Automation in the newsroom: Many publishers talk about it, but relatively few have any actual experience.

Where do you start? How do you generate any real benefits? It may sound like a technical issue, but the tech is actually the most straightforward part.

After four years of getting newsrooms up and running with robot-generated content, we have identified a number of best practices from publishers who are now leveraging automation. One thing that is common among all our cases is the content comes from structured data sets, which are regularly published. (The data sets we currently draw on include all types of sports, property sales, traffic incidents, weather, and local business registrations.)

The following lays out some of the top success factors for newsrooms deploying automated content. (Spoiler alert: It’s all about improving journalism and growing business.)

Have a distribution strategy

Depending on what data sources are involved, your CMS will potentially receive huge amounts of articles. The volume of content is a key USP of automation, but only if you are strategic in how you use it.

There are two main aspects to this.

  • The robot articles need to be properly mixed in with reporter-generated journalism. Don’t flood your site with automated texts.
  • Additionally, and importantly, you’ll only maximise the content’s value if it reaches the right audiences. Distribute the right article to the right user at the right time and through the right channel depending on the use case (e.g. one of the ones listed below).

Set a clear objective or objectives

By far the most important success factor for automation in the newsroom is executing on specific use cases. When deployed strategically, the technology underpins a number of potential business effects, such as generating additional ad inventory, driving engagement, and enabling personalisation.

Be clear about what the goal of the automation is. For example:

  • Growing ad revenue. By publishing articles on topics not previously covered (e.g. all divisions of all local sports), you have more inventory to sell to local advertisers. With the extended coverage you also reach specifically interested readers, which means more sellable target audiences and, in turn, an opportunity to increase CPM levels.
  • Adding value to subscriptions. There are lots of opportunities to develop extra services based on automated content, such as a follow function for the subscriber’s home team (including in a different country) or favourite player, push notifications about traffic news on a particular route, or monthly updates on house sales in a town or village.
  • Driving retention. Swedish publishers have found robot-generated, hyper-local sports and property sales coverage increase the relevance they can deliver to subscribers. This drives engagement and retention. That level of granularity and volume of articles would not be possible to produce with reporter resources alone.
  • Establishing a new local site or topic vertical. A new online presence requires a certain amount of content to get off the ground. If you’re launching a new local site, use automatically generated content as the base (such as traffic news, sports, property sales, or weather) and let reporters focus on qualified journalism. Or launch a football vertical where you can promise to cover all matches, with robots generating the bulk of the articles and journalists reporting from the top games. In both of these use cases, of course, the automated content also generates extra ad inventory.

Get everyone involved

Our robots are an integral part of the newsroom. A recent example from Swedish publisher Aftonbladet's Stockholm section illustrates how robot reporting underpins journalists’ work. The breaking robot text (located in the middle of the page) was published automatically and directly with the subsequent reporter story, which featured deeper coverage and was located on the top of the page.

Scandinavian newsrooms have been successful in integrating automated content with journalist-written articles.
Scandinavian newsrooms have been successful in integrating automated content with journalist-written articles.

Communicate with your newsroom about the benefits of automation and let them feel the positive effects of the freed-up reporter time that it creates.