Conference info

Jill Nicholson on the stories that people actually read

Over the weekend, the word ‘Chartbeat’ keeps popping up throughout various talks. And it’s no secret: Chartbeat has helped change how journalists produce their work.

Jill Nicholson from Chartbeat talks about how to make longform journalism work with the data.

She begins by pointing out how 52.2% of longform articles that are read are discovered through the website itself. People are then most likely to discover longform articles through social media. 28.6% of longform articles are found through social.

However, people who discover articles from social media are more likely to complete the article. “There’s just more intent,” she says if it’s discovered through social.

Chartbeat’s goal is not clicks. It’s about loyal readership,” Jill stresses. “Our goal is to help you use technology to help your job, not get in the way of it.”

Story is key

There were some surprises she said in the trends Chartbeat found towards the most popular long reads of 2019.

“Non-celebrity stories that were just interesting stories did well last year,” Nicholson explains. This is a good sign for journalism, showing that interesting stories are always key to success. However, people aren’t going to be searching for these stories on the web, so they need to have strong social media promotion. Which means tweeting about them more than once to ensure they gain traction.

“Writing headlines is an art”

Despite how journalism has increasingly been listening to reader-behavioural data, she says that the fundamental skills of journalism haven’t gone out of fashion in the age of SEO and clicks, but it’s just that these skills need refining.

In fact in the age of digital, Nicholson says, headlines are more important than ever. “For your digital reader, all you have is the headline,” she says.

She shows statistics about what makes headlines successful. Chartbeat found that negative words, interrogative ‘whens’ and ‘whats’ and demonstrative pronouns like ‘these’ and ‘this’ produced the most clicked on headlines.

“Unfortunately it seems that the human beings that you’re trying to reach just like the sadder stories,” she jokes. “Do with that what you will. It doesn’t mean you have to be doom and gloom all the time, it’s just something to be aware of.”

She also said that it’s important to keep headlines human and use approachable language that you would use in conversations. Especially in an age of fake news, “people like to feel that these stories have come from human beings and not ‘The Media.'”

She also warned against questions in headlines: “question headlines have been associated with clickbait”. She reassures audiences that if they’re feeling overwhelmed with all this data on headlines alone, that “headline writing is an art.”

“It’s hard,” she says. “It’s just a skill, but these are just things to remain aware of.”

Fundamentally, all these statistics and data is simply about gaining greater reader relationships, which leads to more money for news organisations.

“The more engagement, the more loyal, the more revenue,” she says.

Words by Juliette Rowsell

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