Media

The newsroom of tomorrow: What happens when editors have data

This sponsored post is produced by Visual Revenue.

It’s been a little more than two years since we launched our predictive analytics platform for editors, and it has been an amazing 24 months supporting their efforts to program content on homepages, section fronts and in social channels.

At about that same time, Andy Carvin of NPR was covering the Arab Spring and he provided a model for the future of newsgathering by tweeting at potential sources and confirming reports from over 9,000 kilometers away.  Many, if not most journalists have now found their way onto Twitter and, like Andy, are using the conversation and its data to great success.

So what about this predictive data we use today?  Is it also a model for the future and if so, where is it taking us?  These past two years have seen it adopted in hundreds of newsrooms globally, and we can use this experience to consider the next 24 months, for what may be an even bigger story of newsroom transformation.  At Visual Revenue, we think it might look like this…

Among the many changes and trends we’ve seen in newsrooms around the world, what we cannot and must not overlook is human nature.  It’s natural for every one of us to want to predict the best outcome — for any situation – especially an editor, who is literally plugged in to a position of regularly trying to find the best stories to promote.  They make predictions every day, multiple times per day.

But the editor continues to live in this stormy place where predictions must happen faster and faster, with even more variables and more channels of data – some reliable and some not – pressing them to decide, to judge, and to predict.  Do it instantly, or it’s too late!  The luxury of time would be nice, but this job rewards the swift. There is no reward in suggesting the best front page for yesterday’s paper.

Thus, the emergence of data.

What we’ve seen in two years is that when we arm these editors with the right data, they grow more confident. Instead of making 50 daily updates to their homepage, they’ll do 75. They take a more active hand in sculpting not just content, but the behavior of their audience, and they courageously resurface content that otherwise may have been deemed “old.”  Editors with data enthusiastically do a job that comes naturally to them: exercising judgment of what their audience truly wants and what content they will truly adore.

When we arm knowledgeable human editors with more data, they don’t race to the lowest common denominator, but rather toward richer, better experiences.  Good editors now embrace and devour the data to find out, almost like Goldilocks, when their promotion is too soft or when it’s too aggressive.  Then it is their intuition, skills and instinct that get things to be just right.

When we arm editors with data – particularly with more of the right social data  – you will see them exploit social media and social sharing, not to the benefit of Twitter or the social channel, but for the purpose of driving people back to their property. They will discover, select and craft content that drives people not just to re-tweet it, because there is no direct value in that. They will use social channels as a discovery engine for an audience that will one day fall in love with their content.

The newsroom of tomorrow will be decidedly and enthusiastically even more data-driven.  To the editors that lead this newsroom, they will not equate this embrace to surrender; it will not lead to lowest common denominator judgment. Data will drive decisions and accelerate accomplishment; it will help differentiate brands and journalists, and provide jet-engine propulsion to the exercise of good judgment on the part of editors.

This will not be because it can or it should, but because it must.  Data as a complement to human editorial judgment is what will enable editorial teams to compete in the audience business.  Advertisers have long since and wholeheartedly bought into data, and they are using it so aggressively through exchanges and programmatic buying that they are squeezing every last ounce from publishers.  This imbalance must be addressed, and it can only happen with a combination of data-driven thinking and distinctive editorial voices.

Tomorrow’s newsrooms will be filled with clear measures of editorial success and, sometimes, failure, plus plain unambiguous directions on the steps to address them.  What will not be so clear is the voice that defines each property’s response.  That will lie in the hands of the editor –exactly where it should be.

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