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New wave of technological disruption on way, thinktank tells digital chiefs

A journalism thinktank has predicted that a “new wave of technological disruption” will soon hit the industry – including artificial intelligence devices writing stories.

Speaking at a gathering of digital journalism leaders in Wolverhampton yesterday, the Reuters Institute’s Nic Newman said smart speakers would become “a medium in their own right” while emerging AI programmes could see devices capable of turning data into readable journalism.

He also predicted a shift in business model from advertising-funded platforms to reader payment, citing a survey in which 62pc of publishers said advertising would become a less important source of funding.

The one-day conference was organised by Behind Local News, a platform recently set up by leading publishers to showcase good work in the regional press and highlight current digital developments in local newsrooms.

Delegates at the Behind Local News conference in Wolverhampton

Delegates at the Behind Local News conference in Wolverhampton

Sessions focused mainly on practical issues such as using metrics to analyse what readers want, making data journalism work in your newsroom, and making the most of Twitter.

But it was the after-lunch session entitled ‘The Future of News’ which provided perhaps the most telling glimpse into what the potential news landscape may look like in 5-10 years.

Posing the question ‘What comes after the smartphone?’ Nic said: “A new wave of technical disruption is coming along.”

He said news would become both more visual and more oral, with voice-activated speakers such as Alexa playing a key role.

“Voice activated speakers are hitting the mainstream now.  There will be a lot more people talking to computers, it is going to be a medium in its own right,” he said.

“It’s pretty clear that the next wave of technological innnovation is going to centre around artificial intelligence.”

Nick cited emerging platforms such as Dreamwriter, an AI prorgramme that collates information and data and turns it into journalism, and Replika, an “AI friend” which will “serve up things it knows you are intrerested in.”

He concluded: “The publishing landscape will continue to get more complex and more competitive, the business model will shift from ad-driven one to one more based on relationships and trust, content will become more visual and more oral, and AI opens up possibility if automated production and distribution.”

Earlier the conference heard from Jill Nicholson, director of customer education at Chartbeat, whose work involves analysing thousands of websites worldwide.

Focusing on the issue of reader engagement, she revealed that 45pc of users who land on a piece of content do not actually read it.

In a subsequent session some editors and digital exectives shared ideas on how they were tackling the issue.

Anna Jeys, executive editor at Birmingham Live, revealed that live-blogging court cases, for instance, resulted in a sixfold increase in reader engagement compared to a single court report, while Andy Martin, editor of the Bournemouth Echo, described how he had used improved business coverage to boost reader engagement.

More about the conference can be found at the Twitter hashtag #BLNConf


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  • May 24, 2018 at 10:50 am

    And a stunning image of backs of heads, a jug and bottle of water and half a Vinten ‘pod sums it all up nicely, doesn’t it?

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  • May 24, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Saying “…62pc of publishers said advertising would become a less important source of funding.” is almost an acceptance of the reality of the situation , that bring there’s not enough inventory being sold to make it anywhere near viable to find top heavy traditional print publishing businesses.

    As for stories being written via artificial intelligence,reading some of the dross and seeing the out of focus reporters pnaps accompanying them appearing on my local weekly website it already is!

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  • May 24, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    The problem with the adoption of tech in newsrooms is it’s always just lip service.

    We used to get made to shoot videos on Nokia N96 phones, the vids would be shaky, the sound horrendous, but because it was seen as ‘new’ it was therefore ‘great’. It wasn’t, it was rubbish and needless to say, it didn’t last.

    The SEO ‘strategy’ of most online modern publications seems to be four or five years old at best, comprising of packing stories with keywords and web heads rather than being composed of quality, original content – which has been the cornerstone of modern SEO for years now.

    It’s actually quite soul destroying if you ever do a freelance shift at these places now and are getting bleated at by some digital news editor to do and post things that you know is pointless anyway. ‘oooh don’t forget to Tweet!’ Wow, wish I’d thought of that.

    Seriously, when was the last time one of these people got invited to speak at a technology or internet event? Facebook, Google, erm…Trinity Mirror.

    ‘Yes our strategy is to post clickbait headlines then bombard people with videos and surveys’.

    Elvis hasn’t left the building, he’s perusing Twitter on the toilet wishing he’d been a dentist.

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  • May 25, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    ‘The business model will shift from ad-driven one to one more based on relationships and trust.’
    Relationships? Trust? Relationships with newsrooms run by two 18-year-olds two counties away? Trust in an organisation whose ‘news’ is unedited council press releases and stuff nicked off Facebook? (check the comments on to see just how trusted local news sources are: and that’s only one example).

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