'Diamonds' CBC had missed get chance to shine through inhouse tool

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Fears that engaging 'diamonds in the rough' were being neglected among a broadcaster's 400-a-day story output have led to the inhouse development of a new tool.

CONRAD - named for its radar-view of content - has been built by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation teams to deliver a snapshot of which stories were getting the most reach and engagement.

In an INMA Digital Strategies blog, senior director for digital publishing Paul Mcgrath says that with the volume of content, the move from reach-based to engagement-based metrics left the possibility that some highly-engaging stories were being overlooked.

Lineup editors publish stories into about 40 different regional, national and beat lineups, but Mcgrath says they wondered about the possibility that some local stories or smaller stories might be really engaging audiences but not reaching a wide audience. "Maybe we'd missed them because we didn't promote them in a lineup, maybe because they hadn't caught on through social media or didn't show up in our most popular lists according to visits or pageviews," he says.

Standard metrics and tools are used to rank stories, perhaps according to pageviews, unique visits or time spent, but while these are great at ranking stories, "they aren't as effective at showing the engagement in the story itself", and lists could also be biased by inhouse promotion.

"We often felt we were missing and not promoting some of the stories the audience might love," he says.

An internal tool called CONRAD - 'a portmanteau of content and radar' - has been developed to help solve the problem. Working like a real radar, it scans the ecosystem for highly engaging stories to which the audience had reacted, but which had been missed or overlooked because they weren't getting a lot of pageviews or they hadn't had a chance to get traction in a lineup.

A screen grab of CONRAD, developed internally to rank stories according to their relative reach and engagement scores, thereby identifying highly engaging stories across the network.

Analyst Quin Parker says a local story which has very high engagement but low reach could well be repositioned for a national lineup that could expose it to, and engage, a much larger audience.

CONRAD works with a bunch of reach and engagement metrics, ranking the stories according to their relative percentile performance, and presenting them in a quadrant, scored according to both reach and engagement.

"If we can move from a narrow perspective of just reach, to reach plus engagement, we'll be able to showcase more of our journalists' work," he says.

CONRAD showcases stories into four quadrants based on their relative performance of reach and engagement metrics.

Blending engagement metrics into rankings made it possible to control for the impact of promotional bias such as the reach impact from placement in a lineup.

The tool has also brought other benefits, delivering tangible evidence of a story's worth in the relationship between the main desk and beat or regional desk, previously largely based on a pitch process. Evidence allows editors at all desks to react more quickly and be more nimble in engaging audiences.

Jason Kim, the lead manager who built CONRAD, says systems of this kind are something that forward-thinking news organisations need to think about. "We need to move away from the pageview paradigm," he says.

"By building engagement into how we measure the performance of content, it shifts the conversation from getting stories on the home page to getting engagement on the story itself."

-from INMA's Digital Strategies Blog with thanks

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