The Recap: Our Numbers, Our Successes, Our Lessons.

So here are some of the biggest lessons from In short: Publish more. Engage often. Tell great stories. And above all: Put together a great team.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published October 9, 2012

Holiday fireworks explode over downtown Springfield, Mo.


Back in April, I wrote these words on our homepage: “We see as a lab for storytelling, community building and experimentation. We’re trying a lot of new stuff.”

So here’s how we did:

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Inside The Numbers.

We published 37 stories. We hosted a town hall panel. We syndicated five stories to local news partners. We published five eBooks. And we got media coverage from local ABC, CBS, FOX and NPR outlets.

Measuring the impact of the project isn’t easy. But going into Google Analytics, I can report that from May 1 to Aug 31, we had some strong numbers.

  • Visits: 36,603
  • Unique visitors: 30,537
  • Pageviews: 57,012
  • Average time on site: 1 minute, 21 seconds
  • Bounce rate: 75.37%

Our no. 1 source of traffic: Springfield, Mo., which accounted for 8.27% of visits. This was also encouraging:

  • Average time on site for Springfield readers: 3 minutes, 13 seconds
  • Bounce rate: 55.22%

So our core readers spent more time on our stories, and they were more likely to visit multiple stories/pages during their visits.

That’s a very good sign.

Let’s go a little deeper into the numbers:

  • 5.16% of our traffic came from search engines — more than 91% of that from Google
  • 76.19% of traffic came from referrals, including blogs and social media

Of that, 5,534 people came to the site because of social media.

And of that, 70.22% came via Facebook. 25.47% came via Twitter. 2.28% came via Tumblr. We found that of the social media sites, Facebook had the most potential to drive a story.

  • “The Factory Town That Lost Its Factory” — 1,402 visits came from Facebook
  • “They Couldn’t Light It So They Tried To Fight It” — 242 visits from Facebook
  •’ Joplin homepage — 171 visits from Facebook

In all, we had nine stories in which 100+ clicks came via Facebook.

Twitter did not drive 100 people to a story even a single time. Over the course of the summer, though, 748 people came to the hompage via Twitter. And our analytics indicate that a good number of those shares came from people checking out our redesign — not our stories.

Overall, we found that Twitter is a more powerful tool for making connections, but Facebook is much more powerful when it comes to sharing.

I also want to address the impact of services like Instapaper, Pocket and Readability. We built “read later” links into each story, and we know that many of our readers often used those services.

However, we don’t know how many readers used them. We also don’t know how long those readers spent on our stories within those services. Those services do not share their data with publishers like

It is my belief that many of our Instapaper/Pocket/Readability readers are our most loyal, but I have no data to back that up — only anecdotal evidence.

As for our live events: We received several dozen letters — about 40, I believe, though I don’t have an exact number — from our “Letters to Springfield” campaign. We also had about a dozen attendees for our live event, and a few dozen more watching the live stream. Several local media outlets helped us promote the event in the 72 hours leading up to the event, but that didn’t lead to significant turnout.

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Our News Experiments.

-We changed the branding on our topic pages. Here’s why.

-We launched a new responsive website, with an emphasis on content and context. Here’s some background on it and what people said about it.

We partnered with both news and non-news outlets — and saw great success with many of our partnerships.

-We attempted to pull off the reporter’s “swarm” to cover certain stories — and it worked well.

We created a bucket list on Twitter to kickstart our social media outreach.

-We also tried to use Instagram to get involved in the community.

-When sharing on Facebook, we borrowed an idea from Daniel Victor and tried to use big images with each share. That was a big success for us. Two of our posts generated more than 15 shares each due to this strategy.

-As part of our branding efforts, we used this image for our Twitter and Facebook icon. And then we added the same dots to each reporter’s Twitter avatar in an attempt to build brand recognition.

-We sent out a weekly email blast to readers. 55% of our subscribers opened the email every week, and another 11% clicked through to the site with each email. It also created a certain rhythm with readers — many told me they only went to the site after an email showed up in their inbox.

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Big Questions We Asked This Summer.

