News

Reporters at the Washington Post Will Soon Be Able to Check Their Articles’ Traffic

Deal between union and management will let journalists see how their stories do on the Web.
Photograph by Benjamin Freed from a Guild protest last fall.

The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild and the Washington Post‘s management have reached a “tentative agreement” on a two-year contract, the Guild announced Wednesday night. Union members won some—members will get a 2.5 percent pay increase in the first year, 2 percent in the second—and lost some: The newspaper “never budged from its demand to slash retirement benefits,” the Guild writes.

That change “will hit hardest at employees hired before 2009 who could plan on receiving pension payments based on their income and years of service,” Steven Mufson wrote last September.

But one victory in particular is intriguing: “The Post has agreed to provide reporters with access to story metrics—years after the Guild first requested this.” The Guild wanted reporters to be able to see how their stories did “because metrics are already showing up in performance reviews.”

“How this will work in practice is not yet clear, but we’ve been told the Post is moving to make it easier to gain access to this,” Guild co-chair Fredrick Kunkle tells Washingtonian in an email.

The Post “has in the past year or so started to relent on sharing metrics with reporters,” Kunkle says. “For some time prior to that, they had told us they were unwilling to share this sort of data because it was proprietary and confidential. At a recent meeting on driving traffic, however, we were told that the Post’s management now realizes it was a mistake not to invite reporters into the conversation about metrics some time ago.”

But “access still varies from desk to desk, editor to editor, and reporter to reporter,” Kunkle says.

Indeed, while a Post spokesperson told me the organization can’t comment because this issue relates to ongoing discussions, a bordering-on-uselessly-small survey of people I know there revealed a range of access to digital traffic info.

Most reporters I spoke with said they didn’t have direct access but could get it by asking an editor, and a couple of editors said they didn’t mind sharing traffic data. Some people with blogs told me they got an overnight traffic report but didn’t have access to real-time data. (Desk geography may play a part: The fifth-floor newsroom sports a TV showing real-time traffic from Chartbeat.)

(Just for disclosure: Here at Washingtonian, we have a TV in our newsroom showing our real-time Web traffic, and every morning some of us discuss Web traffic in a brief stand-up meeting. Anyone here who wants access can, as far as I’m concerned, have it.)

Kunkle says the Guild has “also started to hear that editors have set benchmarks for performance—such as 1 million page views per month—and we’ve heard concerns that these targets sometimes seem arbitrary and unrealistic. It’s also not clear how to fairly gauge people’s performance relative to others in the newsroom when their missions are so variable. That is, how do you judge traffic performance between someone covering Hillary Clinton and someone covering Scott Walker—let alone someone covering county government in Washington’s suburbs? And yet it seems likely that these sort of evaluations will appear in performance reviews soon.”

News organizations vary in how they grant access to internal traffic numbers. Writers at Vox Media’s The Verge don’t see them: The Verge wants authoritative and good content and “I don’t think you can measure that in terms of pageviews,” Nilay Patel, now the publication’s top editor, said last year. The Los Angeles Times gives access to analytics tools to anyone who wants it. Angèle Christin studied culture at newsrooms in the US and France and found that while writers can “express cynical views about traffic and say that they do not care about page views,” they “almost always check whether they are in the ‘top ten’ most read articles list.”

Writing last year on the question of whether journalists should know how their work connects with readers, the late David Carr said, “Just because something is popular does not make it worthy, but ignoring audience engagement is a sure route to irrelevance.” His article ended with a picture of a cat.

Here’s the Guild’s release.

BULLETIN – NEWSPAPER GUILD AND POST REACH COMPREHENSIVE TENTATIVE AGREEMENT ON TWO-YEAR CONTRACT

We’re pleased to announce that after eight grueling months of bargaining talks, The Washington Post and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild have reached a comprehensive tentative agreement on a new two-year contract. The tentative agreement is still subject to a ratification vote by Guild members. The ratification vote will be held next Wednesday June 10.

The highlights, in addition to other tentative agreements we have previously announced, include the following:

• All Guild-covered employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase in the first year of the contract and a 2 percent pay increase in the second year, effective upon the first pay period after the contract signing. This is conditional on the contract’s ratification by June 19. This is the largest such general pay increase in at least a decade.

