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“Potential for becoming a business revenue model”: How publishers can use automation to build loyalty and generate revenues

A new INMA report shows how publishers are using robots to expand coverage as well as generate revenue. It also features tips for publishers who are interested in introducing automation in their newsrooms.

“Newsrooms are learning to embrace automated tools” as fears about robots taking jobs abate, according to a new INMA report. “With that acceptance comes the reassurance and understanding that, no matter how capable automated software becomes, it can’t replace the skills of a good journalist or editor,” writes Paula Felps, Ideas Blog Editor, INMA and author of the report.

Automation has become a part of the news experience. And as it becomes increasingly entrenched in publishing practices, newsrooms can no longer ignore the presence and potential of automated journalism. 

Paula Felps, Ideas Blog Editor, INMA

The report, “How Automated Journalism Is Shaping the Future of News Media,” looks into how automation can accelerate and improve reporting. It shares multiple case studies about newsrooms using automation effectively and suggests key steps for publishers who want to get started with it.

The two key takeaways are:

  1. Automation is good for the bottom line
  2. Automated journalism frees up time for — but does not replace — old-school journalists

“Using automation to drive revenue”

Automation is increasingly being used for personalization and generating articles based on data. However, it can be used by publishers for other things, like designing page layouts, as well. 

Artificial Intelligence is used to automate a number of processes in newsrooms today. Some are internal, like news alerts and rules, to help with things like tagging others directly, and affect the reader experience such as personalization or content recommendations.”

Cecilia Campbell, CMO, United Robots

Automation allows news companies to expand coverage beyond the capabilities of their human staff, adds Campbell. The Associated Press (AP) uses automation to support journalists in multiple ways like getting notifications of breaking news and creating short summaries of stories based on longer text. This, according to the publisher, has minimized (and in some cases eliminated) tedious and time-consuming tasks that slowed down the process of creating daily news.  

Robot articles fetch 9.4M pageviews

Swedish publisher NTM credits robots for getting it 952 new subscriptions, which accounts for 2.5% of the publisher’s total subscribers. Additionally, robot-written copy has received 9.4M pageviews from subscribers (4% of total pageviews). 

“We use this primarily to speed up production and create a lot of high volume on the right topics and let human journalists focus on other stuff that is more important,” says Jens Pettersson, Chief Digital Reader Revenue Officer, NTM.

Automation is also increasingly being used to drive revenue. “Automated stories can do more than cut costs,” Felps writes. “They are now showing promise of driving revenues. By allowing more robust reporting and digging into topics that readers care about, automation shows the potential for becoming a business revenue model.”

Subscriptions have become more important as a revenue stream, and automated content opens the door to being able to create content that will drive subscriptions.

Paula Felps, Ideas Blog Editor, INMA

“We have established loyalty through technology”

Norwegian publisher Stavanger Aftenblad opted for an automation strategy to reduce churn. It decided to broaden its football coverage as the game is very popular in Norway. Southwestern Norway has over 100 different football clubs, and more than 7,000 matches are played every season. Around 10,000 players are involved, which means there is a huge potential audience comprising family members, friends, and supporters who are eager to watch and follow the game. 

The publisher aimed to cover all local football teams from the age of 13 to senior as if it were the Champions League. It launched a football portal called  Mååål! (translates to “Goaaal!”). The portal publishes automatic match reports, editorial coverage of local football by a dedicated journalist, and streams third-division matches as well. 

Source: How Automated Journalism Is Shaping the Future of News Media

Mååål! has sold over 900 subscriptions and created more than 3.5M page views within six months. Statistically, 28.5% of Aftenbladet’s subscribers renew their subscriptions. The portal helped increase renewal rates to 50%.

We have established loyalty through technology, creating a long-term project that is fully sustainable for our business.

Elin Stueland, Online Editor, Stavanger Aftenblad

“Let the data guide you”

So how do publishers broaden coverage in a way that attracts new customers and translates into revenue? “Let the data guide you,” says Cynthia DuBose, VP, Audience Growth and Content Monetisation, McClatchy. “Make sure you’re doing it in an area that will appeal to your audience. It doesn’t make sense to have additional content if it won’t resonate with your audience. Make sure your processes are sound but start with [coverage that] will resonate in your community.”

“It’s a question of: What are your data resources? It’s all about the data,” adds Nicholas Diakopoulos, Director of the Computational Journalism Lab, Northwestern University. “So basically it’s important not to automate just for the sake of being automated. You need to make sure that you have the data and can do the kind of coverage that works with automation.”

You need to start by creating relevance, and that will lead to monetization.

Thomas Sundgren, Chief Commercial Officer, United Robots

“How automation fits into your newsroom”

DuBose suggests six key areas that publishers, who are keen on introducing automation, need to consider.

  1. Discover your gap – “Knowing what problem you’re solving for is a great way to determine how automation fits into your newsroom,” she notes. 
  2. Understand your capacity — and your culture – There are many options, it’s important to understand what is available. DuBose suggests looking at case studies of what other publishers have done, as well as reaching out to learn from them.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open – Scepticism and pushback are expected and should be tackled by being transparent about the role of robots. Newsrooms will need to be explained that robots are there to help and not take over their jobs. 
  4. Set goals – DuBose recommends setting specific goals, it could be pageviews, or unique visits, or volume – whatever matters most to the publisher. This will help understand what needs to be measured to gauge success.
  5. Find a champion for your cause – “Passion of those involved in implementing automation is critical for keeping newsrooms enthusiastic about it,” she suggests. 
  6. Expect the unexpected – Machines can make errors like humans, being prepared for it is part of the process. For example, robots might pick up wrong information leading to erroneous stories and reader backlash. In such cases, it helps if the readers know which stories have been produced by robots.

    “We’ve had people say the reporting is not right, but we’ve never had people saying, [we’re] messing up journalism,” says DuBose. “I think because we’ve been transparent about it, we’ve never had to [explain] that we’re not saying journalists aren’t important. I think that the transparency from the beginning has always been key to not having that backlash.”

“Automation is changing the way the world — not just journalists — writes,” says Phelps. “As we become more comfortable with technological writing assists, it could make the prospect of automated journalism less daunting.”

Diakopoulos expects that technology will “accelerate or augment the human effort and improve journalism as a whole.” However, human guidance and oversight will always be crucial. 

“All these things are helping make journalists’ jobs faster and more efficient. But they aren’t doing the job itself. They’re just tools.” 

Nicholas Diakopoulos, Director of the Computational Journalism Lab, Northwestern University

The full report can be downloaded from INMA:
How Automated Journalism Is Shaping the Future of News Media