Sunday, August 26, 2007

How to abuse data

The Enquirer's newfound obsession with data is on full display Sunday morning. All three stories on the front page are based on numbers. Greg Korte's look at a Hamilton County home improvement program is all right, but not earth shattering. Denise Smith Amos' review of ACT and SAT scores follows a formula that the Enquirer is wearing out -- find data, quote a couple of "expert" sources (make sure you get an Ohio source and a Kentucky source) and ask a few real people how they "feel" about something, but don't reach any real conclusions. Her article sidesteps the whole debate about whether those tests are overemphasized or whether they actually predict success in college.

The worst of this group, however, is the story that the Enquirer gives most prominent play -- Jessica Brown's take on the large number of speeding tickets written by Arlington Heights police. The core of the story is a pointless discussion of what defines a "speed trap," and this story also reaches no conclusion. Brown seems to take the Arlington Heights officials at their word. It doesn't appear she spent a minute sitting in the village's traffic court or looking at the situations under which drivers were ticketed. All the tickets are public records. Did she review any of them? It appears she interviewed only three drivers, when thousands have been ticketed. This is the barest sort of reporting.

Data are becoming a crutch for Enquirer editors and reporters. They are using found numbers as a substitute for real inquiry and for real reporting. None of today's stories are truly awful, but none is front-page news. The Enquirer is parading these stories as the best work it can produce. It's sad to think that that may be true, that this is the best the Enquirer can do.

8 Comments:

Anonymous mr. whig said...

HITS HITS HITS

These stories are all about one thing - driving traffic to the Data Center. Getting more hits, more pageviews, taking that to advertisers and saying \"look at how many eyeballs we\'re getting,\" while leaving out the bad news: a lot of people either a) just tune out advertising on the Internet; b) look at it as a major irritation and refuse to patronize such business (HELLO CHAMPION WINDOWS? STFU) or c) use a hundred different Firefox extensions to block ads and flash and all the other nonsense Gannett parades around as new revenue streams. If Gannett thinks eyeballs will drive profits - or if they will ever measure up to what profits were in print - they\'re wrong.

Put NEWS people will want to read out there, not a database of Ken Griffey\'s home runs.

Want more traffic? Make a free classified site a la Craigslist (I know, it\'s stealing an idea, but newspapers invented that). Free ads, free pictures. Tie it all in. I can search for fleshlights. I can view new fleshlights for sale versus used (from people who would gladly pay to advertise their new fleshlights).

And you may well say, \"Well duh, mr. whig,\" which is fine. But the whole \"Internet revenues can make up for print revenues\" idea has a huge flaw: people hate Internet advertising, don\'t trust it, and advertisers may never be convinced it works, unless you advertise to them what they\'re looking to buy at that moment, which is why Google is making so much money.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious commentary from an obvious print product lifer.

No wonder newspapers can't hang on to their "digital" talent...because they have to work with people like Mr. Whig!

Before you pitch that idea for a DIG coffee mug, Mr. Whig, I'd try to catch up about 6 years on "interweb" reading if I were you.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, you are stuck in the past.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently those days still are alive and well (or sick).
Editor wants a story. There's a report on my desk. Make a few phone calls - ta dah - the story du jour. And notes of praise followed. Probably those notes exist no more; they were worthless anyway.
Fortunately I left that place and am happily raising twins and two singletons on hubby's CPA salary and my teaching degree.

Happy in KC

5:01 AM  
Anonymous mr. whig said...

"Hilarious commentary from an obvious print product lifer."

Sorry you missed the point completely; here's hoping your PR career is a fulfilling one.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you missed the point completely.

Sadly, you are the one that has missed the point, Mr. Whig.

Let's review...just for fun.

look at it as a major irritation and refuse to patronize such business
- Show me the data where people have refused to visit a business due to an online ad.

If Gannett thinks eyeballs will drive profits - or if they will ever measure up to what profits were in print
- Smart online advertising drives more net revenue than print advertising. There's less overhead, there's trackable ROI, there's no cost for paper or ink, there's a targeted audience. THE PROBLEM is that Gannett has a print sales staff that can't grasp online concepts. They sell ads improperly. They don't use their tools to target as they should. They are obligated to keep the print revenue strong, at the cost of online revenue. etc., etc., etc.

