Data in journalism – the measurement of the SZ – your SZ

A security vulnerability in the iOS operating system caused a sensation in July 2016: several hundred million Apple devices were at risk, a simple multimedia file was sufficient to execute malicious code on the devices. IPhone users could become victims of a hack via iMessage or MMS.

The digital department of the Süddeutsche Zeitung published a report on this in the early evening of July 21. “You should update your operating system for iPhone and Mac immediately,” the message was overwritten. Five short paragraphs, just over 2000 characters – normally hardly worth mentioning.

However, on the evening of the publication alone, the article was viewed more than 150,000 times, an extreme value. The source at that time: unknown – and the excitement in the editorial office was accordingly great. Which channel did so many readers come from, whose origin we couldn’t identify?

Such peculiarities piled up. The number of visits to individual articles increased extremely every week, and the origin of the readership remained unclear at all times. The search for the source finally led to a preset program on Apple devices in which users were shown journalistic content. The selection criteria for which articles could have chances of reach remained obscure. So did the impact on our journalism.

And yet it was important to realize that it was a coincidence. Because we are interested in you. For you as a reader of Süddeutsche Zeitung. Whether you prefer to read large reports or prefer essays, for example. Whether you prefer to watch the Bundesliga coverage or read analyzes of international conferences down to the last line.

All of this is exciting for an editorial team to know. Because for you as a reader, we want to report as intensively as possible on the topics that really move you. Those that concern you in everyday life, for which you need backgrounds, and also about those that you feel entertained with. If we hadn’t realized that some of our articles would be read unusually often by accident, this might have led us to focus on a readership that does not correspond to those who are loyal to us in everyday life.

Of course we don’t want to talk to you by mouth either. Southgerman newspaper, that can and should always mean a challenge, surprise and reporting on matters that are not very popular, but are still important. For society and our coexistence.

The Southgerman newspaper reaches up to 20 million people a month with its digital offerings. They come to us more than 100 million times in the same period to find out about current world events or to read the background. While it was clear decades ago that the content was read where the editors placed it, in the newspaper, the digital space has become a differentiated construct of publications and distribution structures, the knowledge of which is essential.

We still reach many, especially loyal and interested readers via the homepage. However, an enormous number of people also come to us via search engines, especially Google, if they want to get specific information. And in addition to the already classic social networks such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, more and more apps and offers have entered the market in recent years that do not create journalistic content, but do disseminate it. Services such as Upday, for example, the Pocket Recommendations in Firefox, Flipboard, Sony News, Microsoft News, News Republic (an app by the Chinese company Bytedance) or the Apple offer already described.

In order to know who you are and what you are interested in, as editors we have various options. On the one hand, of course, a wealth of experience through decades of work with content and journalism. On the other hand, countless conversations, letters to the editor and feedback on the newspaper, homepage or digital edition.

Of course, we also work with data. Half a dozen colleagues from the analysis team take care of collecting the correct data, preparing it and using it in a meaningful way in cooperation with the editorial team and product teams. For example, we measure how often articles are called up. Or how long it is spent on individual content. We are also interested in the ways in which readers find us, whether they come back or when a subscription is concluded. Not a matter of course on an individual level, data protection is extremely important to us in all of this, but anonymized and as a group. Web analysts, data scientists, statisticians and even experts in machine learning work together to make data readable and ultimately usable.

pramstaller 75

Editorial data work means dealing intensively with topics and the readership – and tracking down small clues in tons of numbers.

(Photo: SZ)

Why are we doing this?

Anyone who misses the world tries to make it more understandable. Less to leave them to the realm of the mystical, but to try to understand them better. To enable a different perspective on them that can hold new insights.

This is how we quantify, sum up, categorize and analyze – all with the aim of broadening our horizons and penetrating deeper into the relationships that make our world what it is.

It is all too understandable to be skeptical about the quantification of the world. Because tracking is associated with negative experiences and ideas in many ways. Terms such as metric, benchmark, performance indicator or accountability started their triumphal march in the management literature of the 1960s. As a megatrend, they have influenced and shaped countless areas of society in the past decades – be it education, health care, security or even journalism.

The urge to measure every little detail and make change representable results from a rapidly changing world. The faster and more fundamental this change takes place, the stronger the desire for objective criteria, orientation and confirmation of your own actions. At the very moment when the solutions of existing elites are no longer trusted, data should provide a hold.

We feel the effects of the data-infused world in everyday life. Be it annoying advertising that follows us for weeks on the Internet, or the question of the discount card at the supermarket checkout. Other examples, such as targeted campaigns or, in extreme cases, surveillance apps like those in China, which create comprehensive movement profiles, make us shy away from measuring our own behavior – even if it is done in accordance with data protection and anonymously.

