News Engagement Workshop – Austin

Ashley Muddiman, research associate with the Center for Media Engagement, brainstorms with workshop participants.

Ten digital news innovators recently came together to visit about current practices and future possibilities at a workshop hosted by the Center for Media Engagement.

The group, representing major television, newspaper, radio, and online-only newsrooms, discussed a wide range of topics including how they define success and connect with their audiences.

During the two-day workshop, participants shared their news organizations’ experiences with online metrics. Despite an overwhelming number of available metrics, page views still dominate. Participants, however, expressed interest in moving beyond page views to new engagement metrics, such as comprehension and offline engagement.

“Focus is often on time on site and repeat visits. Newsrooms and journalists, however, have an obligation to measure comprehension,” said Tom Negrete, Director of Innovation and News Operations at The Sacramento Bee. “In other words, can an individual understand what was just read in a news story? That is what we should be measuring.”

The news representatives also expressed frustration about comment sections. Workshop participants thought that greater newsroom involvement could help, yet acknowledged that it would be difficult to find a cure-all.

“I’m not remotely convinced that commenting is the right way to get people to interact,” said Mike Dyer, Chief Digital Officer of The Daily Beast. “I’m willing to say that most of us would say that the majority of comments on stories have no civic value, and certainly commenting overall has no business value. So the question is, what do you replace it with?”

Suggestions ranged from creating a comment section beat to making moderation policies more transparent.

Other observations from the workshop include:

  • Although some news outlets are routinely involved in A/B testing their content, others are only beginning to explore the idea.
  • Most outlets have segmentation strategies, but the strategies vary considerably from tailoring news platforms based on demographics to changing the content based on whether a person came to the site from social media or an aggregator.
  • Participants honed in on humanizing different political perspectives as a way to reduce polarization. They also proposed tools to give people information about their own views and the views of others.


Josh Scacco headshot
Joshua Scacco

Faculty Research Associate

Alex Curry

Faculty Research Associate

Katie Steiner

Communications and Program Coordinator