Before Isaac Newton, words like mass and force were general descriptors, as James Gleick writes in The Information:
“the new discipline of physics could not proceed until Isaac Newton appropriated words that were ancient and vague—force, mass, motion, and even time—and gave them new meanings. Newton made these terms into quantities, suitable for use in mathematical formulas.”
The term information was similarly amorphous until Claude Shannon, while working at Bell Labs, quantified the concept in bits.
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The journalism goals and business goals for news organizations are out of sync.
Pageviews. Unique visitors. Time on site.
Some journalism might be best quantified partly or wholly by one or more of those ways, but we need to explore deeper beyond these fairly simplistic metrics.
We know how these terms are defined, but what do they really mean? What do they help us achieve?
In creating a theory of information and quantifying information in bits, Shannon aimed to remove meaning. “Shannon had utterly abstracted the message from its physical details,” Gleick says.
For journalism, the goal should be to add more meaning to the information we use to measure our work. Granted, our current metrics aren’t meaningless. We use them because they do have meaning: views, comments, shares, etc. each has a meaning and can be measured based on that one-dimensional measure. The quantities of metrics increase because the works of journalism they describe are meaningful. Or, put another way, impactful.
So, what if we measured journalism by its impact?