How news orgs manage their home pages

Professional news orgs have a lot of insight about what’s important and what’s not. Sometimes it goes unnoticed with all the noise in today’s crowded media market, but the signals are there in the data for us to see if we look in the right places.

Smaller publishers including fake news sources have learned how to make web sites that look as good as larger professional web sites. As a result much of the work that goes into producing important journalism and providing it to people goes unnoticed.

So, how do we know the difference? How does anyone know that a large group of hardworking and intelligent media professionals have carefully crafted an important story and that they think it matters to the public?

One signal is the way stories get prioritized.

Source: Kaleida Data, 2017

Kaleida CTO Graham Tackley looked into the data and found consistently that about 2% of all the articles from the publishers we track make it to the lead position on their home pages. If 98% of their output doesn’t get the top featured slot then these featured pieces obviously matter a lot.

We didn’t see consistent behaviour around how long featured stories remain there. The majority of Fox News’ featured stories hold that position for a few hours. The New York Times varies from story to story, but none last in the featured slot for more than 24 hours.

The publishing strategy for what else goes on the home page varies even more. Stories can last somewhere on the home page for minutes or days. The mean average for a story on the home page is 12 hours, about 5% last on the home page for up to 2 days.

The Daily Mail, for example, has two parallel publishing strategies. The main news column is rotated every 24 hours, while the long right-hand column moves at a much slower pace. Nothing on the Buzzfeed home page lasts more than 24 hours, most cycling through in about 4 to 6 hours.

There are many other channels such as Facebook where publishers prioritise their stories. Sometimes stories are published there without offering an equivalent piece on their own web site. We also know from looking at each publisher’s Google sitemap file that there are many stories that never make it to the home page or any of the social channels.

While we don’t yet know the impact of these various strategies on each publisher’s business we can use this data to build a clearer picture of what matters from their perspective.

The data gets particularly interesting when you look at it in aggregate.

If all the people in the news business from both left and right-leaning politics think something matters then that’s worth knowing. That’s a very loud signal. The decision not to feature a story can be equally loud.

Of course, identifying what matters is a two-way street. Just because an editor thinks something matters doesn’t mean readers always feel the same way. But it’s our belief that professional news orgs provide more value than most of us realise. It’s harder to see it with all the noise out there now, but the amount of work that goes into the editorial decisions made every day can be useful in setting some standards of value across the media ecosystem.

Maybe the business model problem for media has more to do with the process of media production than its distribution. Maybe the two-way street is precisely where the value lies.

More on that soon.