Something to “Like”? Facebook offers real-time analytics

Facebook just launched a round of updates to Insights, its analytics tool for sites that feature its social networking plugins. The updates include a bunch of useful improvements — you can now measure impressions, Comments Box analytics, and Like button clickthrough rates (yep, that’s a thing now!) — but the most significant (and potentially quite awesome) of the updates is the addition of real-time analytics capabilities when it comes to measuring Facebook interaction. Think Chartbeat for social engagement.

Think also, though, Google Analytics for social engagement. Facebook has been expanding its role when it comes to its relationship with publishers — not only through its broad Facebook + Media efforts, but also through an array of new plugins designed to help news sites better understand (and, then, interact with) their readership. And the Insights updates, via aggregate (and anonymized) usage stats, provide data not just about traffic, but also about user demographics. It’s not just about how many people are liking (and, you know, Liking) your stuff; it’s about who’s liking it — according to age range, gender, location, and language.

Knowing all those demographics — some of which Google Analytics can’t provide — gives publishers the option of targeting their content (and with it, perhaps, their advertising) to specific user groups. And, given the real-time data, during specific times of the day.

The revamped Insights tool is, essentially, an invitation to publishers to experiment with how they present their content and, with it, their Facebook-integrated features. Is a Like button more effective at the top of stories, or below them? Or both? Do the majority of shares come organically — through cut-and-pasted links — or via plugins? (Yep, the updated Insights tool measures that, too.) Those small data points can make a big difference as far as traffic — and, obviously, user engagement — is concerned. Same deal from the Share/Like/Recommend perspective: Are your readers more inclined to distribute your content when it’s framed with a “Like” button, or a “Recommend”? Once you know, you can design accordingly.

Links on Twitter: The Dallas Morning News paywall rises, ProPublica hosts a longform discussion and Media Gazer turns 1

If you’re creating a newsgame, how do you narrow down the topics? http://nie.mn/fABYt1 »

Want your newspaper to be a host family for a Knight-Mozilla news innovation fellow? Here’s some tips http://nie.mn/f9436M »

RT @ONAConf: Due to popular demand, #ONA11 Session Selector deadline extended to Thursday http://j.mp/gAAR4I »

.@MediaGazer turns 1 today! Happy Birthday! Someone send an ice cream cake to @Megan http://nie.mn/gzLUYa »

Who needs the Dish? The Atlantic looks to tech, photography and new Life channel http://nie.mn/hKx6Qs »

"A combination of high costs and falling ad revenues — isn’t something a paywall is going to help solve" http://nie.mn/ijR06M »

Attending SXSW Interactive? Mark Briggs offers a list of dos and don’ts for journalists http://nie.mn/hA6cM3 »

Reuters is launching new science, accounting and legal news products to "cut through the clutter" http://nie.mn/esn7cc »

ESPN goes behind the scenes at ESPN, with ESPN blog about ESPN http://nie.mn/fhODsC »

"How has the idea of the news story changed in a world of information abundance?http://nie.mn/ee4pAL »

*Swoon* ProPublica is hosting an event on longform storytelling with Ira Glass, David Remnick and more http://nie.mn/dTKnod »

Hulu, Netflix and Facebook? Warner Bros. movies will now be available to rent on Facebook http://nie.mn/gCZ8M0 »

In other paywall news, Gannett is considering whether to charge for access to some papers http://nie.mn/hdI12c »

Ad revenue at the Slate Group is up 33%, thanks in part to better video, comments and social media http://nie.mn/eCWiam »

Flipcams, Audioboos, Twitpics and more: A rundown of tools and resources Al Jazeera Online uses http://nie.mn/geNo3b »

Today the Dallas Morning News paywall goes live. http://nie.mn/fsPSvx »

Popular on Twitter: James Fallows’ new media love, Matt Waite’s old media hack and TBD’s candy jar

  • Matt Waite: It’s time to hack at the core of news
  • James Fallows finds a way to love new media
  • TBD’s candy jar, a metaphor for participation in news
  • A paywall could be coming for Gannett papers
  • Warner Bros. will make movies available to rent on Facebook
  • Craig Newmark of CraigsList launches CragConnects
  • Comments and video contribute to higher ad revenues for Slate Group
  • Nicholas Kirstof on how to strengthen women’s voices
  • ProPublica Live: Longform in the age of the short attention span
  • A field guide to SXSW for journalists
  • A perpetual motion machine for investigative reporting: CPI and PRI partner on state corruption project

    There is a flaw in the investigative reporting model and it has to do with longevity. Follow me on this for a second: A reporter works months at a time scouring documents, meeting sources, verifying details, writing, and perhaps even building a database. And then the piece is published.

