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University of Virginia: What's more important in publishing: quality or timeliness?

For nearly four years, The Pioneer (formerly HackCville Media) has been HackCville’s official publication for news both in and out of the organization. For a team that consists mostly of third-years, The Pioneer’s staff found themselves facing the unique challenge of having less and less time in a week to work on content for the first time since joining the publication. This meant publishing stories at a far less frequent rate than we had gotten used to over the past few years.

This, coupled with a lack of sheer manpower due to some HackCville organizational restructuring us in an interesting place at the conclusion of the Fall 2016 semester. The Pioneer staff found itself asking questions like "Does it really matter if we aren't publishing as much? Do we really need to get out this story today--or at all-- even if it isn't our best?" It led staff to begin to wonder whether it was more important to get things out on time or to have quality content.

We decided to take a look back at some of the data gathered by Parse.ly during the Fall 2016 semester and compare it to previous semesters’ data to try and answer this question. The chart below provides a brief comparison between the Spring and Fall 2016 semesters:

Spring 2016 Fall 2016
No. of Pieces Published 52 17
No. of Visitors 4,400 2,200
Total No. of Engaged Minutes 6,800 2,200
Average time per user 1.6 1.0
Total Views 21,024 10,044

By looking at the stats above, it is easy to become discouraged. However, when comparing the top articles of each semester, something else is seen:

Total Views Total Minutes Average Minutes per Visitor
S16 1st Article (Man of the Hours[s]) 425 819 1.9
S16 2nd Article (SVATT) 424 312 0.7
S16 3rd Article (Artist Series 1) 377 669 1.8
F16 1st Article (Cavalier Education) 642 313 0.5
F16 2nd Article (Amanda Coombs) 527 330 0.6
F16 3rdnd Article (Kris Cody) 286 367 1.3

During the Spring 2016 semester, it took, on average between the three top pieces of content, approximately three weeks from start to finish of the project. The Fall 2016 top three content pieces of content, however, averaged nearly six weeks per project. That being said, it is easy to see the increase in total views. The top piece of content in the Fall 2016 semester had a 66% increase in views from the Spring 2016 semester.

Although correlation does not equal causation, it is probable that by having The Pioneer’s staff take their time on projects and publish the best work they possibly could, The Pioneer was able to receive more views on individual pieces of content. This spring, The Pioneer staff is going to experiment with content output by bringing in more HackCville teams to assist in writing content. This will allow our The Pioneer’s staff to take their time with projects, but decrease the gap of time between content publishing.

The data provided by Parse.ly turned The Pioneer’s slowest semester into a good learning experience for where relevance really comes from for a digital media site. We also believe it has provided us with insights into the very interesting implications for the quality vs. quantity clickbait debate that seems to find its way into every conversation around online media and monetization.

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