Editorial work with data has nothing to do with all of this. Findings about which articles, topics and formats are read more or less intensely simply serve to better understand how the readers’ ideas correspond to our reality. In other words, we don’t want to know better than you what you are interested in.

As editors, we work data-informed, not data-driven. Data does not dictate which topics we deal with and what we report on. They only provide information, food for thought and can be a support in everyday topic planning as well as medium and long-term journalistic development. Data and numbers are of course only one form of evidence. Experience, feeling, theoretical constructs and qualitative research also play a decisive role.

Basically, data is always just a tool. Data itself does not provide answers and solutions, nor are they superior to the long-term experience of an editorial team. They can provide information about whether your own expectations correspond to reality. You can give feedback and be a compass to go your own way more purposefully.

We want to create the best possible journalism for our readers with all the information we have gained. Data help us with that, it is undisputed. But not just Data. “Not everything that counts can be counted – and not everything that can be counted counts,” wrote sociologist William Bruce Cameron in his 1963 book, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking. It is a quote that we should keep in mind when we measure the world.


75 years Süddeutsche Zeitung: So much change – your SZ

Anniversaries. This is the name of the great and long novel by Uwe Johnson, whose first volume was published in 1970 and the last, the fourth, in 1983. The focus is on Gesine Cresspahl, who fled the GDR and lives in New York with her daughter during the Vietnam War. In 366 chapters, each of which stands for a day between August 21, 1967 and August 20, 1968, if you follow Johnson’s leaps, you can also read a good three-quarter century of German and other history using the example of a woman, a family. This begins with Gesine’s father’s year of birth in 1888 and ends in the summer of 1968, when Soviet tanks ended the Prague spring.

Anniversaries. The newspaper is also something of a daily chapter that captures events and facts, but also feelings, opinions, perceptions. The newspaper, regardless of whether it is printed or distributed digitally, is a constant update of what constitutes the world of its readers, every hour, every day. It has won a church over the years and decades. This community is constantly changing, and so is the newspaper. Some of those who have read it for a long time measure it by how it used to be. On the other hand, others who have just joined have the feeling that the newspaper, especially the printed one, is too attached to what it used to be.

Incidentally, the same perceptions exist in the editorial office itself; some older people want to preserve what the essence of the newspaper is for them, even the spirit (if it really becomes important in Germany, the terms spirit and essence are never far away). Others, mostly younger ones, consider it urgent to say goodbye to the old ways of thinking, forms and formats. Both are right, because a newspaper needs the long-term readers (“I’ve been a subscriber for 30 years …”) as well as the new ones (“I hardly read anything on paper …”). If you have been reading the newspaper yourself for decades, you know that. If you have worked in the editorial department for decades, you also know the cyclical return of the urgent desire for major reforms. Or, in a slight modification of a well-known saying: The greatest critics of the moose later become some.

Anniversaries. It has been 75 years since Southgerman newspaper first appeared. On October 6, 1945, a Saturday, they were available for 20 pfennigs in destroyed Munich. It was eight pages long, and the print run was at least 357,000 copies. The SZ was printed on a machine from 1924, which was in the basement of the publishing house of Munich’s latest news had survived the bombing raids on Sendlinger Strasse. In a symbolic act, part of the lead set from Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” was melted down for the first printing plates of the press. The U.S. military government in Bavaria had given license three to three men: the conservative journalist August Schwingenstein, the social democrat Edmund Goldschagg and the Catholic Franz Josef Schöningh. Later the later editor-in-chief Werner Friedmann and the general director of the publishing house, Hans Dürrmeier, also joined as shareholders and shareholders. The publishing house and editorial staff of the SZ also reflected what shaped the early years of the Federal Republic: Among those who were to shape the new democratic era were opponents of the Nazis, indifferent people, fellow travelers and certainly also former Nazis. In this regard, the license holder Franz Josef Schöningh, for example, but also the later editor-in-chief Hermann Proebst, were clearly burdened.

The most important national newspaper, the most important newspaper in Munich

Apart from the Friedmann family, nobody from the families of the former shareholders is now involved in the publishing house. At the end of 2007, the heirs of the previous shareholders sold their shares to the Südwestdeutsche Medienholding (SWMH), to a group of publishers from Baden-Württemberg and a publisher from Rhineland-Palatinate. The SWMH, which includes many newspapers in the south and southwest of the republic, was born as a holding company and has been in the process of becoming a kind of media group and possibly even a company for years.

