How to track your goals effectively with a small newsroom

September 17, 2018
Category: Business & Work

Bad goals — yes, there’s such a thing  — are vague. They value things like “urgency” and “audience growth.”

Good goals, on the other hand, are specific, measurable and numerical, like, “In the second half of 2018, post on average one piece of breaking or developing news a day,” or “Grow average monthly users by 30 percent.”

Setting good goals was the aim of a session during the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) Business Intensive in Austin last week. About 20 journalists and executives from small newsrooms gathered to learn how to create, execute, evaluate and stick to goals.

Consultant Tim Griggs, formerly of the Texas Tribune and The New York Times, emphasized the importance of a goals scorecard. He stressed making sure that scorecard is constantly updated and that everyone at the organization is on board and has access to it.

“Use whatever method works for you,” Griggs said. It could be as simple as a Google sheet that everyone in the organization shares. Ideally, scorecards are automated.

What about dashboards such as Chartbeat and Parse.ly, which allow newsrooms to track their reach in real time?

“They’re fine,” Griggs said, but noted that a scorecard holds a small newsroom accountable in the long term and, ideally, provides an incentive to meet goals. Mainly, they’re easy to measure.

Solomon Lieberman, vice president of the Better Government Association, said his organization is meeting its tangible goals through biweekly check-ins with a five-person audience team. BGA uses the Logic model to determine progress, measuring output (time spent on page, donations garnered) against the input (paying staff, newsroom costs).

BGA has a metrics tracker in a Google sheet, which is updated monthly by its audience team. Lieberman said he’d like to move to a system where that work is automated. Everybody on the BGA’s engagement team and board has access to it.

The BGA is looking to achieve that second part of Griggs’ scorecard model: sharing with the entire newsroom.

“We have a lot of gaps,” Lieberman said. He mentioned that he’d like to see veteran reporters getting more involved in moving toward the audience goals in BGA’s scorecard.

A news organization cannot achieve goals if everyone (reporters, editors) doesn’t know what they are. Lieberman called it “buy in” from the newsroom.

“If people are unaware of what your goals are, go back to your gaps,” Griggs said. “This scorecard is an easy, powerful tool to check in.”