a newsroom?

Brian Abelson would like to come up with something more insightful than Gawker’s pageview chart and has a concept of “Pageviews Above Replacement” that might turn out to a Money Ball statistic for newsrooms.

In briefest of terms, Abelson defines Pageviews Above Replacement, or PAR, as how well an article performs in comparison to similar articles that received similar levels of promotion.

While still early in his work, he has identiifed 10 factors that seem to predict how a story will do at The New York Times:

  • Time on all section fronts (+)
  • Number of unique section fronts reached (+)
  • Was the article in the paper? (+)
  • Was the article tweeted by @NYTimes? (+)
  • Time on homepage (+)
  • Number of NYT-tweets (+)
  • Max rank on homepage (+)
  • Word count (+)
  • Is the article from Reuters? (-)
  • Is the article from the AP? (-)

Then there’s Zimmerman’s method of identifying a hot story, or, more likely be widely virally popular. He keeps lists of topics and trends in his head and makes quick decisons, soemtimes with a few rough data points like the number of Facebook shares.

“Within 15 seconds, I know whether an item is going to work … It’s a biological algorithm, … I’ve put myself into the system–I’ve sort of become the system–so that when I see something I’m instantly thinking of how well it it’s going to do,” Zimmerman told the Wall Street Journal’s Farhad Manjoo.

No, journalism isn’t about determing whether grumpy cats or sloths are hot, but there can’t be too many editors that aren’t thinking about ways to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their dwindling editorial resources.

A related question is: Are there data points to measure whether a newsroom had a good day and what might that look like?

The idea of a data-driven newsroom is so foreign that editors don’t even have a good idea of what to measure or how.