Digital technologies have changed how many journalist organizations report the news and assess their organization’s popularity to determine what audiences want to read. Despite the fact that digital tools have become popular around the world, it’s not a one-size-fits-all; national context can shape how people make use of such tools. In new research, Angèle Christin illustrates these dynamics by comparing and contrasting two news organizations in the United States and France. She calls the New York organization, “The Notebook.com,” and the Paris organization, “LaPlace.com.” She draws on a combination of several weeks of observations in each news organization’s offices — shadowing journalists during their daily work — and interviews with editors and writers. Both The Notebook and LaPlace keep a close eye on digital metrics about their websites and take note of which stories are particularly popular or unpopular, which can shape their priorities and publishing practices.
Notably, editors and journalists at both organizations routinely use similar — and sometimes identical — tools and digital analytics to assess how many people visit their websites and what viewers do once they arrive. Christin finds, however, that there are differences in how editors and writers at each organization interpret the information they get from digital metrics. In the U.S. newsroom, editors rely heavily on the quantitative metrics, often setting goals based on website traffic, whereas the staff writers paid less attention to the data and did not let it affect their identities as professional journalists. In the French newsroom, it was the opposite: Editors placed less importance on the metrics, at times characterizing over-reliance on website traffic as a hindrance to journalistic integrity. By contrast, the writers kept a close eye on the popularity of their articles, and some stated that low or high numbers affected their moods at work or their reporting decisions.
Christin explains these differences by contrasting history, practices, and norms between journalism in the United States and France. In the United States, professionalization, objectivity, and market appeal — a concern resulting from the need for revenue — are common pressures. In France, however, the government used to be more involved with journalism and provides more financial assistance to news organizations today. This means French editors and writers prioritize market pressures and the bottom line differently than journalists in the United States. In other words, editors in one organization might emphasize page views and writers might emphasize covering their preferred topics, while in another country the opposite might be true. This type of research shows us that even as similar digital tools become more commonplace across the globe, cultural and national idiosyncrasies can impact how people and organizations use these tools.