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Editor's Weekly: Searching for answers beyond the numbers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 3, 2013 - Dear Beaconites – Funny what sticks in your mind. This week, to celebrate the Beacon's fifth birthday, General Manager Nicole Hollway asked staff members to recall their five favorite things from the Beacon's first five years.

We've posted these High Fives lists with pithy explanations of why the selections made the cut, and they include everything from year-long projects (Race, Frankly and Worlds Apart, for example) to individual quotes (interim Saint Louis U. law school dean Tom Keefe's unforgettable parting utterance: “Life’s a bitch. If it was easy, they would call it a slut.”)

Some people picked photos, videos or graphics, such as the Power Players presentation of who gives and gets campaign money. Others remembered experiences, including a rained out Beacon Fest performance of Gilbert and Sullivan in Forest Park and a Beacon and Eggs gathering abuzz with chatter in Maplewood.

Collectively, the High Fives recognize extraordinary breadth and depth in our work over the years. We've not only reported news that matters, but also explored new ways to connect that work with the virtual and actual communities around us.

In the digital age, people are obsessed with objective measurement. Success is the sum of the clicks, retweets and “likes” you attract. But I still can't shake my skepticism of numbers. What's easy to measure is not necessarily what we want or need to know about human behavior.

High Fives track the impact of the Beacon's work in a different way, cataloguing how odd facts and serendipitous experiences stick in people's minds – and sometimes transform them.

With digital tools, newsrooms can follow rather precisely how people consume and share a given news report. But that doesn't necessarily reveal what will remain top of mind for readers five years later. And a quick glance across the media landscape shows how few organizations are focused on achieving the latter and how many are simply using content to chase eyeballs.

I hope I can learn to use the numbers wisely. Meanwhile, I continue to ponder certain things that are hard to measure. How can the Beacon open our eyes to things we didn't know we need to know? How can the Beacon open doors to people, ideas and whole fields of activity we didn't know we'd be interested in? How can we supply more moments that lodge in our brains and shift our understanding of the world?

Perhaps the answers lie as much in the High Fives lists as in the analytics. Take a look. Share your favorites.



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