Making Peace with Metrics: Relational Work in Online News Production
Keywords:Journalism, Metrics, Relational Work, Zelizer, Matching
AbstractHow do workers make peace with performance metrics that threaten their professional values? Drawing on Viviana Zelizer’s concepts of relational work and “good matches,” we focus on the case of online news production and analyze efforts to align audience metrics with journalistic values. Whereas existing research on web metrics tends to frame editorial production and audience data as “hostile worlds” of professional and market forces that cannot be reconciled, we show that journalists rely on relational work to make metrics acceptable within organizations. Drawing on ethnographic material, we identify five key relational strategies: moral boundary-drawing between "good" and "bad" metrics, strategic invocation of "best-case scenarios," domestication through bespoke metrics, reframing metrics as democratic feedback, and justifying metrics as organizational subsidies. We then turn to cases of failure and document a process that we call overspelling, which can coincide with organizational breakdown. We conclude by discussing the concept of “failed matches” and the indirect relationship between metrics and markets in online news production.
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