The news industry publishes incredible journalism every day. But when media outlets become obsessed with page views — a metric that tracks every time a webpage is loaded —  they flood us with an endless stream of clickbait headlines and frivolous news stories, all vying for our attention.

At the Houston Landing, we’re doing things a little differently.

One of the many discussions we’ve had at the Landing is how we’re going to measure success in achieving our mission to inform residents in the Houston region, one story at a time.

Yes, we want our stories to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible, and we’ll monitor our page views and other web metrics. That’s going to be especially important as we prepare to launch our full website with daily journalism on June 7.

But we decided early on that we had no interest in drumming up page views by publishing stories that offer little news value. Instead, we talked about focusing on a more important metric — impact.

“We are going to be driven much more by impact than we are page views,” Landing CEO Peter Bhatia said at a May 1 newsroom meeting — one of numerous meetings we’ve had that made this point clear. “I’m much more interested in the impact of the work.”

Making a difference

What do we mean by impact?

Our job is to tell people what’s really going on in a complicated world. Sometimes, that knowledge improves the world in tangible ways.

When we published investigative reporter Alex Stuckey’s article on Feb. 8 about the death toll of inmates in Houston-area jails who had mental illnesses, the reaction was swift. That same day, family members and advocates cited the investigation at a hearing held by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in Austin, the regulatory body that oversees county and privately operated municipal jails.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo holds a news conference at the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Feb. 9, 2023, in Houston.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo holds a news conference in February at the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD in Houston. Hidalgo frequently cited Alex Stuckey’s article about the death toll of inmates in Houston-area jails who had mental illnesses. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

The next day, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a $645,000 investment from the county to more than double the number of people aided by the county jail’s competency restoration program — from 70 people to 150. Hidalgo frequently cited Alex’s story at the news conference.

The next month, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed a bill that would help the public learn how often overcrowded jails are denied requests for mental health services for inmates. Her office didn’t respond to questions from the Landing, but advocates said the legislation would deal directly with the problems highlighted by Alex’s investigation.

“This bill will hopefully give us a better picture of what’s going on in our communities that’s causing our jails to turn into warehouses of people with mental illness and disabilities,” said Krish Gundu, executive director of the Texas Jail Project.

‘Every year is a bonus’

That’s one example of impact. But the range of what we consider impact isn’t limited to getting laws changed. When we make a difference in someone’s life, when we make a connection with someone, that’s impact, too.

Our columnist, Maggie Gordon, recently wrote a column about the gift of time with her family and how she tries to make the most of it. She received a touching message from a mother of three who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 35. She told her oncologist to do whatever it took to see her kids graduate from college.

Two children ride in a stroller
Houston Landing columnist Maggie Gordon recently wrote a column about the gift of time with her family. That column exemplifies the range of stories worth writing that are not easily measurable in terms of tangible impact. In the photograph two children take a ride in a stroller to enter the Houston Zoo last month in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

“I’m healthy at 58, and every year is a bonus,” she wrote to Maggie.

The column resonated with her. And to us, that’s impact, too.

Impact isn’t limited to our journalism. We’re here to inform the community and to listen to the community. We hold events and listening sessions across Houston. We meet people, make connections and hopefully show a skeptical public what journalism is really about.

Skepticism of the media is at an all-time high. We’re trying to rebuild that trust, piece by piece.

That’s impact, too.

Measuring impact

Just like page views, it’s possible to become too infatuated with impact. If we solely focus on making a huge splash or winning journalism awards, sometimes worthy stories about our community will go untold if we don’t believe they’ll make an impact. Our primary mission is to listen and inform. That will never change.

Guests dance during a performance by singer Jewel Brown during the reopening of the historic Eldorado Ballroom, March 30, in Houston’s Third Ward. Houston Landing diverse communities reporter Monique Welch wrote about the grand opening of the ballroom, a space that has had significant impact on Third Ward. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

And we don’t write stories with an agenda. We fact-check claims by officials. We expose wrongdoing. The goal of doing all that is to keep people informed, not to run someone out of office. That will never change.

But when informing our community results in a tangible difference for you, we want to know about it.

We know that measuring impact is trickier than measuring a tangible metric like page views. You won’t find a setting for “impact” in Google Analytics.

So we created our own “impact tracker” for the newsroom to measure how often our journalism and community engagement efforts generate impact. We’ll share those findings in upcoming annual reports to the community and our members.

If we’re on the right track and our stories make a difference in your life, please let us know. We’re listening.

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John Tedesco is an investigative journalist with 25 years of experience digging up stories across Texas. Before coming to the Houston Landing, John was a reporter on the Houston Chronicle's Investigations...