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Where We Could Have Done More.

Lowering that bounce rate — We needed some sort of tool to encourage further clicks. When you finish reading a story on our site, there’s nothing there to direct you to the next story. When building out, I made this a low priority — I just didn’t have the money to build out the additional functionality. Several of the plugins I tried didn’t work with our responsive design, so I scrapped them. But what it meant was that readers got through a single story and left. That was a big flaw in our site design.

Building more conversation — Social media isn’t about tools like Twitter or Facebook. It’s about conversation. I thought our outreach during this city council meeting was a really strong example of how we could have done more to insert ourselves — and our expertise — into the story. We found that the more we joined conversations in progress, the better the response we got from the community.

And we tried to do this at live events that weren’t ours, too. We had tables at live events across the city, and I spoke at several Rotary Club meetings. These IRL appearances also helped us get feedback directly from our core audience — just talking to our readers helped us shape the “Letters” campaign. We did a lot of this, but we could have done more.

Creating more content — We set an informal goal at the start of the summer: Produce three stories per week. At that pace, we would’ve written 48 stories this summer. We came up 11 short of that number. And looking at Google Analytics throughout the summer, it was easy to see that readers stopped coming when we went a day or two without publishing a story. Readers weren’t sure when they should expect stories, so many of them stopped coming at all. We needed to publish more, and we needed to make it clearer to readers when we would publish stories.

Writing for Google — Our SEO was not very good, and that’s entirely my fault. I didn’t make SEO a priority from the start, and certain pages — like our individual author pages — really need to be updated and improved. One in 20 readers came to the site via Google, and that number should have been much higher. Unfortunately, readers couldn’t always find our stories, even when they were searching for them.

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Ultimately, one thing above all sticks out with Ideas are good, but it’s execution that matters. And to execute on big ideas, it takes an incredible team.

To build an awesome future for journalism, we have to start with amazing teams. Nothing short of that will do.

What We’ve Learned: People Come First.

In the last of a series on lessons from the Springfield bureau, founder Dan Oshinsky explains why putting together a great team — and giving them a support system — matters most.

story by Dan Oshinsky
published September 6, 2012

Dan Oshinsky

About six months ago, I put a job posting online for reporters for I had already locked down the housing for the entire team, even though at that point only Jordan and I had committed to Springfield. I had four reporting slots — and four bedrooms — to fill.

The very first person to apply for a job at was a jazz singer. She was from Arkansas, and she knew the region, and she was interested in writing.

I got very nervous. I had committed to hiring four reporters, and I was suddenly very worried that I was going to be putting together a team that knew more about musical scales than paragraph structure.

Luckily for me — and for Springfield — we ended up finding a truly capable team. I owe so much to them: To Jordan, for being the first on board, and to Bari, Roman, Sarah and Zach for coming along for the ride.

A project like this cannot happen on paper. All the planning in the world doesn’t matter if your team isn’t any good. To pull together great stories and projects, you need a great team.

Yes, ideas matter. Yes, funding matters.

But foremost, your team matters. Exceptional projects don’t come from average teams.

The success of this project this summer stems entirely from this team, and from the work and energy they threw into it. This summer, I learned:

When Hiring a Great Team, Be Specific — The job posting for was pretty ambiguous, and for a good reason: I wanted a team that was adventurous and curious. This job wasn’t for everyone. I wanted people with a background in storytelling — specifically in long-form narratives. I was looking for great listeners and for certain skills, like data reporting or editing backgrounds experience. All of that helped us immediately weed out reporters who simply wouldn’t have been a good fit for the type of reporting we did this summer.

Support Your Team — And do it in three ways:

1. With tools: They’ll need the right technology and equipment to do the work. We had four DLSR cameras, a long list of tech resources and the full Adobe suite at our disposal. Pretty much anything we wanted to do, we could do.

2. With time: Reporting projects don’t happen immediately. Jordan and I had to be patient enough to let the reporters find and deliver on stories.

