The Multiple Meanings of Clicks: How Web Journalists Make Sense of Audience Analytics in the United States and France
Over the past decade, many skilled professions that were formerly protected from quantitative evaluation have been confronted with the multiplication of algorithms and related technologies of quantification drawing on ‘Big Data.’ These technologies are usually designed to rationalize expert judgment and make professionals more accountable. Yet the actual ways that algorithms are used often diverge from their optimistic designs. Here I focus on the case of journalism, a field transformed by quantification in the form of clicks. Drawing on ethnographic methods, I examine the reception of audience analytics in American and French web newsrooms. I argue that metrics like ‘clicks’ take on distinct meanings and are mobilized in different ways depending on their institutional contexts, with significant consequences for the kind of news being produced. This study of the cultural and social shaping of algorithms is part of a broader research program that critically examines instances in which technology is presented as a solution for long-standing social issues.
Angèle Christin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University. Her research examines fields and organizations where the rise of algorithms is transforming professional values, expertise, and work practices. In her current book project, she focuses on the growing influence of web analytics in online journalism in the United States and France. Previously, she published an ethnographic analysis of criminal sentencing in a French courthouse (Comparutions immédiates: Enquête sur une pratique judiciaire, La Découverte, 2008). She completed her PhD in Sociology (2014) at Princeton University and the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales.