Editors note: We are republishing an article by David Sallinen that looks into the value of “Why…” articles. This piece was originally published on What’s New in Publishing.
For all media, the “Why…” has a strategic character. It proves that the media is able to draw the first lessons from an event earlier than its competitors. It also confirms its relationship to the readers, by raising the issues that its target readership expects. It’s such a journalistic stalwart that the wisdom of ‘Why’ is rarely questioned. Which is precisely why we feel the need to take a look at it, with the help of two sets of data.
First, I tried to calculate the share of the “Why” in the first set, in order to have a good idea of their place in the editorial mix of these six media (see graph 1, below) by calculating the proportion of articles containing the word “Why”.
As we can see, the percentage of “Why” represents a significant part of the articles published for four of the six media studied: 3.2% for Le Parisien, 2.5% for Actu.fr, etc.
Important points to note: there is a fairly large gap between Le Figaro (1.1%) and Le Parisien (3.2%). Francetv.info and 20 Minutes did not manage to get a single one of their “Why…” articles in the top 10,000 most shared articles.
Next, I wanted to assess the effectiveness of this content. I compared the proportion of “Why” articles to their cumulative performance in terms of shares generated (see graph 2, below). The result is both instructive and surprising, to say the least…
In fact, we can see that for the media studied in this sample, the “Why” articles underperform, with the notable exception of Le Figaro. Indeed, they generate a proportion of shares (red column) lower than the share of published articles they represent (blue column). Why is Le Figaro the only one in this sample to be effective when it comes to this type of article? Are there any clues that could help improve this performance?
Now let’s explore the second set of data, processed in Graph 3 below in an interactive way. The graph is divided into 3 panels:
On the lower right-hand side, you will also find a violin plot which allows you to visualise and analyse the distribution of the 10,000 articles (with total_engagement on the ordinate).
Finally, on the interactive caption notes you can select, for each media, the data according to two populations of articles: those containing the word “Why” (example: Actu.fr Why) and those not containing the word “Why” (example: Actu.fr Other content).
Go on. Compare the media between them according to these multiple criteria because the lessons are very instructive.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of performance and publication rates for these “Why” articles. However, we can draw some striking lessons:
Even more interesting (see graph, below) is an analysis of the number of comments generated on Facebook by “Why” articles. Taking Actu.fr as an example, we notice that its “Why” articles represent 2.5% of the total articles in the sample, but 4% of the total comments. This tendency is repeated for four of the media studied. Actu.fr is the media that performs best on this criterion.
Ultimately, good “Why” content is designed not simply to explain or editorialise, but to engage readers in dialogue, to help them express their ideas… hence the challenge of integrating the concerns and questions of audiences. In short the wise ‘Why’ piece is all about being in tune with your readership, and certainly not about clickbait.
As we said before: not all content is equal. You have to learn to assign objectives to content items to better meet the expectations of your target audiences. Or to boil this analysis down to the five key points:
In a world of information, consumed above all on mobile, the “Why”, just like the “Who”, “When”, “How”,… seems to be an ally of journalists to help their readers understand the article. However, it is clear that for social networks, the explainer angle of the “Why” is not the criterion of success when it comes to engagement. It should certainly not be banished, but probably fine-tuned to better serve its purpose.
Source of the cover photo: https://unsplash.com