    And that’s it.

    The lifespan of investigative reporting, at least as it’s typically done through newspapers, can be disappointingly short given the painful labor and birthing process. Once stories are released, the hope is the public (or perhaps lawmakers) will pick up the torch to right the wrongs illuminated by reporters. But the drumbeat stops after a while. Reporters have to move on to new assignments, and the public’s desire to change laws and right wrongs can be overtaken by things like #Winning.

    In an ambitious new project, the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International, and Global Integrity are trying to build a new mechanism that keeps the intensity and awareness of investigative reporting at a steady pace.

    What they’re building is a fifty-state corruption risk index. Think of it like a Homeland Security threat level indicator that shows just how susceptible your state is to corruption. Already this is no small task: They plan to hire a reporter in each state to do ground-level reporting and compile information for the index as well write stories. Where they hope to transform the investigative reporting machine, though, is by going transparent and getting people invested in the project before it officially drops next year. Instead of holding onto information before the project is complete, they’ll invite the public in, ask for a little crowdsourcing, and build momentum — and a network. The goal is to make the corruption index something of a perpetual motion machine.

    “The idea here is that in recent years really good, solid investigative reporting on the state level has fallen off, and state newspapers have had to make cutbacks,” said Caitlin Ginley, the project coordinator for CPI. “We see this as a great way to revitalize that.”

    The corruption index is not without some precedent. In 2009, The Center for Public Integrity released States of Disclosure, a fifty-state ranking of financial disclosure laws for local legislators (and source for the map above). Ginley told me they wanted to build on that foundation for the corruption index, using financial disclosure laws, conflict-of-interest laws, FOIA regulations, lobbyist rules, and other accountability standards as indicators to gauge the likelihood of corruption.

    “Reporters can take that information and see this is where [their state is] doing very poorly and report that out,” Ginley said.

    In its role, Global Integrity will help by creating a methodology and guiding the analysis of the data that comes in. (Reporters will also be using Global Integrity’s Indaba tool to collect and publish information.) The end result will be much like States of Disclosure, with report cards and rankings, as well as background data from each state, Ginley said.

    But the work that starts now, aside from the hiring of journalists in each state (JOB ALERT), is identifying people or organizations who can be helpful over the course of the corruption project.

    “We have the tools now for people to get engaged in stories as they go along and that creates a lasting commitment so its not a one-shot deal,” said Michael Skoler, vice president of Interactive Media for PRI. Just as important as finding reporters and document-hounding is cultivating a community that can guide and assist the reporting, Skoler told me. (Skoler is familiar with the concept, having established the Public Insight Network while working for American Public Media.)

    “The standard mode for investigative reporting is that people don’t talk at all about what they’re doing,” he told me.

    PRI will work with its more than 800 partner stations to find expertise and build interest in the project over the next twelve months so that ideally, when the report is produced, there will be a built-in audience who can share it with others or try to minimize corruption in their state. Projects around government and budgets are ripe conditions for crowdsourcing, but Skoler thinks the crowdsourcing concept is something far too many people attempt but ultimately don’t understand.

    “I think one of the misconceptions about crowdsourcing is when you crowdsource, you’re trying to attract and engage everyone. And that doesn’t work,” Skoler said. “Crowdsourcing is about reaching out to the people who are naturally interested and knowledgeable about something and inviting them to play.”

    Within each state, he points out, there are honest government/open government groups, think tanks, academics, and non-profits who have an interest in state corruption and could assist in the project. Skoler thinks approaching these specific people and groups, unlike asking the general readership for help, could produce better results.

    He also things that approach could help to increase the reach of investigative reporting. Instead of hoping that the results a reporter produces will automatically take on a life of their own, the corruption index hopes to apply strategy to extending the shelf life of accountability journalism. As Skoler puts it, “It’s a new way of thinking about impact for investigative journalism — and about building impact in through a whole process.”

