* The title of this blog post is inspired by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This is a story about change. Or perhaps it is about progress. On second thoughts I think the opposite is happening.
Media analysts are suffering from the 24-hour news cycle. They have ’virtually’ been data puked on. There. I’ve said it.
I’ll outline some of the practical effects of change and progress in the media analysis industry over nearly 20 years on the people at the coal-face of production.
First, a history lesson. When I started working at Metrica in 1999, our clients’ hard copy coverage would arrive in sacks via the postman. If the postman arrived with two sacks we knew we had a busy day coming. The work level was visible. Sometimes the number of sacks was an early indicator of a reputational client crisis emerging – no early warning signal spikes on a dashboard for us back in the 20th century! We knew about it the morning after.
Our media analysts would pop into the office once or twice a week, pick up their hard copy cuttings, take them home (from whence they carried out content analysis) and their deadline for the work might be ‘end of the month’ or ‘two weeks’ time’.
The coverage they received was nearly always about the client. These were the days pre-automation at the media monitoring agencies, when the production rooms at Durrants and Romeike & Curtis were thick with the smell of news print and scissors were an occupational hazard. I’d say these were the glory days, the pace was sedate, our team members’ time was productive.
Fast forward to 2017. We live in a 24-hour news cycle, with content being spewed out not just by journalists – the whole world is at it! This has been a great opportunity for media analysts – an exponential increase in the volume of content to read and analyse.
But with it comes 21st century challenges. The analyst no longer pops in to the office to pick up their coverage. Fewer chances to catch up and connect with them over a cup of tea – instead we communicate with each other virtually on Skype calls. Our workload is measured in megabytes or file attachments rather than sacks of post. The deadline is always ‘as soon as possible’ which typically means ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Monday morning’ if today happens to be a Friday! Client crises inevitably happen over public holidays or the day before a week’s annual leave (actually, nothing changes there, the ‘law of sod’ is perpetual!).
I’m not complaining, it is a sign of progress. Computers now do the stuff they are good at, leaving the humans to do the stuff they are good at. Metadata (date, headline, source, journalist) is often pre-populated on our databases, giving us more time to analyse the content within the media. We increasingly do the interesting stuff like message identification and spotting emerging opportunities and threats. Think how many forests have been saved now that we work in paperless offices. My double / triple /quadruple screen set up does block out the sun a bit from my window though.
The biggest challenge is wading through the treacle. As a data nerd I collect oodles of data about my freelance media analysis team. The starkest trend is the amount of waffle and nonsense which needs to be filtered out. 2016 was particularly bad – over a third of the content we received was not relevant to our client briefs and had to be filtered out. That’s a third of my team’s time not really doing content analysis. I don’t call that progress.
How has your working day changed since you started working in media analysis? Do you share my challenges? Have you developed ways to work smarter? Let’s share them amongst the AMEC Young Leaders Group**. Thanks for reading.
** Steph is a member of the Young Leaders Group at the International Association of Measurement & Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), whose focus is to provide networking and knowledge share opportunities to rising stars in the media evaluation and analysis sector. Come and join our LinkedIn group.