Measuring anything is generally the stuff of scientist or statisticians. As one who brokers in words it can be hard at first to think about how we might measure the impact of what we put out in the world. There are so many variables. But, after priming my brain reading an explanation of a scientific study written for wordies, I was in the right frame of mind to come up with my own equation of quantifying words and impact.
I started out with something obvious: Hit Count. One of the benefits of online journalism is that producers can really understand which articles are most widely read. With the traditional newspaper, I imagine editors relied heavily on reader mail to estimate how many might be interested in a particular subject. But with the internet, we know this within hours or even minutes. The immediacy of the internet and hyper-immediacy of social media and mobile technology have changed how we gauge interest in what we write.
But interest isn’t necessarily impact. A video of a shy teenager who sings like Paverati went viral this week. That doesn’t necessarily mean teenagers all over the world will start belting out arias. But at least a few of them may know what an aria is now. In comparison, a member of Congress was reprimanded for wearing a hoodie on the House Floor this week. This was also the result of another viral video. And the impact of this act could be far broader.
Although having a high hit count on a given piece of media is necessary to have an impact, I decided that hit count alone isn’t enough to measure it.
My next thought went to comments. Comments abound on line. Ever since the early days of the internet, we have been contributors in one way or another. Remember chat rooms?
But. there’s are more than a couple of things to consider when using comments to measure the impact of what is written. Comments carry immediacy, but often lack intimacy, and quantity (q) doesn’t equal (≠) quality (Q). No matter how many trolls contribute with their best AM radio host impressions, their contributions seldom make genuine dialoge (d) let alone discourse (D). So with that in mind I give you the following expressions to consider:
Q < q
q without Q ≠ d
Q + q = d
d + q = D
There’s a larger question here of how we measure the the quality of comments to determine whether they contribute to dialogue, but for this purpose, lets just assume we’ve figured that out. I am not ignoring the importance of this question, just setting it aside for later consideration.
Moving on to another expression that will eventually become part of an overall equation to measuring impact is sharing (S). Media that goes viral can be considered both qualitative and quantitative. Although not all viral media is qualitative it is all quantitative. With that it mind the question becomes how we measure the quality (Q) of viral media.
So now we add action (A) to the equation. If we want to measure the impact of media and online journalism, we need to consider action. Action is what defines Effective Media (EM), and Effective Media can be measured by the Action that is a direct result of Quality Dialogue that is Shared:
(EM=(QD(S)) = A
So, if we want to consider Impact by measuring Action, that measurement has to be proportional.
A local news story that creates community action for example can be considered effective, where a local story that goes national without Action may not be considered as effective. And, this requires us to decide which actions are effective, and which are not.
Is community action less effective than legislative change? Is legislative change more effective than public opinion? Does public opinion have a place in Discourse where ideas are considered with great rigor? And how do we translate and channel all of this back to those who create content, news, media and journalism?
For producers, be they journalist, content writers, media creators or what ever falls in to the et. al. of this category it’s important to consider why we do this. Yes, we want to tell stories. Yes, we want to put information out there that may not otherwise see the light of day. Yes, we want to eat. But ultimately, altruistically, what is it we are really trying to contribute to?