A Hype Machine

News organisations analyse quantitative data, which allows them to create online content that the audience wants to read. For example, journalists analyse which items are being clicked on and for how long people read them. The analysis can provide information about which topics, formats and angles “work” well online. It tells journalists how to produce clickable, likeable and shareable content.

In this new media climate, “hypes” emerge more easily than ever. Topics that are trending on social media, frequently make it to the news. At the same time, topics that are covered by news websites lend themselves for catchy tweets and facebook posts. Sometimes it seems like the public and news sites are merging into one big, hype reinforcing machine.

The #MeToo discussion about sexual harassment presents a striking example: the hype was fed constantly by both news media and audiences. Stories about sensitive cases circulated freely on social media. The analytics of news sites have undoubtedly played a part in the “success” of #MeToo. News rooms must have benefited willingly from the potential of the topic, at least to a certain degree. They might even have prioritised certain points of view in the debate that would generate most online attention.

it is highly questionable whether such developments are desirable. According to Sébas Diekstra, who was in this broadcast of DWDD, the #MeToo buzz forms a threat to jurisdiction. Media attention can result in judicial disadvantages for everyone: suspects, perpetrators, victims and indirectly involved parties.

According to Edson and Thomas, “the expertise and judgment of the producer are disregarded in favor of the transient needs of the consumer”. Well, I am afraid hey are right. Audiences might be getting what they want, but not what they need. If journalists want to stay a gatekeeper, drastic measures are needed.

Pien Goutier


Cited article:

TANDOC JR, Edson C.; THOMAS, Ryan J. The ethics of web analytics: Implications of using audience metrics in news construction. Digital Journalism, 2015, 3.2: 243-258.


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