3. With opportunities: They needed the freedom to investigate big stories, and they needed to be comfortable enough with Jordan and I to actually pitch them. That required us to create a culture at that welcomed ambitious and unusual stories.

Let Them Try, Try Again — When something went wrong, we tried to give our reporters as many opportunities as we could to make it right. Stories got weird. Stories got complex. But wanted them to try and try again until we did the story as best we could.

I’m only now starting to take a look back on the summer and to figure out what we just accomplished. Whatever I find, I know this: It’ll be thanks to this incredible band of reporters that gave everything they had to this summer.

What We’ve Learned: The Importance Of Focus.

Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting big lessons from the team. Up next: Jordan Hickey and the lessons he learned about not getting distracted in the face of so many great stories.

story by Jordan Hickey
published September 4, 2012

Jordan Hickey

In the first Springfield-related article on the site, we wrote about everything that you could see upon arrival in Springfield. We wrote about the looming lemon-colored face of Homer Simpson, Bass Pro, cashew chicken, blue ribbons, red flags — we wrote about what was immediately apparent even to someone looking in for the first time. We wrote about Springfield as if it were a new culture in a Petri dish. It was a means of understanding the parts of this city that bubbled up to the surface before even attempting to dig further. And I think, considering how new we were to the area, it was acceptable for that time. To a certain extent, it made the place more of an abstraction comprising many parts more than a large cohesive whole. But you can only look at a place like that for so long.

Examining Springfield from a distance — relying on numbers and clichés and all of that — would have made the project a much different, and undoubtedly, I think the team would agree, less of a stress-inducing endeavor. I think they’d also agree that’s there no better way to guarantee the death of a news organization than complacency. We could have chased the obvious stories and the stereotypes that exist in the Ozarks.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s to be aware that such temptations exist. And while the thing about the superficial is a bit of a extreme example — realistically, the idea of resting on our laurels immediately is difficult to imagine — it’s something that has appeared in subtler ways.

When I first arrived in Springfield, I heard plenty of stories, and many of those — arguably, some of the best ones — were not stories that originated from Springfield proper. They were just north of the city or just south. They were in the outlying communities. They were good stories, but they weren’t necessarily stories that had much bearing on Springfield. However, I still chased after a few of those because they fell within what Dan and I had established early on as our focus area: Anything within an hour’s drive was fair game.

The problem was that there were a lot of stories. And each drive down to Ozark or Branson or wherever yielded even more stories. Better stories. The next one was always just down the road. And eventually, one morning following what I suppose could be labeled a “story-induced bender,” I found myself contemplating a drive down to Gainesville. Two and a half hours away. I realized that I’d zoomed out enough that Springfield was only just part of the narrative. And that couldn’t be the case.

It’s true that there were plenty of stories from the outlying areas and beyond that practically fell into my lap. But what I realized after the Gainesville temptation was this: Odds are, there stories just as good, if not better, up in Springfield. They just required a bit more digging.

Anyway, two other lessons:


When you haven’t established something firm enough — or perhaps do the sorts of mental gymnastics necessary to rationalize a breach in the protocol just large enough to allow for that one story — that temptation to break away and do the “sexier” stories proves too much. And the thing is: There’s always going to be a better story just down the road. When you’re in Springfield, there’s one just to the south in Ozark. When you’re in Ozark, it’s Branson. In Branson, it’s something way down in Arkansas.

There are going to be times when it’s possible to have that sort of luxury, but in cases such as ours, sometimes you just have to dig a bit deeper for those stories; be a bit more patient, understand that they’re there and it’s just a matter of shifting enough of whatever’s covering it to the side before you can see it for what it is. If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize in the time I’ve spent in Springfield, it’s that there are stories everywhere. And — if you ask the team — sometimes those stories just seemed fated to happen.

And another thing:

I told myself a while back that I could work anywhere as long as the opportunity to do good work presented itself. But if there’s one (other) thing that working in Springfield has made me realize, it’s that the work can only get you so far. It’s half of what’s necessary in making something awesome. The other half is people.