    Links on Twitter: A reward from Lifehacker, a social network-y show for AJE, the business side of redesign

    Lifehacker’s offering $2,000 to the first person who solves a CSS problem that has them stumped http://nie.mn/gHbTnR »

    Fantastic resource: 13 free tools that can be used for data journalism http://nie.mn/eou9gX »

    PSA: The Knight News Innovation Lab is looking for an Executive Director http://nie.mn/exBSTW »

    Skype’s set to start running ads http://nie.mn/gg1DCm »

    .@khoi on the NYT Mag redesign: "more important than the speed of medium is the nimbleness of the business behind it" http://nie.mn/fKy0mp »

    A former AP reporter nears profit after starting a paper from scratch (via @10000words) http://nie.mn/ffo5hF »

    WSJ editors focus on free content when deciding what to share on social media, @zseward tells @mayerjoy http://nie.mn/f8eSv5 »

    Netflix "has emerged at the center of a titanic clash over the future of television" http://nie.mn/fesG7h »

    NPR, Schiller says, is going to create a standards editor position to "be yet another critical check in our process" http://cs.pn/hr9YRU »

    Pop quiz! Know what a pilcrow is? http://nie.mn/efZCMf »

    Want to hone your follow-the-money skills? Apply for this fantastic (and free!) NECIR workshop http://nie.mn/eo98uo »

    Eric Schmidt: "For me, there’s no better place to get accurate, fresh information…than a newspaper." http://nie.mn/egjP2r »

    TechCrunch isn’t sure whether it’ll stick with Facebook Comments. They’ve silenced the trolls, but… http://nie.mn/g7ETPO »

    "In a feat of nearly real-time publishing," a book’s set to publish tweets from the Egypt uprising http://nie.mn/fWoJlc »

    Assume good faith; be accountable; practice aikido—and other @mthomps tips on improving online conversations: http://nie.mn/eH0PJi »

    .@felixsalmon: The FT’s paywall turns it into, basically, an online newsletter http://nie.mn/eWbjLh »

    "APIs can make it easier to act on that greatest of questions: What if?" http://nie.mn/dLYfbX »

    Good morning! AJE’s social media-focused TV show is set to debut in May http://nie.mn/ee34jx »

    Share your data! Tell us how your readers arrive at your site: search, social media, the front door?

    Companies typically like to hoard the data generated by their operations. It’s a natural defense: The less their competitors know, the better. But limiting the free flow of data can also limit the growth of a sector; there’s real value in knowing how markets are evolving, what’s working and what’s not, or just what the current state of affairs is.

    That’s true for web analytics, the mountains of data generated by a website’s audience as it reads stories, follows links, and consumes content. Tools like Google Analytics and Omniture produce lots of interesting data, and nowhere near all of it needs protecting — there’s lots to be learned from seeing how one site’s audience compares to another’s.

    So I’m hoping that, if you run a news site, you’ll contribute to greater information sharing by answering four basic questions about how your readers arrive on your site.

    The need for better data

    I’m prompted by seeing Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo post yesterday about the growth in Facebook traffic to his site. In February, he said, 5.9 percent of visits to TPM came from Facebook, making it “the largest outside referrer to the site by a longshot.” Twitter, by contrast, generated only 1.7 percent. (Although I suspect he’s underestimating Twitter — see below.)

    I’m also prompted by the discussion in the comments from Dennis Mortensen’s post in which he argues that news sites spend too much time optimizing for search (a.k.a. SEO) and not enough optimizing for generating clickthroughs from their front pages. His data, drawn from a number of news sites, found that nearly half of all article pageviews come from clicks on a site’s front page or section fronts.

    Those are all really interesting data points, and I’m glad they’re being shared. But they’re by their nature individual data points. Just to speak from personal experience, here at the Lab, we get way more traffic from Twitter than from Facebook, and our front page barely generates 10 percent of our pageviews. Now, we’re a weird little news outlet — but everybody’s weird in their own way.

    What I’d like to do is to increase the number of data points we have to look at. That’s where you come in.

    How you can help

    I’m asking any reader who helps run a news site to answer four simple, straightforward questions about how your readers arrive at your site. They should be easily answerable with just about any web analytics software, but if you use Google Analytics, I’ve included simple instructions that will let you find the numbers in just a few clicks.

