Book Talk | All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists
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NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to a book talk for All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists featuring the author Caitlin Petre in conversation with Alexis Madrigal and Alice Marwick.
Journalists today are inundated with data about which stories attract the most clicks, likes, comments, and shares. These metrics influence what stories are written, how news is promoted, and even which journalists get hired and fired. Do metrics make journalists more accountable to the public? Or are these data tools the contemporary equivalent of a stopwatch wielded by a factory boss, worsening newsroom working conditions and journalism quality? In All the News That’s Fit to Click, Caitlin Petre takes readers behind the scenes at the New York Times, Gawker, and the prominent news analytics company Chartbeat to explore how performance metrics are transforming the work of journalism.
Petre describes how digital metrics are a powerful but insidious new form of managerial surveillance and discipline. Real-time analytics tools are designed to win the trust and loyalty of wary journalists by mimicking key features of addictive games, including immersive displays, instant feedback, and constantly updated “scores” and rankings. Many journalists get hooked on metrics—and pressure themselves to work ever harder to boost their numbers.
Yet this is not a simple story of managerial domination. Contrary to the typical perception of metrics as inevitably disempowering, Petre shows how some journalists leverage metrics to their advantage, using them to advocate for their professional worth and autonomy. An eye-opening account of data-driven journalism, All the News That’s Fit to Click is also an important preview of how the metrics revolution may transform other professions.
Caitlin Petre studies the social processes behind the digital datasets and algorithms that increasingly govern the contemporary world. Using qualitative research methods such as ethnographic observation and in-depth interviewing, she maps the complex relationships between digital analytics, the social actors who create them, and the established experts who make use of them. Petre’s scholarly work has been published in Social Media & Society, the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Sociologica, and Digital Journalism. She has been featured or quoted in popular publications such as the New York Times, WIRED, Study Hall, Columbia Journalism Review, and the Atlantic. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University, is currently a faculty affiliate at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.
Alexis Madrigal is a journalist in Oakland, California. He’s a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a co-founder of The COVID Tracking Project. He’s also a co-host of Forum on KQED. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief of Fusion and and a staff writer at Wired. He’s working on a book about Oakland and racial capitalism in urban America. He’s been a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Information School and UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Technology, Science, and Medicine as well as an affiliate with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Madrigal authored the book Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. He curates the 5it newsletter, which covers emerging technologies and social dynamics through history and a general appreciation that the future will be as weird as the present. He was born in Mexico City, grew up in rural Washington State, and went to Harvard. Madrigal works out of the Murray Street Media Lab in Berkeley with novelist (and olive oil magnate) Robin Sloan.
Alice E. Marwick is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Principal Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, which she co-founded, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She researches the social, political, and cultural implications of popular social media technologies. In 2017, she co-authored Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online (Data & Society), a flagship report examining far-right online subcultures’ use of social media to spread disinformation, for which she was named one of 2017’s Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. She is the author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale 2013), an ethnographic study of the San Francisco tech scene which examines how people seek social status through online visibility, and co-editor of The Sage Handbook of Social Media (Sage 2017). Her forthcoming book, The Private is Political (Yale), examines how the networked nature of online privacy disproportionately impacts marginalized individuals in terms of gender, race, and socio-economic status. In addition to academic journal articles and essays, she has written for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Slate, the Columbia Journalism Review, New York Magazine, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Luminate Group, the Digital Trust Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council, and she has held fellowships at the Data & Society Research Institute and the Institute of Arts & Humanities at UNC-CH. As a 2020 Andrew Carnegie fellow, she is working on a third book about online radicalization. In 2021, she was awarded the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by the University of North Carolina.