As I write this, what immediately floods back into memory are the nights. Late nights over Red Bull, coffee and gummy bears spent editing. Working literally all the time — 12-, 13-, 14-hour days. Talking theory and dropping names. Discussing ethics of Finkel and Lehrer, if there was anything that might redeem them and their careers. Talking about sportswriters. Feature writers. The state of journalism. And no one seemed to think this fanaticism was weird. (They probably did, but were just too polite to say it.)


If you surround yourself with people who are just as dedicated as you are, projects like can work. The project worked because — and only because of people.

Thanks for reading this summer. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

What We’ve Learned: Persistence And Patience Go Together.

Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting big lessons from the team. Next up: Reporter Sarah Elms shares what she learned from her experience in Joplin, Mo.

story by Sarah Elms
published August 26, 2012

I think all six of us at would agree that this summer in Springfield, Mo., has been an incredible experience, something different from anything any of us has done before. We came from all over — Illinois, Maryland, Montana and Virginia — to this place in this country where the Midwest and the South overlap, on the hunt for great stories along the theme of an interconnected America.

I’d never been to Springfield before, so my only expectations came from the city’s website and Wikipedia page. I sat down at my desk in my Milwaukee apartment and Googled Springfield, Mo. I learned that it would be hot, there would be country music and there would be cashew chicken. Lots of cashew chicken. Living in Springfield would be a bit of an adjustment.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much this city truly has to offer, and more importantly, that there would be an endless stream of stories here just waiting to be told. There is a lot more to Springfield than meets the eye, and I feel extremely lucky to have been able to experience so much of it.

There is no way I would have discovered all of this, however, if it weren’t for my editors pushing me to get out and explore, to talk to strangers, to dig. The first week in Springfield not only allowed me to get to know the city, but it taught me a thing or two about reporting as well.

I’ve learned a lot working for this summer. I’ve learned how to ask better questions, how to uncover stories and how to get close to people when I take photos, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my writing.

What stands out the most, however, was something less tangible than those. It was a matter of learning the importance of patience and persistence, and how to balance the two.

The experience that brought this home for me was during’ weeklong series on Joplin’s recovery efforts when I reported a story on families still living in FEMA trailers on the outskirts of Joplin. On a sweltering July day, reporter Roman Stubbs and I found ourselves standing on the rickety steps of several FEMA trailers, hidden away in a park surrounded by corn fields.

The families living in the park had all been displaced by the catastrophic tornado more than a year earlier, and the trailers were set up to be their temporary homes while they search for permanent housing. We wanted to tell the story of a family’s long road to recovery, and what it’s like to be living in a constant state of flux.

One family, a single mother and her two children, answered the door and agreed to speak with us. But today wasn’t a good day for them — their house was a mess, they had errands to run — could we come back tomorrow afternoon? They’d never shared their story before, they said. No one had asked.

Tomorrow came and went, and they never answered their door. Most of the families at the park didn’t have phones, and all were without Internet. The only way we could get a hold of them was by showing up. The next day we went back at 11, and again at 2, and again at 4, and again at 6. We worried they had changed their minds, that they no longer wanted to speak to reporters.

It was getting late, and half of our team had to head back to Springfield, an hour away, to start writing. I stayed, because there was nothing for me to write without my key interview. Finally, a little after 8 p.m., someone answered my knock on the door. They still wanted to talk. They invited me in, and over the course of two hours I listened about the family’s rollercoaster of a year.

By the end of the night, I had my story. I drove home, relieved that it had worked out and grateful that the family was so willing to trust me and let me into its life. I realized that this story, like so many others, needed the perfect combination of patience and persistence in order for it to happen.

The lack of technology at the trailer park made it extremely difficult to keep in contact with my source, and for them to get in contact with me. There was no way for them to inform me that their plans had changed, unless they borrowed a neighbor’s phone or drove into town, and there was no way for me to check in other than driving out there and knocking on their door.

It was necessary for me to be patient and wait for the family to return home, but if I waited too long without getting an answer, the story would have to drop. Along those same lines, it was necessary for me to keep pushing — to talk with their neighbors, to keep showing up and knocking on their door — otherwise, the story wouldn’t have happened.