    And let’s define “news site” broadly — whether you work for a small hyperlocal site or The Wall Street Journal, a small-market TV station or Gawker Media, a tiny niche site or ProPublica, kottke.org or CNN.com.

    Here are the four questions we’re asking:

    1. What percentage of your traffic comes from search engines? (If you use Google Analytics, click “Traffic Sources” in the left sidebar, then look at the percentage next to “Search Engines” below the line graph.

    2. What percentage of your traffic comes from facebook.com? (In Google Analytics, click “Traffic Sources.” Look under “Top Traffic Sources,” on the left side. If you see facebook.com listed, it’s the number under the “% visits” column — you’re done. Don’t see it? Click “view full report” underneath it. Then, on the right side of your screen below the line graph, you’ll see “Views:” followed by six buttons. Click the second one, the one that looks like a pie chart. You’ll probably see facebook.com as one of your top referrers; if not, search for it in the “Filter Source:” box at the bottom of the screen. The percentage for facebook.com will be in the third column, under “Visits.”)

    3. What percentage of your traffic comes from twitter.com? (The instructions here are the same as for facebook.com — just sub in twitter.com wherever I mentioned facebook.com.)

    4. What percentage of your site’s visits begin on your front page? (In the left sidebar, click “Content,” then “Top Landing Pages.” On the right side of your screen below the line graph, you’ll see “Views:” followed by six buttons. Click the second one, the one that looks like a pie chart. Look for your front page, which will usually be called simply “/” — for most sites, it’ll be the first page listed. The percentage will be in the third column, under “Entrances.”

    Post your numbers in the comments, along with info on who you are and what site you’re writing about. If you want to add some commentary at the end, great, but that’s strictly optional. The goal here is to get enough data to see whether there are any interesting patterns to pick out.

    I’ll start off, to give you an idea of the format to use. Here are the numbers for at the Nieman Journalism Lab:

    Joshua Benton
    Nieman Journalism Lab
    www.niemanlab.org
    Period: Last 30 days

    1. 15.76 percent of our visits came from search engines
    2. 2.93 percent of our visits came from facebook.com
    3. 12.93 percent of our visits came from twitter.com
    4. 7.61 percent of our visits started on our front page

    At the Lab, we’ve invested a lot in Twitter, where we have over 42,000 followers. (Much more than on Facebook, where we have about 3,000 fans.) And our audience is unusually interested in new ways of consuming information, so they’d disproportionately tend toward social media even if we didn’t treat it as an important channel. So our numbers are a little unusual for a news site. That means people find out about our stories largely through social media and links, not by coming to niemanlab.org and clicking around.

    [Note: Just to head off a concern, I'm aware that counting traffic from twitter.com really undercounts traffic from Twitter. People using Twitter apps like TweetDeck and Twitterrific don't generate twitter.com referrers, if they generate referrers at all. But counting those app-using tweeters is difficult, so for our purposes, let's just use twitter.com traffic with the acknowledgement that it undercounts Twitter traffic. In our case, 12.93 percent of our visits come from twitter.com, but around 30-35 percent of our total visits come from Twitter in some form — apps or no apps.]

    Just leave your numbers in the comments, in something like the form above. Thanks kindly, and here’s to hoping we see some interesting data.

    Who owns newspaper companies? The banks, funds, and investors and their (big) slices of the industry

    Who owns America’s newspapers?

    In January, I detailed how a hedge fund named Alden Global Capital, which played a role in the shakeup at MediaNews Group, also had significant holdings in newspaper groups Freedom Communications, Philadelphia Newspaper Holdings, Journal Register Company, Tribune, and the Canadian newspaper firm Postmedia Network — all firms with current or recent bankruptcy status.

    After noticing that Alden also owned, as of December 31, 3.91 percent of Gannett’s common stock, I surveyed all of the U.S. public newspaper companies to see whether Alden pops up elsewhere as well. It turns out that, other than Alden’s stake in Gannett, there’s little crossover between the principal investors in the public companies and those that have picked up the “distressed opportunities” created by trips through bankruptcy court.

    First, here’s a set of slides detailing the top investors in each of the publicly-owned newspaper publishers. I’ve included among these News Corporation (both the class A and class B common stock), but for the rest of this analysis, News Corp. is excluded because its global multimedia holdings in film, television, magazines and book dwarf the entire rest of the American newspaper business. (Note: All holding and valuations throughout this post are as of December 31, 2010.)