Put NEWS people will want to read out there, not a database of Ken Griffey\'s home runs
- Some of the most popular web sites are databases. Craigslist (your favorite), eBay, etc. It's about content that people want-- period. Not just about NEWS. I agree about the Griffey piece, but I don't agree about your general statement of news vs. database content. 'Content is King', but content doesn't always mean news. e.g. Is this blog news? No, it's commentary/gossip...but you're here.

Want more traffic? Make a free classified site a la Craigslist (I know, it\'s stealing an idea, but newspapers invented that). Free ads, free pictures. Tie it all in.
- Why would users flock from craigslist to cincinnati.com? Craigslist has 1000s of "for sale" listings -- just for today. How do you take that audience from them? Long gone are the days of cincinnati.com being the leader just because it's cincinnati.com.

I can search for fleshlights. I can view new fleshlights for sale versus used (from people who would gladly pay to advertise their new fleshlights).
- Again, why is this better than any other alternative? Have you visited CityBeat's classifieds? Do you really think this is the answer? Gannett missed the boat on this a long time ago. It's naive and careless to think this will fix the revenue issue.

people hate Internet advertising, don\'t trust it, and advertisers may never be convinced it works
- Internet advertising is the most accountable, targeted advertising available. Log in, see who clicked your ad. See which ad's copy performed best. See which type of content your ad performs best against. Then refine. Conversion goes up. Online advertising is on track to overtake ALL other types of ad spending by 2011. Do you think that's because it's not working?

This is only scratching the surface of your lack of knowledge, Mr. Whig.

It is people like you that make working at that place a fight -- every day. Because anyone that has a clue about the Web has to step back 5 years to explain the basics. There's no such thing as moving forward at 312 Elm.

Gannett needs to start by cleaning out the Whigs.

So many editorial egos, so little time.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 12:48, I think you are right on the money and it would be my pleasure to start the slow clap... Then I should probably get back to looking for a new job.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ANON 12:48: I tend to agree with most of your points but the frustration in the comment seems to be misdirected.

Point 1: Personally, I avoid annoying internet ads and block them any way I possibly can. Can't help but think that most people do. Of course, I have no data that says how great that avoidance is with the use of blockers.

Point 2: Smart internet ads are a good thing and yes, they are content. The problem appears to be in sales and ad construction/placement on the web. Those problems are created by lack of employee development that should have happened a while back and lack of direction and vision from leadership.

Point 3: Craigslist and ebay are not news databases. They are advertising databases. Yes, the ads on those sites are welcomed content. That being said, the Enquirer has nothing close to the elegance of craigslist, ebay or a number of other advertising-type sites such as angieslist for services.

The news databases that the Enquirer does have are either lame (as in the Griffey piece) or way too late in coming. I have yet to see anything in the datacenter that couldn't be easily found elsewhere eons ago. Again, the problems with both the advertising and news databases are leadership and visionary issues.

Point 4: That's right. It is painfully evident Cincinnati.com or the Enquirer are the not only game in town. Lack of forward-thinking leadership and vision.

Point 5: That's right, it is naive and careless to think that there can be a quick fix to the revenue issues. The Enquirer missed the boat and others creatively took huge chunks of the market.

Point 6: Whig's statement that people hate and do not trust internet advertising was perhaps too broad. Internet advertising does work well in the way you have described how it SHOULD work. The annoying and in-your-face ads don't work and aren't trustworthy - at least as far as this consumer is concerned. Personally, I can't help but think that Online advertising will accelerate and take over print sooner than 2011 as Online readership appears to be moving faster.

The Enquirer is a fight every day but from your comments ANON 12:48 your frustration seems to be with leadership and possibly advertising. Maybe Whig isn't correct in his statements but that doesn't seem to be reason to lash out at editorial.

The Enquirer seems to willy-nilly throw anything online, anywhere, without consideration to whether or not it is of interest, factually correct and without regard to whether the two types of content play well together. And all to meet some arbitrary Gannett directive.

Well thought out editorial content, along with well thought out advertising content make for a site people would WANT to frequent. Of course, it might still be too late to fix that revenue issue. Again, a leadership issue that isn't simply on the 19th floor.

5:54 PM  

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