You need to have the perfect combination of patience and persistence with anything you’re reporting — if you wait too long to make something happen, the story can get away from you, but if you push too hard, people will often shut you out.

This summer I’ve learned that great stories come together once you find that balance. Once you learn how to do that, you’ll start telling stories you won’t forget.

Why Newsrooms Should Start Partnering More. (Immediately.) has had several incredible partners this summer, for both live events and news syndication. Our founder explains why every news organization should have partnerships — and the big questions that need to be asked before you start one.

story by Dan Oshinsky
published August 22, 2012

A story from syndicated in the Republic Monitor.

If news organizations take only one thing away from the news experiment here in the Ozarks this summer, I hope it’s this:

We need more news partners.

We’ve been lucky to have several incredible partners this summer, for both live events and news syndication. These partners have helped us schedule and execute live events; reach a large audience through syndication; and find and tell great stories all summer long. Without them, I cannot imagine what our Springfield project might have been.

I think that news organizations everywhere need to start looking for great partners. They’re the ones who are going to help journalists get beyond the newsroom and get into the conversations happening all around a community. They’re the ones who are going to help newsrooms tell better stories and build better communities for news.

If you’re serious about a partnership, there are five big questions you should be asking first:

1. Do your goals align? — The Springfield-Greene County Library has been an incredible partner for us. They see themselves as a hub for storytelling and discussion about Springfield, and we see ourselves as an integral part of that same conversation. Right off the bat, our goals lined up.

With our news partners, like Community Publishers, we had a different set of shared goals. We wanted to syndicate stories and get them out to a wider audience. They wanted more original feature stories. So, with that shared interest, it was easy to agree that we should partner to share stories.

2. What do these partners bring to the table? — The library brought so much to the table: A space to host events, the infrastructure/technical support to pull off events and even the PR connections to help us publicize the project. Community Publishers brought their biggest asset: Seven weeklies in the Ozarks. Missouri News Horizon brought their website and their daily radio broadcast. They, too, could help us get good stories out to a wider audience.

3. How will communication happen? — I started talking to News Horizon back in the fall of 2011. I started talking to Community Publishers and the library in February. We established communication early.

Since the team arrived in Springfield, the way we’ve communicated has changed. We’ve been meeting regularly with the library in person — it helps that my team spends a lot of time working at The Library Center.

For our publishing partners, we’ve been sending out a weekly digest of stories, with a listing of content — words, photos, audio, data — that can be packaged into the story. For Missouri News Horizon, we’ve recently started sending out a slightly different version of the email, as we try to tailor our stories for a more regional audience. This means pitching a story around the larger news hook — not the individual, local characters in the story.

4. Are they excited/willing to partner? — This seems obvious. But gauging interest is a huge deal. If you find average partners, you’ll get average results.

Here, I have to single out the library staff. Their energy and enthusiasm for storytelling has been amazing. They deserve huge credit for our “Letters to Springfield” panel. Next week, we’re partnering with them to distribute eBooks based on our stories from Springfield. Thanks to them, they’re going to get our books — like “Joplin, 59 Weeks Later” — into library catalogs we didn’t even know existed.

5. Do they have the staff/time to execute the partnership? — The library is a huge organization. Community Publishers is bigger than us, but only slightly. Their news staffs are pretty small. Missouri News Horizon is actually smaller than us.

And that’s mattered. The library has had more people/resources to throw at our projects, which has allowed us get more done. On the other hand, Missouri News Horizon has been a huge supporter of, but their staff is tiny, and they’re very focused on getting their work done on a day-to-day basis. They haven’t had a lot of time for us.

But all in all: Our partners have been a tremendous asset to us. It’s been wonderful to have partners inside and outside the newsroom. They’ve helped take us places we otherwise couldn’t go.

And they’re not our only partners. City Hall came to help us with the “Letters” campaign. The Atavist stepped up to help us produce eBooks.

The takeaway for newsrooms: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Together, we can do great work.

How I Reported Bo’s Story.

