Over the past 15 years, journalism has experienced a rapid proliferation of data about online reader behavior in the form of web metrics. These newsroom metrics influence which stories are written, how news is promoted, and which journalists get hired and fired. Some argue that metrics help journalists better serve their audiences. Others worry that metrics are the contemporary equivalent of a stopwatch-wielding factory manager. In All the News That's Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists (Princeton UP, 2021), Caitlin Petre offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at how metrics are reshaping the work of journalism.
The book is based on Petre's interviews and ethnographic observations at Chartbeat, Gawker, and the New York Times. Across the organizations, she finds that newsroom metrics are a powerful form of managerial surveillance and discipline. However, unlike the manager's stopwatch that preceded them, digital metrics are designed to gain the trust of wary journalists by providing a habit-forming user experience that mimics key features of addictive games. She details how metrics intersect with newsroom hierarchies and norms, as well as how their ambiguity leads to seemingly arbitrary interpretations of success. As performance analytics spread to virtually every professional field, Petre's findings speak to the future of expertise and labor relations in contexts far beyond journalism.
Caitlin Petre is an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. Jenna Spinelle is an instructor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State and host of the Democracy Works podcast.
Jenna Spinelle is a journalism instructor at Penn State's Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. She's also the communications specialist for the university's McCourtney Institute for Democracy, where she hosts and produces the Democracy Works podcast.