    Note that these lists include both institutional investments (banks, pension funds, hedge funds) and mutual funds (pooled investments owned by individuals or corporations). Either way, the listed investor can vote the shares and in theory could influence strategy — but without board seats real influence is minimal. Most of these investors are looking for growth or dividends, not operational involvement.

    What stands out on these slides is that, with a few exceptions, ownership is diversified to the point that no single entity owns more than 10 percent. The exceptions are noteworthy but are longstanding stakes that don’t point to the kind of financial restructuring that Alden and others are signaling in the private post-bankruptcy sector of the business. The entire 10-percent-plus club consists of:

    • Edward W. Scripps Trust: 22.55 percent of E.W. Scripps. (The trust was established in 1922 for the benefit of Scripps heirs and has not invested outside of the Scripps group of papers.)
    • Berkshire Hathaway: 20.45 percent of Washington Post Company. (Also a long-term investment, acquired more than 30 years ago — Warren Buffett said recently he would never sell a single share, even though he was stepping down from the Post board.)
    • Ariel Investments: 18.95 percent of Lee Enterprises
    • GAMCO Investors: 13.07 percent of Journal Communications
    • Rupert Murdoch: 39.71 percent of News Corp. Class B common stock. (This gives Murdoch effective control, but in terms of market capitalization, his stake is just 13.1 percent.)

    Which investors are making the biggest bets in the newspaper business? To find out, I aggregated and ranked the total newspaper holdings of all of the top investors in each company. Here’s the result (leaving out News Corp., as noted above):

    Berkshire Hathaway’s Washington Post Company holding, it turns out, is the biggest single investment in U.S. newspapers, with a current value of $759 million. Not far behind, though, is Vanguard, with $703 million invested through a variety of funds in every public newspaper company: Washington Post, A.H. Belo, Gannett, Journal Communications, McClatchy, New York Times, Scripps, Media General, and Lee Enterprises. If this were one big company, Vanguard would own 6.74 percent of it.

    As Wall Street investments go, though, Vanguard’s across-the-board bet on newspapers is smaller than a rounding error — it has $1.4 trillion in invested assets, so its newspaper holdings are about 1/20th of a percent of its investments. And, to put the U.S. publishers in perspective versus the News Corp. juggernaut, Vanguard’s investment in News Corp. alone is worth $2.5 billion.

    After Berkshire Hathaway and Vanguard, the list drops quickly to smaller investments by JP Morgan Chase ($543 million), Ariel Investments ($497 million), and BlackRock ($335 million). (BlackRock, with $3.6 trillion under management, is the world’s largest money manager and the sixth-largest owner of Gannett stock.)

    A few names do cross over between the “distressed opportunities” investors I listed last month and those with some holdings of public (and not-quite-as-distressed) newspaper companies. They include:

    • Alden Global Capital: As noted above, it has a major stake in Gannett; it also owns 1.53 percent of McClatchy and 0.75% of Media General.
    • Credit Suisse: An investor in the Philadelphia Media Network, it also has 3.56 percent of A.H. Belo, 2.59 percent of Journal Communications, 3.26 percent of McClatchy, and 3.21 percent of Gannett.
    • JP Morgan Chase: With distressed holdings in Tribune, it also controls, through several funds, 4.07 percent of A.H. Belo, 11.50 percent of Gannett, 1.37 percent of Journal Communications, and 3.15 percent of Washington Post.

    Generally, at all of these companies, the total institutional/mutual fund ownership is between 60 and 90 percent; insiders hold no more than single-digit percentages in the aggregate.

    Conclusion: While Alden and others, using MediaNews as a base of operations, may be looking to engineer some mergers, consolidations, and realignments in the distressed sector, they don’t have a significant enough toehold in the more stable public sector to have a similar impact there. That doesn’t preclude the possibility of wider strategic moves beyond the potential for a MediaNews/Freedom combination (and perhaps other mergers or trades involving Tribune and Journal Register) — but they will have to result from persuasion rather than clout. MediaNews executive chairman Dean Singleton, in his new role as strategic dealmaker, will be one voice trying to do the persuading.