Ten years ago, EPIC 2014 warned of automated algorithms entertaining the masses with frivolous news items made relevant by their routines online. Today, companies like Facebook are struggling to learn what newsrooms have long known: Presenting readers with personally relevant news is both science and art.
In 2015, affordable tools analyzing a wealth of reader data will finally enable newsrooms built in the industrial era to compete with the Silicon Valley (and Alley) upstarts. Personal reading recommendations will become a important tool for these publishers in the months ahead.
Learning from Google, news organizations will make multivariant testing the norm. No longer will there be a singular front page — instead, each person will see a news mix refined ever so slightly to reflect their region, interests, and habits. While some will be tempted to game the system to drive clicks, the best newsrooms will develop a cohesive news narrative echoing the brand’s strength even as it reflects the reader’s unique interests.
These personally relevant news experiences will also ease another business challenge: knowing who will pay. Publishers unable to compete against the mass scale of a Facebook or Google will now be able to sell their clients an audience of real people spending real time with trustworthy content.
The reader’s trust, though, may be tested by the appearance of increasingly targeted ads and articles. To avoid the privacy pitfalls Facebook and Google encounter, publishers will need to develop a new kind privacy strategy. Privacy can’t just be a compliance issue — it must come from journalism’s principles of truthfulness and accountability.
Technology will continue to challenge the business model of news, but journalism can’t be afraid of the changes. People are eager to read those stories reported by a focused newsroom that knows its purpose. Publishers supporting experienced editors with intelligent recommendation engines will find they’ve attracted the attention of the very audiences needed for their businesses’ survival.
Craig Saila is director of digital products at The Globe and Mail.