Use Nine-Factor Scoring to Rate Performance of In-print News Sections

By Howard Rauch

Although conventional in-print news sections supposedly are slated for an overhaul, they remain alive, but not necessarily well, via existing formats. So a word to the wise, especially when you run your next competitive analysis match-up: Include a scoring system designed to identify and quantify news coverage strengths/weaknesses.

Recently I revised my system to include evaluation of nine factors (as opposed to the previous seven). In the future, I expect further revisions. Reason? Section content must provide an increased analytical slant. We also must dump all those “obligatory” puff blurbs in the interests of achieving a more authoritative focus.

For me, news section competitive analysis starts with a 20-factor scoring tabulation. I then narrow it down to the following nine-factor scoring system:

  1. Percent of news pages illustrated. Anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable.
  2. Percent of pages using infographics. The majority of news sections I’ve reviewed during the past year rarely use infographics. For many, one infographic per section is a big deal.
  3. Pages/graphics ratio. (Note: This is an addition to the previous system. You arrive at this indicator by dividing total illustrations section uses into total number of pages carrying news. Minimum target ratio is 1.5.
  4. Story-start ratio. You arrive at this number by dividing news section editorial page count (as opposed to total pages carrying news) into the number of articles run. Shoot for a story start ratio of 1.5-2.0. Ratios over 4.0 usually reflect an absence of depth.
  5. High-impact lead story. (Note: I’ll say more about this once the entire 9-factor list is presented).
  6. Urgency percent. Here we are evaluating the presence or absence of high-impact content. To get the current picture for your publication, divide total news section page count into total number of articles addressing a strong benefit or threat. The result never should be lower than 80.0%.
  7. Total end-user quotes. “End-user” refers to your key reader group. These quotes are tougher to come by, especially if your personal relationship with that group is severely limited.
  8. Average Fog Index for section’s first page. Everybody knows how FI works, right? If not, look it up via your favorite search engine. Preferred FI grade level range is 10-12.
  9. Five-factor headline evaluation. Sub-factors entering into this calculation include (1) headline story-telling value; (2) absence or presence of story-telling deck; (3) presence or absence of numbers; (4) overuse of “cute” low-value words/phrasing; (5) presence or absence of active verbs. Factor (3) is notable for its absence. Don’t we know that attention-getting numbers appeal to a B2B audience? Or do we just never insist that writers include hot numbers in their articles. (Hint: Create a staff hand-out listing several dozen questions that only can be answered with a number).

Every so often, I issue a client advisory concerning faltering news sections. My message usually identifies six shortfalls that require immediate upgrade:

  • An illustration on every news page.
  • A lead story that occupies one full page and includes direct quotes from three or four end-user sources.
  • More frequent use of follow-up stories. For example, in the case of regulatory developments, obtain industry reaction from end-users (as opposed to the usual, more easily accessible association and consulting organization sources).
  • At least one page per section using an infographic (preferably a chart).
  • A minimum of one direct quote in every article using three or more paragraphs.
  • Observation of Fog Index principles. At the very least, average sentence length per article should stay close to 20 words.

That covers everything for now. For additional quick tips on a variety of editorial topics, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/editorialtype.

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