What the New York Times’ Most Shared Stories of 2015 Tell Us


By   |   February 17th, 2016   |   Reading time: 3 minutes Digital Journalism

What’s the difference between the most shared stories and the most engaged stories from the New York Times? 

At the end of 2015, the New York Times published an intriguing list on their website.

It showed their top 100 stories of the year, ranked not by clicks, front page placements or editorial discretion, but by the total length of time people spent reading them.

The data was broken into categories like ‘Love’, ‘Death’, ‘Terror’ and showed a mix of story topics, from an extended interview with Rihanna to a look inside ‘America’s toughest federal prison’.

We wanted to see what cross-over this list might have with the biggest New York Times stories on Facebook.

Using NewsWhip’s Insights dashboard, We looked at the top 100 most shared New York Times stories on Facebook over the same period.

These were the 20 from January 1 to December 18 2015, ranked by Facebook shares alone.

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We recorded 28 stories in both top 100 lists. Most of these were opinion pieces and features. The Times’ list had more breaking news stories, like the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the Germanwings plane crash.

The most shared stories included more opinion and health stories in particular. The Times’ most shared story of the year, ‘In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry For Lions,’ was an op-ed that addressed one of the year’s biggest stories on social media – the killing of a lion by an American dentist.

We categorised the top 100 most shared NYT stories by category, and came up with the following graph:

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As we’ve previously noted, the Times’ editorials and opinion pieces do really well on Facebook. This analysis really backed that up. 36 of the top 100 most shared stories were from the editorial and opinion pages, far more than any other category.

One thing that we’ve noticed on social media, and Facebook in particular, is that the publishers with strong authority and good offerings in specialist areas do particularly well.

It’s why we’ve seen the likes of business and sports sites like Quartz and Bleacher Report do extremely well in news feeds. Elsewhere, agile operators like NowThis and AJ+ have taken ownership of the social video space.

This data suggests that the same is true of opinion pieces.

When someone wants to make a statement about issues like gun control or the environment, strong editorials from a legacy media name like NYT can prove to be quite popular on social media.

Of course, not all the most popular pieces were issue-focussed.

Health and Data-driven Stories Also Popular

The data-focussed Upshot contributed five of the top 100 most shared stories last year, including pieces on the best place to grow up in the US (35,600 shares), and a problem-solving puzzle (29,400 shares). Their interactive report on ‘the best and worst places to grow up’ in the US, which changes based on location, was the 25th piece on the list.

Health was also a popular topic on Facebook, with the ‘Well’ health blog contributing an impressive 7 of the top shared stories. That included a piece on child screen addiction, which with over 113,000 shares was the third most shared NYT story last year.

The Times’ ranking of their most read stories, rather than just the ones that got the highest number of clicks, is a valuable one.

It also shows how publishers can combine metrics available to get a better understanding of the various strands of their audience. What a social audience wants is different to what to what homepage regulars want.

This might be interesting for publishers wondering what the benefits of using social media to push different content to different audiences.

The Times’ Opinion Facebook page has a healthy following, but the Facebook pages of individual columnists, like Nicolas Kristof help drive particularly large engagement numbers for the Times on Facebook.

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Finally, this data shows once more that there is a place for in-depth, lengthy content on Facebook. Both list contained plenty of stories that showed there’s plenty of interest in longer stories.

It’s a matter of looking carefully at your data and analytics to see what the best way of optimising your content may be.

See the latest trending stories in Spike

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