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“A brand new revenue stream”: How publishers are using automated reporting to fuel growth

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Norwegian regional publisher Bergens Tidende is growing subscriptions with automated content. ”We achieve about 1,000 new subscriptions per year making the automated real estate content our most popular reader service,” says Jan Stian Vold, Project Lead. “This is a brand new revenue stream that doesn’t impact on the capacity of the newsroom.” 

An increasing number of publishers are using robot journalism to expand local coverage and fill their content gaps. It does a great job of covering news about sports, real estate sales, traffic incidents, local business (based on annual reports), company registrations, weather, and more. 

A new report by automated content services company United Robots—Best practice for content automation in local media—shares several case studies and tips that can help other publishers understand how they can use robot journalism to grow traffic as well as revenue. 

“Strengthen their position as a real hub for the community”

Swedish publisher Bärgslagsbladet has 5 reporters and one Editor-in-chief. It uses robots to cover most of the local sports games as well as real estate sales, company registrations, and traffic. 

”For a small newsroom, automation is necessary,” says the Editor-in-chief, Helena Tell, “We’re forever prioritizing and sometimes I feel all we ever do is choose not to cover things. If we can use technology and automation to perform tasks as well as we reporters would, there’s no doubt that’s what we should do.”

Stories closest to home are the most newsworthy. Robots are great at producing these. The idea is simple – by serving readers content about their local community, publishers provide them relevance, driving engagement, and in turn traffic, ad revenue, and even conversions. 

Best practice for content automation in local media

It also helps free up journalists’ time which they can use to work on producing high-impact stories. “Publishers who combine reporter-produced quality local journalism with the many types of community information robots can generate, build relevance for local readers and businesses alike,” the authors note. “And in doing so, can strengthen their position as a real hub for the community.”

“Create value in our news brand”

NDC Mediagroep in the Netherlands has been able to cover all local soccer games, around 60,000 of them, through automated reporting. The goal is to drive engagement in local communities and evenutally grow subscriptions. ”The complete coverage of local football is unique to us,” says Ard Boer, the publsher’s Sport Product Manager. “That, combined with the crowdsourcing element, will drive inclusivity and engagement in the local sports communities, and by extension create value in our news brand.”

Automated content can also be used to create new businesses/topic verticals to build presence in new markets, grow engagement, subscriptions, and ad revenue. Sweden’s Aftonbladet was reaching 4M uniques daily in a country of 10M. It launched a new initiative to grow its local reach further. The publisher now has 230 local destinations (by municipality) and barring one or two, these sites don’t employ any reporters. They provide local readers with relevant stories about local sports, traffic updates, and weather via automated content.

“In order to keep our reporting as up to date as possible on our local sites, we need to complement reporter stories with robot-generated content,” says Martin Ekelund, Head of Local, Aftonbladet. “That way we give readers the best possible service and the pages feel fresh and current.”

Source: Best practice for content automation in local media

“Result across the board has exceeded expectations”

Publishers interested in testing out automated content should start with a hypothesis about how it is going to drive journalism and business. US local media group McClatchy went live with automated real estate content and high school game reports in seven of their markets in 2021. The publisher began by brainstorming to identify content gaps that could be filled with automated reporting. 

“You need to work out what problem you’re solving for. For us, it was about bringing in more information – we want to be a community portal, similar to the way print used to be.” 

Cynthia DuBose, VP, Audience Growth & Content Monetization, McClatchy

They found that readers were looking for information topics like real estate, high school sports, and restaurant reviews. But the newsroom did not have enough journalists to cover these stories. “We want our journalists to produce journalism, not track down information,” adds DuBose. “They should focus on what they are skilled to do.” 

This led them to opt for automated reporting on real estate and high school sports. “The result across the board has exceeded expectations in terms of weekly uniques,” according to the report.

“Key to derive value from automated content”

“Don’t start any of this without knowing what it is you’re going to measure,” suggests DuBose. The publisher analyzes the performance of automated content the way they would stories produced by reporters. “The distinction is not between whether it was written by a robot or a reporter, but rather on what topics perform well at certain times for example,” she explains. “And the thresholds for stories that perform well in terms of reach are the same for automated and human-produced content.” 

Getting content to the right readers is critical for success. “The key to strategic distribution of the automated content lies in the metadata – the metadata associated with the content as well as the reader,” the authors note. This can be done by matching readers’ first-party data with the content metadata. For example, readers can be sent stories that match their content preferences or news about their neighborhood based on their location data.  

The handshake between the content metadata and the user metadata is key to derive value from automated content.

Best practice for content automation in local media

The full report can be downloaded here:
Best practice for content automation in local media