Alex Leo from Newsweek on the art and science of measurement in the digital newsroom

There’s a frustrating,  basic truth about data and analytics: the information provided is at best noise, and at worst, harmful if not correctly analyzed and interpreted. Often, data scientists discuss how they must both be able to apply academic rigor while being creative enough to tell a narrative with the data. With the influx of data into newsrooms, having organizational leaders that understand this balance and know how to apply it to media is critical to harnessing its power for good.

Alex Leo is one of those people. As the Head of Product for the IBT and Newsweek, she deals directly with the challenges of finding success through data, technology and news, including spearheading the relaunch. We spoke to her about how she sees the balance of art and science playing out in the digital newsroom.

Alex Leo, Newsweek Give us a quick description of your role at Newsweek.

Alex Leo (AL): I joined IBT Media in 2013 as the head of product. At IBT, I work to make all of its properties and platform have the best user experience possible, while ensuring all stakeholders, from sales to editorial, have the tools they need to succeed. What do you consider art, and what do you consider science when it comes to what you do?

AL: You need a creative mind to understand what metrics are meaningful and therefore should be collected. Some of this is pre-established but some of it is an artful understanding of what your industry wants and needs and what your readers are trying to tell you with their actions. You then need the science to collect that data in an accurate, fast, synthesizable way. Lastly, we use a mix of science and art to interpret that data. Are PVs alone a meaningful number? Most people at this point will say no if the context of where the users came from, how they got there, how long they spent there aren’t part of the package and figuring that package out is an art form. Are there any newsroom activities that have switched from “art” to “science” with the introduction of digital platforms? What are they?

AL:  I’d say more than 50%. Headline writing, photo usage, deck language–it can and should all be a/b tested. This does not mean the art of headline writing is gone, it means that it has been augmented by science and data and needs to be proven out as a result.

“This does not mean that the art … is gone, it means that it has been augmented by science and data.” Looking back over your time in digital publishing – have you seen any “accepted” or “traditional” practices change for the better because of technology that’s now available? What has been the most game-changing?

AL: I think the best game-changer is happening now in which we, as an industry, are moving away from pageviews and toward engagement as a measure of success. How we choose to define engagement is still disparate so more science and art required!

Interested in learning more about the Art & Science of using data in the newsroom? Join and Alex Leo on June 25th at WNYC’s Greene Space for a live panel discussion and networking as we demystify data and get clarity on what works.

The Art & Science of Measuring Success in Online Journalism
June 25, 2014 | 6:30 p.m.
WNYC Greene Space,  44 Charlton St, New York, NY 10013

Adam Jaffe, Alex Leo, Dan Stubbs, Rachel Fedderson

Speakers: Adam Jaffe, Head of Analytics, PolicyMic; Alex Leo, Head of Product, Newsweek;  Dan Stubbs, Research & Analytics Director,  Condé Nast; and  Rachel Fedderson, GM, Digital,  The Week & Mental Floss.