University of Virginia: How The Cavalier Daily makes the most of

January 18, 2016

My generation consumes digital media at astronomically high rates. It often comes as a surprise, then, when I tell people that one year ago The Cavalier Daily — the independent student newspaper at the University of Virginia — had only a rudimentary understanding of web analytics. Producing more than 100 pieces of online content per week, we had a wealth of information at our fingertips. But we were doing little to take full advantage of it.

When we returned to school this fall, however, readership began to drop — at times by 20 percent. We quickly realized our online product was suffering because we weren’t using the right tools to analyze our audience. Top editors had access to data on Google Analytics, but struggled to find time between classes to synthesize the information into something useful. Our home page remained static throughout the day, and no one was critically examining what types of content resonated most with digital audiences. We claimed to be a digital-first newsroom, but weren’t living that reality.

The platform is both easy to use and highly informative — a necessity if busy college news editors are expected to make full use of the tool.

To combat this problem, we started using in September. We gave all 26 literary editors access to the platform, working to cultivate a culture of digital thinking across the newsroom. At the end of each week, we asked that editors use the reports feature to evaluate popular content, from there noting which modes of presentation were particularly effective and which subjects merited further coverage. Meanwhile, our social media team began to closely watch referral traffic, looking for the peak times to promote content and which social media sites reached the majority of our readers.

The platform also helped us engage with our content on a more granular level. The Cavalier Daily home page became a more fluid space as we observed which stories the community cared about most throughout the day. A story that was gaining particular traction via Facebook could be pushed out a second time that evening. When we had a slow day, we could finally say why. We even used to help generate new content, identifying and aggregating the most popular stories of the term for our “Semester in Review” issue in December.

Our newsroom’s launch marked the first time many of our editors actively engaged with analytics and used the information to make decisions. They’ve reported back that the platform is both easy to use and highly informative — a necessity if busy college news editors are expected to make full use of the tool.

With’s help, we’ve begun to foster the digital-first culture essential for running a successful newsgathering operation in 2016. Not only has readership stabilized; it is now climbing.

This much is clear: to continue to provide our university community with information that is new, relevant and insightful — as is our mission — we need to be where our audience is. And for us, has been part of the answer.

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