In any case, in 75 years, SZ, the local newspaper that appeared twice a week, became the most important national newspaper in Germany (a friendly greeting to Frankfurt). At the same time, it remained the most important newspaper in her homeland of Munich and Bavaria. This dual role is what makes SZ so special; if it goes well, subscribers should be informed about Manhattan as well as about Giesing. This is not easy, especially since financing this claim has made it even more difficult in times of falling advertising revenues. This becomes particularly clear in the weeks of the Corona crisis, which also means a further, significant drop in advertising revenue for all newspaper publishers. This leads to a paradoxical situation: Although people’s interest in trustworthy information increases in such a crisis, which can be seen from the higher number of users and subscribers, the revenue nevertheless declines. The industry, including the SZ, has to meet increased demand with less money.

Anniversaries. October 6 is not only an important date for the printed newspaper. On October 6, 1995, the 50th “birthday” of the newspaper, “SZonNet” went online. There was no editorial office yet, but not many at the time, who used the network, which was really new at the time, not only for professional purposes, could read and read articles from the newspaper. The beginnings of the website and the digital edition of the SZ are now again, one can hardly believe it, a quarter of a century old.

The smartphone as a reading tool

The tremendous boost from digitization and the associated complete change in public and private communication really started in the second half of the past decade. An indication of this is a fact that has played a role in the internal history of the Süddeutscher Verlag (SV) to this day: In 2007, the SV’s sales and revenues from advertising business, sales and other activities were higher than ever before – and never again . The publisher was worth a lot of money, which made those who bought the majority of it less happy than those who sold their shares.

The online business was interesting, but was by no means economically close to the center of attention until the second half of the past decade. At that time, money, if not very much, was made online almost exclusively with advertising; there was no so-called paywall or even a digital edition of the newspaper to be paid for. This was also due to the fact that the use of mobile devices as information and reading tools only really took off when Apple introduced its first smartphone in 2007.

Reading on paper is a centuries-old cultural technique. And for over 150 years, the printed newspaper, financed by advertisements and the sale of the newspaper, has been part of everyday life for many people, not only, but especially in the so-called middle classes. This has been changing more or less quickly for quite some time.

Mass communication began with the invention of the printing press. Previously, messages were exchanged face to face or handwritten in the broadest sense. The printing press made it possible to reproduce texts; which in turn was closely related to the Enlightenment, as a result of which more and more people learned to read. The rotary presses of the 19th century, which in principle continue to serve today, ensured unprecedented mass distribution of printed matter – of newspapers.

For SZ’s 90th birthday, will it still be a matter of course for people to read on paper?

The next big change was the introduction of the so-called electronic media, which later became radio and then television. Not only were these media faster, they reached more people. Despite many fears (“Are we enjoying ourselves to death?”), The mass media of books, newspapers, radio and television remained complementary to one another – also because none of these media can replace the other with their specifics.

With the third great communication revolution after (book) printing and electronic media, digitization, things can change. The central communication device is becoming more and more, to put it simply, the computer – whether as a smartphone, as an Internet-capable television, as a tablet, as a laptop or as an e-book reader. Yes, people still read books, magazines and newspapers on paper. It is not known whether this will be a matter of course for the 90th anniversary of the SZ. It may be. But it could also be that the digital revolution will mean that, for the first time, media, or to put it bluntly: data carriers, will no longer be complementary to one another. There was the song “Video killed the Radio Star”. Video didn’t do that. But maybe it would be interesting to continue the song as “The Screen killed the Printing Life” for 2040.

Fortunately, however, the newspaper is not dependent on its outward appearance, or, still a nice German word, its shape. It will be on paper for a long time for those who want it for a long time. And it has long since migrated to digital, too, every day. This transformation process is not easy, and sometimes you get the feeling that it is less difficult for readers than it is for editorial and publishing people. Incidentally, this also applies to the South Germans: never in the past 40 years has there been so much change, so much fundamental change as it is now.

Even if the shape changes; when technology interacts dramatically, overall communication changes dramatically; If the needs of readers become more and more differentiated, one thing remains: the idea of ​​newspapers. The idea of ​​newspapers means that an editorial team tries to the best of its knowledge and belief to represent the world as far as possible and necessary. She organizes the events for a certain period of time, she comments on them, and she does so in a way that people who enjoy reading, regardless of the medium, bring about knowledge in the best case and also create pleasure. Pleasure can mean joy about well-told stories, smiles about language pictures or satisfaction that after working with the SZ you know more than before. The Southgerman newspaper always wanted to be the smart companion of their readers’ everyday lives. It will stay that way, regardless of whether it looks the same as it did today at its 90th.

Anniversaries, this time the 75th. Anyone who reads a text like this so far belongs, knowingly or not, to the community, to the community of the readers. And that is what a newspaper like Süddeutsche needs, regardless of whether it is read on the screen or on the paper page. The newspaper lives through its readers, and that’s what we’re at Süddeutsche Zeitung proud.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung is 75 years old. Here you can find all stories, videos and insights about the anniversary.