• In line with the above increase, The Post has agreed to boost the salaries of 46 employees who were previously considered exempt but, following this round of talks, will be joining the Guild’s bargaining unit. This will allow them to enjoy the same 2.5/2.0 pay increase that other Guild members receive, as many had received smaller raises or none at all as exempt managers.

• The Post has agreed to leave unchanged the current language on severance pay. This means that employees are entitled to receive at least two weeks’ salary for every year of service in the event of an involuntary layoff. The company had wanted to cut this in half.

• Full-time Post employees will receive a $500 signing bonus; part-time employees will receive a $350 signing bonus.

• The Post has agreed to continue providing health care insurance for part-time employees. We are pleased that the Post has agreed to these terms. However, we regret to say that Post never budged from its demand to slash retirement benefits. The Post also declined to improve the pension formula for the less-generous Cash Balance pension plan and insisted on closing this plan to new employees. We would like to emphasize, however, that without the Guild, the outcome for everyone would be much worse. The Guild has battled fiercely since talks began on Sept. 23, 2014 — marching on picket lines, circulating a petition, participating in videos, and spreading the word through the news media – and because of that, we have won many important concessions and blocked many bad management proposals. Among them:

• The union’s fight effectively pushed back the pension freeze by one year for Guild-covered members. What that means is that people who are in the traditional pension plan have accrued one more year’s retirement benefit. In addition, as part of the tentative agreement, the Post has offered to credit those employees’ Cash Balance pensions for half a year retroactive to July 1. The traditional pension will now be frozen Aug. 31.

• The Post agreed to strike language from its telecommuting provision that would have forbidden work-at-home employees from assisting with child or elder care.

• The Post relented from a proposal to reduce the benefit for business travel accident insurance.

• The Post backed off a proposal to have the right to cease offering health care insurance for everyone.

• The Post agreed to honor the current compromise language on seniority.

• The Post backed away from a proposal to remove the recall provision for layoffs – a key article that has prompted the company to offer buyouts instead.

• The Post has agreed to provide reporters with access to story metrics – years after the Guild first requested this. This is an important concession because metrics are already showing up in performance reviews.

• The Post has agreed to ensure that managers follow existing guidelines when compiling performance evaluations – another key concession after instances in which some employees were targeted for dismissal although their immediate supervisors were not consulted about their performance.

• The Post has agreed to provide overall data on performance rankings given in each department so that employees can gauge how these grades are distributed.

• The Post agreed to add gender identity to the contract’s nondiscrimination clause.

• The Post has agreed not to sell the pension plan’s liabilities to an insurance company—a proposal that would have removed our pension benefits from federal insurance guarantees.

• The Post relented from a proposal to eliminate coverage for an annual eye exam and the cost of prescription lenses.

• The Post agreed to withdraw a poison pill provision that would have forced the union to collect dues by passing a hat following expiration of the contract.

All Guild-covered employees are welcome to attend briefings on the tentative contract agreement prior to ratification voting on Wednesday June 10. There will be four briefings that day, at 12:30, 1:30, 3:30 and 7:00 p.m. The briefings and the balloting will be held in the Guild’s offices, 1100 15th Street NW, Suite 350, at the corner of L and 15th. Please note that while all Guild-covered employees are welcome to attend the briefings, only dues-paying Guild members are permitted to vote on the contract.

We would like to acknowledge the hard work by the Post’s negotiators to close this deal. Above all, we are especially grateful to Guild professional staffers Rick Ehrmann and Bruce Nelson for their tireless effort and sound advice.

The Bargaining Committee

Rocky Richardson, co-chair, commercial Freddy Kunkle, co-chair, news

Patricia Jacobs Joel Achenbach

Tim Smith

PREVIOUSLY: Union Says Washington Post “Has Moved to Trim Staff” Amid Shortfall Rumors | Washington Post Employees Aren’t Too Happy With Jeff Bezos Right Now

NOTE: This piece was updated 6/5 with a detail about the screen in the Post‘s fifth-floor newsroom.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.