How Web Analytics Have Changed the Process of Gatekeeping

Online information systems, such as web analytics, have allowed not only a new way in which audience members interact with news items, but a new way in which journalists can monitor online audience behaviour.

This is done through the evaluation of online web analytics, which measure, collect and report page-specific data performed by online audiences. Such information allows journalists to measure online traffic, conduct market research, observe behaviour patterns and monitor the effectiveness of a website.

These audience metrics influence journalists in gatekeeping as it allows them to view the “success” of an article. This success if often base on the number of page views an article generates, as page views are attached to the idea of economical benefits.

Such benefits include:

  • A higher likelihood of clickbaiting.
  • A higher likelihood of subscription turnovers.
  • An increase in advertising revenue.

Journalists therefore understand that drawing traffic to a news site has become more and more crucial in modern times. This is notable as items such as page views now compete with traditional forms of economic capital, such as advertising revenues, circulation rates and audience size.

“The currency of the media business is attention,” says Stephen Hutcheon, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Innovative Editor. “It’s as much our job to know how to attract attention as it is to write a story.

“You didn’t have that problem before because we didn’t know how many people read our stuff. Now we know. And the numbers on some stories are surprisingly low.

“So is it a problem with the subject matter, the way it’s written or the way it’s presented and promoted? Sometimes, it’s all of the above. Sometimes, it’s a simple presentation fail.”

THE ROLE OF THE AUDIENCE IN GATEKEEPING

Gatekeeping is “the process of selecting, writing, editing, positioning, scheduling, repeating and otherwise massaging information to become news”. It is a news selection process that operates under several layers of influence, which are:

  • Organizations. An organized unit of people who have group together to serve a particular purpose. 
  • Social institutions. These are established groups of people who have come together for a common purpose. These institutions are rule-governed in order to suit the social order of society. 
  • Social systems. The characteristic pattern of relationships that make up an institution of people.

Therefore the audience, as a social institution, has a direct influence on gatekeeping. This influence most often occurs through the filtering of news after a bout of negative or positive audience feedback.

THE EFFECT OF WEB ANALYTICS ON GATEKEEPING

However, since the introduction of web analytic platforms, journalists now have the option to see the “success” of their publications. This has caused journalists to become more susceptible to the influence of their audience, as news content is now created and published in order to generate such success.

Web analytics have therefore disrupted the process of gatekeeping, as news is now selected primarily under the influence of a social institution, rather than equally of all influences.

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