Three months ago, our Jordan Hickey stumbled upon the story of Tommy “Bo” Ray Bryant, who had been killed in April — allegedly by his own cousin. Here’s how he reported this story.

story by Jordan Hickey / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published August 21, 2012

Jordan (seated, in blue shirt) reports Bo's story in Walnut Grove.

The Mobile Library, essentially a library on wheels, is part of the Springfield-Greene County Library’s outreach initiative to provide disadvantaged and distant communities with easier access to books. It makes the rounds to assisted living facilities and small towns on the fringes of the county. When I first arrived in Springfield and heard about all of places that it visited, it occurred to me that it might be a means of meeting people I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to meet.

And that is how, on a Tuesday afternoon in early May, I found myself on the Mobile Library in Walnut Grove, Mo., striking up a conversation with a woman named Debbie. I was interested in doing a story about larger families in rural areas, the reasons that people stay in the Ozarks, how families stay together — or something along those lines. At that point, it was little more than an abstract idea.

But it wasn’t too long into our conversation that she took a folded slip of paper from her purse — it was a funeral announcement for Bo. She told me that he was her nephew and that he had been killed just a week before.

That chance meeting led to “The Life, Death and Mourning of Tommy “Bo” Ray Bryant,” a story we published on Saturday. The story was reported over the course of three months.

It evolved over the summer. After that first meeting, I told Debbie that I would be coming up the following week, and I asked if maybe we could talk a bit more then. The next time that I came, she asked if I might be interested in coming by her mom and dad’s place. The family was going to have a barbecue, a tradition that had faded in recent years but was being revived in an effort to bring the family together after Bo’s death.

Over the course of the next several months, I went to several of those monthly barbecues. (In the photo at top, I’m at center, seated and wearing a light blue shirt.) “WaGro” became my second home for the summer. And it seemed that every time I came back, a new element of the story had been introduced or an existing one altered. After the first, I came back talking about the Hill, vigilantism and the Lost Boys. After the second, I came back talking about the nature of mourning, what Bo had been like as a kid, how he and Lee had eaten ChapStick.

The story changed when I first met Teresa and Drew and Kevin — who live on the Hill — the day of the preliminary hearing for the man accused in Bo’s death. It changed when I went to the Hill for the first time and realized just how much Bo had meant to the people living up there. It changed when I spoke to James, when I spoke to Debbie, when I spoke to Angie, and each time that I spoke with Dee. But there was one thing that struck me: I realized the only reason I was able to write the piece was because he had meant so much to so many people.

It was also the reason that reporting this story presented the challenge it did. This was a story that required an enormous amount of time and trust.

When I went to Ken and Mary Ann’s house for the first barbecue, for as many family members who were happy to speak with me, there were just as many who didn’t — I remember more than a few eyeing me warily from a distance. It was for that reason that the first few times I went up there, I did not use a notepad or a recorder. I just sat outside and spoke to people as they cycled in and out of the seats. When I left a few hours later, I immediately went to a nearby McDonald’s and wrote a few thousand words on what I’d seen throughout the course of the afternoon, who I needed to speak with and in what order I wanted to speak with them.

When it actually came to sitting down with people for the one-on-one interviews, I realized pretty early on that the sight of a tape recorder or a notepad could be somewhat unnerving, especially when some of the more sensitive material was being discussed. It was the reason I made a point of reading my questions beforehand, storing them in the bag and guiding the conversation toward them when possible. It was also the reason that I tried to put the recorder off to one side, out of the line of sight during the conversation.

This was a story that presented a very specific set of challenges. But there was one that never appeared. The people in Walnut Grove and the surrounding area are very well spoken — there were more than a few occasions when I had to struggle to suppress excitement after hearing a quote. Granted, it took some little amount of trust before the people I spoke with would speak freely, but once they did, there was no shortage of stories or revelations.

When I set out to write the piece, I wanted the narrative arc to reflect the experience that I had had in reporting the piece: How the Hill was initially an abstraction. How meeting the people who lived up there had changed it. What the place meant to this family. What the place meant to Dee.

