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Editor column: Keeping the record straight on readership
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A war of numbers is nothing new. We use numbers as measurements to gauge success, so they come into play in many competitive environments.

There are lots of ways to measure online traffic and here in the local media landscape, one newspaper can use one particular set of numbers to count readership, the other can use another set.

Which is right? What are we to believe?

We've explored this topic before in this column. Even numbers are not absolute. They can be cast in many different lights and "interpreted" in many different ways.

Do readers care which news publication has more readership than the other? To the degree they believe the newspaper is theirs, they care. Everyone likes to know they are doing well and be on a winning team. And newspapers in turn love loyal readers and want as many as they can win.

But it is more than just bragging rights here. There is also the advertiser, and newspapers want as many of them — in print and online — as they can win, too. Of course advertisers want to reach as many readers as possible … so you get the picture.

Because online readership is where the growth is, online numbers take on special relevance. Lucky for us they are relatively easy to measure.

The way The Trib measures online readership is through Adobe's Omniture — a tool generally accepted by the industry as a leader in Web analytics. They claim some big players as customers: NBC, Time Inc., Gannett Newspapers.

Omniture — by request — puts tags on Web pages to track activity so it counts every time a page is clicked. We know where readers are coming from, what they look at on our site, how long they stay, how many pages they view. (Remember that when you are tempted to think you have any real privacy online.)

Other outfits, like the marketing research firm Experian, don't use page tags but rather estimate traffic through contracts they have with Internet Service Providers — yes, your Internet provider could be selling your data to third parties — and supplement that with "opt-in-panels," which are a form of online surveys.

To show you the difference, in a recent story on local media, the Deseret News used Experian numbers for sltrib.com in February and reported the number of visits to be 1,111,773. Our Omniture page count was 3,491,440.

Yikes! The number they used is three times fewer visits than actually counted visits.

If they'd only called us — as journalistic protocol and ethics require — we'd have given them our numbers.

And here's the kicker, our Web specialist, Kim McDaniel, says that in February we had a 10-day anomaly (page tags didn't get on our photo galleries) that made our traffic measure lower than it really was.

So, dear reader, for the record, here are the February 2013 numbers (replete with the undercount) for The Tribune's website as compiled by Omniture:

Unique users: 2,549,040

Visits: 3,491,440

Page views: 21,908,935

Our January numbers — which to the best of our knowledge are an accurate count with all pages tagged and again compiled by Omniture — were:

Unique users: 3,023,667

Visits: 4,091,651

Page Views: 27,679,976

Stories about the media landscape in Utah — as in every city and state in the country — will continue to make news. Thanks to the digital revolution, it changes almost every day. And it is an important story. Information is power — having access to news and information is critical to our democracy — so how we get news and information is important. We will continue to cover this story — and so will other media.

We are grateful to our readers — you — in whose name this news organization does everything it does. We'll do our best to get you an accurate report. We will try to keep the record straight. Some days we will do better than other days but we will strive for objectivity, fairness and balance. We see that as our role in this community.

Nancy Conway is the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune. Reach her at nconway@sltrib.com.

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