The largest media organisation in the United States, Gannett, is taking its first steps into cryptocurrency, has been using Augmented Reality (AR) effectively and creatively, and found ways to manipulate Artificial Intelligence (AI) to its advantage.
Though Gannett is leading the way with these emerging technologies, these successes are not stand-alone — rather, they are important parts of the larger company strategy.
Kris Barton, chief product officer at Gannett, told INMA members in a Webinar on Wednesday that simply having technology isn’t enough. It needs to be plugged into the right strategies and product to work.
“It needs to live in experience, ultimately,” he said. “When we think about technology, we need to think about the role that it plays in building these ideal experiences for our consumers.”
The Gannett team starts off with research, thinking through what insights they are trying to understand. From there they determine design principles, which leads to product focus areas. All of these things together provide the roadmap. Through it all, the team is constantly thinking about tech trends that can “bite into this,” Barton explained.
“Is there a tech trend that can make something better or improve the problems we’re experiencing?”
Barton discussed four tech trends Gannett currently is watching closely.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Like any segment in the industry, Barton said AI has been overloaded with a lot of terminology. Some of these include:
Big data, building large data sets.
Business intelligence and the presentation of business information.
Data science, extracting knowledge and insights from the data.
Artificial Intelligence, making intelligent machines and programs.
Machine learning, the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed
Deep learning, based on neural network.
There is so much that it’s impossible to keep up with all the solutions and insights, which is where solutions such as Intelligent UX comes into play at Gannett. This looks at various parameters such as audience interests, engagement, where they are on the customer journey, and longevity. These all inform different experiences for each individual user.
“AI is really a great solution to this, as a technology,” Barton said. “The idea of personalisation is just not enough anymore.”
Instead, Gannett’s Intelligent UX calculates many different combinations for each user based on the input parameters. These combinations can be in the hundreds or even the thousands for a single user.
2. Formats (Augmented Reality, voice, and NFTs)
When thinking about all the different formats through which content can be consumed, Barton said the Gannett team looks at it through a specific lens.
“How do we create experiences that are immersive? That make you feel like you’re part of the story? For every person, that might be a little different.”
That might be reading it, hearing it (podcasts), experiencing it (AR and VR), or even owning it (NFTs, or non-fungible tokens). Gannett has been leaning heavily into Augmented Reality (AR), as well as podcasts and other audio formats.
NFTs are unique pieces of data that cannot be broken down any further. They can represent anything from a piece of artwork to a news article. It operates with technology including blockchain and cryptocurrency, and is offered through many marketplaces including Rarible, Makers Place, and Known Origin.
USA Today offered its first NFT, a digital asset consisting of multiple images of space coverage, featuring an image of the first newspaper taken to the moon (USA Today).
“Our takeaway was, it was good, but the numbers weren’t huge,” Barton said. “But we learned a lot in terms of the marketplace, ownership, and the channel — how to use it and leverage it. We were reaching new audiences.”
“To facilitate and create more trust for our readers, one of the things they want to know is who the people are that they’re reading,” Barton said. “They not only want to know a little bit about them, but they want to have interaction with them, they want to have access to them.”
Accordingly, Gannett used technology to scale this aspect, creating meet-up rooms, Clubhouse channels, scheduled live chats, and other such interactive programmes that allow readers to do things like have exchanges with sports personalities and receive SMS messages from journalists.
4. Natural Language Generation
Gannett also uses NLG and news automation to turn data into locally relevant stories.
“We think of it in terms of not only how we generate content but how do we do it in a way that can flow and add value,” Barton said.
This is a three-step process:
NLG authoring system, in which the journalists write in templates from data sets.
Content distribution tool, which takes those article variants and turns them into content.
Content management system, whereby the content is routed to the local markets.
One example of this was the U.S. Census data. When those demographic trends were released, the Gannett news automation team ensured they were put into local context faster than each of the local markets could have done alone. The first stories were published within three hours of the data release from the Census Bureau.
Barton shared three key lessons that the team learned about using NLG:
NLG-supplemented stories convert and engage subscribers as well as other local news stories.
They can provide even the smallest titles with frequent, quality, local content, even where it may be scarce.
It can increase reporter productivity, as measured by audience impact, for a given level of effort.
Putting it all together
Barton explained how all these technologies connect to build immersive, quality customer experiences. He used the sample of USA Today Sports+, a premium, ad-free, immersive sports subscription product.
This is a mobile and Web experience that brings together national, local, and niche content to give sports fans the insider access they crave — and also brings fans, reporters, and athletes together for the shared love of the game.
The Sports+ product has the customisation that fans expect. Readers can personalise their experience with news about their favourite leagues and teams. Their choices travel with them across devices.
“All of these combine to create immersive experiences,” Barton said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do.”