You won’t see all of the reporting in the final product. I conducted dozens of hours of interviews over the course of the summer. I interviewed nearly everyone associated with the family — somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 sources in all, a fair number of which were very in-depth, lengthy endeavors. I went to the court in Bolivar, Mo., on three occasions.

I hope the final story reflects all of that. I hope it does justice to a great story. It’s their story, and I’m glad to have known it.

How We Measure Impact At

By page views? Unique visitors? eBooks sold? No, at, we’ve been using an untraditional set of questions to help us measure impact. Our founder explains.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published August 19, 2012

The team works on some stories.

We journalists are rather proud of our role in a democratic society. Here in America, the press is the only type of business whose freedoms are directly laid out in the Constitution.

But we’ve always had trouble figuring out just how much impact our stories have. If a story doesn’t win an award or cause government to take action, then how do we know that what we’re doing matters?

Web analytics have helped somewhat. They give us a sense of how many readers are actually reading to our stories, how many are sharing them, and how many are spending time on them.

These analytics really can be a huge help. For example, with, I’m proud to say that we’ve had more than 34,500 people visit our website this summer. Those readers have combined for more than 52,000 pageviews.

About 6.5 percent of our total traffic has come directly from Springfield, Mo. Best yet: Our Springfield audience is staying on the site and really digging into the stories. The average Springfield reader spends 3 minutes and 19 seconds on

We also had some success on social media. Facebook and Twitter helped drive more than 3,500 readers to the site this summer.

These are all very good signs.

But they’re not the only way to measure impact. A few other untraditional benchmarks have helped us this summer:

• What are people saying about our stories? — We’re always curious to see what feedback we get from sources and the community about our stories. When we get kind emails or tweets, that’s always a good sign.

Last week, I got this email from a Springfield resident:

“Springfield is my hometown. I haven’t lived there for years, but my 92 year old mother does, as do several cousins. For most of my life It was hard to get past the conservatism, but your stories helped me learn that there really is more to Springfield than politics and religion … You were good for Springfield.”

It’s wonderful to get emails like these. It tells me that our efforts to tell Springfield’s story are working.

• Are people responding to our campaigns? — We held a live event this summer, the Letters to Springfield panel. Response from the community was good. We got about 30 letters from the community. The campaign led to three stories in the news — two on TV, and one on local radio. We also had about a dozen people show up for the actual panel. That’s not a ton, but we did reach a small group of engaged citizens. It’s an excellent starting point.

• How many big questions did we get answered? — With the Letters to Springfield campaign, we wanted to get big questions about this city answered. For nine citizens in Springfield, we were able to get answers from newsmakers. We put all of those answers on YouTube.

That night, one of the questions was about the Heers Building, an abandoned building downtown. The building’s fake Twitter account joined in the conversation that night:

So that seems like a pretty good indicator of impact to me.

All in all, I think the “Letters” campaign is one of our biggest successes of the summer.

• How many business cards did we hand out? — This is a good sign of how well you’re getting out into the community. I’ve handed out of a few hundred business cards this summer, and for every two that I hand out, I typically get one email/tweet/Facebook message later about the site. That’s a fantastic response rate. It’s also the reason why we spent a little extra time/money on our business cards. We wanted to make sure that when we met with people in person, the cards helped sell people on the project and get them to our stories.

• Do people know our name? — I’ve spoken at a few local Rotary Club meetings this summer. At each one, I’ve asked people if they knew of At some, we had lots of hands in the air. Last week, out of a room of 50, only two hands went up. That meant that I had to do more digging into who these people were and why we hadn’t gotten our stories in front of them.

When I mention our site, though, and I get a smile or a head nod, that’s a very good sign.

I know these aren’t the metrics most news companies are thinking about. Most newsrooms are looking to Google Analytics to figure out how much impact a story has. Clicks come first. And clicks are important.

But we also need to find better ways to measure how much impact we’re having in the real world. By getting out into the community and engaging readers beyond their computer/smartphone screens, I think has been able to get a truer sense of how we’re creating impact in the Ozarks.