What 2016’s most engaging stories tell us about journalism in 2017

2016 was an important year for journalism, no matter how you look at it. From Olympics and elections to Brexit and back, 2016 paved the way for both the challenges we face and the many opportunities journalists have to tell their stories in 2017. At Chartbeat, we sought to understand the year-just-past through the lens of engagement: Where did online readers choose to spend their time? We analyzed millions of stories and billions of pageviews to compile 2016’s Most Engaging Stories. The resulting list shows that the audience at large still has a strong appetite for quality content, especially when that content is tailored to their needs.

What did we uncover? Some clear trends that should inform the way we generate and publish content in this new year. No matter the topic, there are three things we should always be thinking about:

  1. Which form should this story take?
  2. Which traffic channel(s) should we target?
  3. How can we maximize the story’s shelf life in terms of audience attention?

Which Form Should This Story Take?

Perhaps shocking no one, interactive presentations, particularly around political topics, dominated the top of the list. In fact, 538’s Election Forecast racked up more engaged minutes that the top five stories on 2015’s list. The key takeaway here isn’t “make everything interactive.” It’s the clear marriage between political coverage and the need for data-driven reporting.

If we look beyond interactives, we see that longform journalism also attracted a strong audience in 2016 (see the year’s top longform piece, ESPN’s “The Secret History of Tiger Woods).

Longform stories are time-consuming and usually expensive to produce. So the things you do after publication can be as important as the things you do before. All it takes is a small hiccup in curation and you can lose the audience on a page — and a deep read is especially important with longform. Using metrics to find those stopping points and adjust the presentation can be the difference between engagement success and failure.

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