In defense of Business Insider's success metrics

Trying to quantify a journalist's value isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:

Let’s jump right into it…

Digiday: Insider’s metrics for measuring success are good for business, but leave reporters feeling frustrated and unionized

From the article:

Page views at Insider are measured not by clicks to the page, but by how long a reader spends time on the article and how engaged they are while reading or viewing a story, Carlson said. About a year ago, there was an update to the system to help measure engagement within reporters’ goals.

For example, if a slideshow has 50 images, each image viewed equals one page view. In text-based stories, every 50 words scrolled equals another page view, according to a former reporter. This is because at about that interval of text and images, there is a new ad that generates on the page, equating page views to ad views. All of the data is automatically collected and generated into a shared audience data platform called Chartbeat.

This is a fascinating deep dive into how Business Insider quantifies the success of each of its journalists.

A lot of people in my Twitter timeline used this Digiday article to bash such metrics-based systems, but it’s hard for me to get angry that a news organization is codifying a system that virtually every newsroom already has in place.

If you work at a digital outlet long enough, you know that a handful of staffers are typically responsible for the bulk of traffic each month and that management places a lot of value on that traffic. Business Insider is effectively trying to create a more level playing field by offering up several different metrics for measuring an employee’s worth other than just raw traffic.

Let’s say you’re a writer that specializes in longer, in-depth pieces that don’t go super viral, but those articles generate deeper engagement for the readers that land on them. Under BI’s rubric, that writer can be judged on a level playing field compared to a colleague who pumps out 500-word viral fluff.

Will these metrics ever be 100% fair? Definitely not. Will publishers always need some level of subjective analysis for judging a writer’s worth? Sure. But I’ve worked for an outlet that used opaque, pageview-driven metrics for evaluating journalists’ value, and I would have swapped those for Business Insider’s more sophisticated system any day of the week — not only because BI’s system is fairer, but also because it results in better journalism.

My latest: How 6AM City is scaling crowdsourced local journalism

6AM City reaches 400,000 individual email subscribers and generates 15 million monthly impressions. It wants to be operating in all 50 states within the next few years.

You have questions. I have answers.

A few weeks ago I put out a call to my social media followers for questions, and I finally got around to answering them. Check out the video I made and leave me new questions in the comments section.

CNBC: YouTube is a media juggernaut that could soon equal Netflix in revenue

From the article:

In its first-quarter earnings report Tuesday, Google parent company Alphabet said YouTube brought in revenue of $6.01 billion in advertising revenue during the quarter — up from $4 billion from a year ago, for a growth rate of 49%. That’s an acceleration over its 46% growth in Q4. It’s also nearly twice the growth rate of Netflix, which reported 24% revenue growth in Q1, and expects growth to slow to 19% next quarter.

If its current growth trajectory continues, YouTube will book between $29 billion and $30 billion in revenue this year. Netflix is expected to report $29.7 billion in revenue for 2021, according to an average of estimates from analysts polled by Refinitiv.

55% of YouTube's revenue goes to content creators. That's $16 billion per year. Just think of how many of tomorrow's top filmmakers are getting their start on this massive platform.

This is why I don't spend much time fretting about the size of Disney.

Is Disney a huge conglomerate that's taking a bigger and bigger chunk of traditional box office? Sure, but it's also never been a better time to be an independent filmmaker.

Digiday: Flipboard shifts from programmatic display ads to selling newsletter sponsorships

From the article:

At the beginning of 2020, Flipboard began talking with successful newsletter publishers that successfully sold sponsorships against their newsletters rather than run-of-the-mill display ads. By the fourth quarter of 2020, Flipboard had begun removing banner ads from its emails, starting with its flagship “10 for Today” email, which curates the top 10 most interesting stories of the day.

By the end of the first quarter of 2021, the company had moved nearly all of its emails to a so-called “native,” or sponsorship, format, in which an advertiser pays to sponsor an email for a single day and have a piece of branded content appear in the body of the newsletter. Flipboard is on track to do away with banner ads completely by the end of the second quarter for its seven regular newsletters.

Was anyone else surprised to learn that Flipboard has a robust newsletter operation? I guess it makes sense as a way to keep users engaged even when they're not constantly opening the app.

Tubefilter: Snapchat’s TikTok Competitor, Spotlight, Has 125 Million Monthly Active Users

From the article:

Snapchat has so far spent $90 million on Spotlight ... We can guess that most of the money likely went toward the $1 million-per-day payout Spotlight divvies up amongst creators of its top-trending videos.

Reason: Elegy for Op-Ed

This is a lovely history of the New York Times op-ed.

Business Insider: A YouTuber with about 350,000 subscribers explains what he earns from ads, sponsors, and affiliate marketing

Five or six years ago, even a YouTuber with 1 million subscribers could struggle to pull in a decent income. Now, a YouTuber with just 350,000 subscribers can make into the high six figures.

Axios: Spotify unveils subscription platform for podcasts

At first glance, Spotify's podcast subscription platform beats Apple's on almost every front:

Fees: Apple plans to take a 30% cut during the first year a listener subscribes and a 15% cut after that. Spotify will take no cut (other than payment fees) for the first few years and then phase in a 5% cut. The only downside to Spotify’s system is that podcasters will have to drive subscribers to a web URL to complete the transaction in order to avoid iOS and Android app store fees. Within the Apple Podcast app, subscribing is a more seamless experience.

Access: This is the most exciting part of the announcement. As you’re probably already aware, the Apple Podcast app is only available on iOS, whereas Spotify is available on both iOS and Android. But Spotify is also allowing for the creation of customized RSS feeds so paying subscribers can listen to your paywalled content on other apps, including Apple’s. And then finally, Spotify is rolling out an open podcast ecosystem where customized RSS feeds from platforms like Patreon and Supporting Cast can now be played on Spotify’s player. That’s an incredible level of flexibility that I’m sure a lot of podcasters will appreciate.

Audience ownership: One of the biggest criticisms of Apple’s subscription offering is that podcasters won’t have any direct access to their subscribers. Not only are you unable to leave the platform with your subscribers, but you don’t even get basic information about them, including their email addresses. According to some reporting I saw, Spotify will allow more direct audience access, but we won’t know the details until it rolls the tool out to all creators.

My verdict? Apple is innovating too little and too late. It needs to up its game if it wants to maintain its dominance.

Nieman Lab: With Trapital, Dan Runcie found a way to cover the business of hip-hop and make it sustainable

This pieces makes a good point: writers who launch paid subscription newsletters underestimate how much time is required to work on paywalled content that won't help you grow your audience.

Medium: She built a business around helping podcasters solve one core problem

One of the best ways to speed up podcast audience growth is to convert your episodes into articles. That’s what the company Podreacher specializes in. I recently interviewed its founder Jaclyn Schiff about how she decided to dive into this very niche form of content marketing and the role these articles can play in speeding up a podcast’s audience growth.

Do you like this newsletter?

Then you should subscribe here:

Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.