Newsroom baseball: the art & science of story posting

Josh Furlong | Assistant News Director, KSL.com, DDM | @JFurlKSL | April 5, 2016

Understanding our audience has always been a major tenet of what makes KSL.com successful. We see ourselves as a service to the community and not as a publisher trying to force content on readers. The more we know about our audience and what they like, the easier it is to align our content with what they expect from a local media outlet.

We have several platforms that produce content for KSL.com — TV, radio, print, outside contributors and a small team of writers specifically dedicated to KSL.com — so coordinating the content to post to the website can often be a daunting task. However, we’ve developed a content strategy called Newsroom Baseball that makes posting content to our website a fairly simple and easy process.

The following is a brief description of how Newsroom Baseball works for us and some of the best practices we’ve found to help streamline the process while managing the various content available to us from the various platforms.

Know the game

Unlike most media websites, KSL.com gets most of its traffic from the home page, with very little traffic coming through the side doors. As a result, we spend the bulk of our time as a content team writing and focusing on the home page audience.

Each day, we post 40 stories to our home page, which we have found to be the perfect number of stories to allow readers to get the most out of the time on our site. This number is based on a historical look at website traffic and the amount of time each user spends on our site on any given day. Our audience tends to be creatures of habit and there isn't much variation in traffic from day to day.

Every website will be different, so find out what works best for you and stick to that number as a goal. We've found that readers tend to get overwhelmed if there is too much new content to choose from and seem disinterested when too little is posted. With 40 stories, we post a story approximately every 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Once we determined the number of articles we wanted to publish a day, we broke the day up into four blocks — 6 a.m.-12 p.m., 12-4 p.m., 4-7 p.m., and 7-11 p.m. Traffic on KSL.com spikes in the morning and evening, so those two blocks see the most content posted — 17 stories posted in the morning, eight in the afternoon, five in the early evening, and 10 in the evening.

This model is counterintuitive to that of TV and radio, which traditionally see the bulk of their content coming in between the hours of 3-7 p.m. — a generally dead period online since most people are traveling home from work or eating dinner with family. To maximize potential readership, the website can't be beholden to when TV, radio or print want to run a story.

Play ball!

Pageviews are often the easiest metric when trying to assess how content does on a website, and it's no different at KSL.com. However, we don't want pageviews to cloud our news judgment when selecting stories for the day or else we'd just post celebrity gossip news or cat videos. We want pageviews to give us a better understanding of our audience so we can make informed decisions about what type of content to post and when.

Each day we hold two Newsroom Baseball meetings: one in the morning to plan most of the day and another in the afternoon to finalize the day’s plans and plan ahead for the next day. In these meetings we discuss all the available content from all the various platforms — TV, radio, print, wires, contributors and our team of writers.

From that pool, we’ll try to narrow it down to the 40 best stories we can post that day. These stories should be an assortment of hard news mixed in with softer news and generally give us the most pageviews possible for the day. However, we may choose some stories knowing that they won't get a lot of pageviews simply because we want to be a responsible news entity. For example, international news does not generally do well on KSL.com, but occasionally a story needs to be posted for its news value.

The leftover stories go into our “Bullpen” and could be called up should one of the original 40 stories not happen or details about a story change. Once we've selected our best stories of the day, we assign a value to each story, namely a Grand Slam, Home Run, Triple, Double or Single. The following is the 48-hour pageview threshold for each value:

• Grand Slam: 150,000+ pageviews
• Home Run: 50,000+ pageviews
• Triple: 30,000+ pageviews
• Double: 20,000+ pageviews
• Single: 10,000+ pageviews

Although we choose the 40 best stories for the day to post online, we strive to predict at least three home runs, seven triples, five doubles and five singles. Should we get every prediction correct, we have likely hit our pageview goal for the day.

In the afternoon meeting, we review our earlier plan, assess the remainder of the day and make any necessary changes to get the 40 best stories. We then plan ahead for the next day, selecting a few stories we want posted in the early hours before our next morning Newsroom Baseball meeting.

As the day progresses, new stories will come up, particularly breaking news. Having the day already planned out and values given to the stories will help you judge whether a story is worth diverting attention to. If you’re taking a reporter off a story projected to be a Triple, the new story should at least be a Triple or higher for there to be value in altering the day’s plan. This process allows our team to filter out “noise” in a simple, meaningful way.

Game tapes

Predicting stories is a fun and mostly subjective task. However, reviewing how content performed is the most important part of the Newsroom Baseball process. Anyone can make a prediction on a story. It’s using our predictions and the 24-hour and 48-hour pageviews that shape our behavior in the future and give us an understanding of the type of content our readers want.

If we predicted a story to be a Home Run, but it only ends up being a Single after the 48-hour period, we’ve done a poor job of assessing our audience and their appetite for that story. Was it a bad headline? Was the content lacking? Was the story posted at a time that didn’t maximize readership? Each of those questions and more will be asked in an effort to better understand why a story didn’t perform as well as planned.

Even if a story hits its prediction, we’ll ask similar questions to give us a better sense of what the audience wants. Maybe there was something about that story that can help us with the other stories: great imagery, captivating headline, compelling content, etc. The more you know about the stories you post the better.

Batting 1.000

We're not perfect and constantly work to improve. That said, implementing our newsroom baseball strategy in June 2011 had a significant, instant and sustained impact on our page views. We know of at least one other organization that has implemented this strategy and saw similar results.

Practice, practice, practice

The above strategy is only a brief overview of the Newsroom Baseball process using pageview metrics. If your platform values time on page or unique pageviews, the strategy is still the same. Although we’ve been using the Newsroom Baseball strategy for the last five years, there’s always more we want to learn. The basic tenet of Newsroom Baseball should remain: get to know your audience and maximize readership potential with a deliberate plan.