News publishers connect to audiences through AI and understanding their needs

By Yuki Liang


New York, New York, United States


Adopting AI technologies presents an unparalleled opportunity for news media companies to revolutionise how content is created, distributed, and consumed. 

During INMA’s recent Media Subscriptions Summit, Aliya Itzkowitz, manager at FT Strategies; John Kundert, chief product and technology officer at Financial Times; and Renzo Veenstra, editor-in-chief at Omroep Brabant looked at how AI is changing the news media industry and how publishers can attract more customers by understanding their needs better.  

AI’s impact on the news media industry

Research by FT Strategies indicates a significant swath of the publishing sector is actively embracing AI.

A survey of over 1,000 publishers revealed that approximately 84% either incorporate AI into their workflows or are experimenting with its capabilities. This enthusiasm underscores a broader industry acknowledgement of AI’s potential to streamline operations, amplify content production, and deepen audience connections. 

Content generation stands out as a particularly transformative application for AI, resonating with the industry’s recognition of its ability to enhance efficiency, monetisation (through strategies like dynamic paywalls), engagement tactics, and personalised content recommendations.

The exploration of AI is driven by calculated experimentation, allowing publishers to adapt to technological advancements while aligning with their ethical standards and strategic objectives. 

FT Strategies found that a significant number of publishers are already using AI or are actively experimenting with it.
FT Strategies found that a significant number of publishers are already using AI or are actively experimenting with it.

This trend signals a pivotal shift in the publishing industry’s digital transformation journey, emphasising the growing centrality of AI in content-related endeavours. As publishers traverse this changing terrain, striking a balance between exploiting AI’s benefits for innovation and maintaining content integrity will be critical.

The rise of generative AI

Generative AI, with its ability to produce original content, is redefining creative possibilities by making machines not just tools for automation but active creators. As Aliya Itzkowitz from FT Strategies pointed out, this shift brings several benefits:

  • Content diversification: GenAI allows for creating personalised and varied content at scale, enhancing audience engagement. 
  • User experience innovation: GenAI’s capacity for creating dynamic, real-time adapted content promises more immersive digital experiences. 
  • Operational efficiency: Automating routine tasks frees human creativity for more complex endeavours. 
  • Exploring new frontiers: GenAI opens up novel avenues for storytelling and investigative journalism, pushing the boundaries of creativity. 

Yet, the rapid advancement of GenAI also introduces challenges, particularly concerning ethics, governance, and the role of human creators in this new landscape.

Navigating AI opportunities and challenges

Itzkowitz pointed out existential dilemmas facing the news media industry in adopting AI. The challenge lies in leveraging AI’s advantages while mitigating risks, a delicate equilibrium publishers must achieve to utilise AI’s potential responsibly. 

Concerns range from an overreliance on AI, which could lead to vulnerabilities such as diminished human oversight, to ethical and quality control issues stemming from AI’s use in content generation. Furthermore, amidst rapid AI integration, retaining the unique human elements of storytelling and ensuring compliance with evolving regulatory and privacy standards are paramount.

These considerations highlight the complex interplay between innovation and disruption in the publishing industry, prompting a reevaluation of traditional roles and workflows. 

“The future seems to come about every couple of weeks in this space,” said Itzkowitz. “Sooner than we think, we might also have things like autonomous agents with human-level intelligence, and it’s quite scary or exciting, depending on how you look at it.” 

Reimagining audience engagement

Omroep Brabant’s Veenstra introduced the User Needs Model, which offers a new approach to captivating and retaining audience interest. This model emerges as a solution to the challenges of differentiating content in a market flooded with “commodity” news, lacking regional relevance or trending on broader scales. 


The User Needs Model offers a new approach to captivating and retaining audience interest.
The User Needs Model offers a new approach to captivating and retaining audience interest.

The model advocates for a shift beyond mere “hard” news, with relevance and engagement as key differentiators. It acknowledges a misalignment between audience expectations and media offerings, with digital consumers seeking information, understanding, inspiration, utility, and entertainment.

By focusing on these four pillars, publishers can strategically and creatively fulfil user needs, fostering audience size and engagement growth. 

“When we make stories, we all in the newsroom want to make ‘update me’ stories because we think we have to bring the hard news. But the stories that meet one of the user’s needs are much more popular,” Veenstra said. 

As the media industry forges ahead, the successful integration of AI hinges on finding the balance between technological advancements and preserving content quality and integrity. This journey is not solely about embracing new technologies but also about navigating the ethical implications of AI, ensuring that these innovations enrich content value and relevance for a digital-first audience. 

The INMA Media Subscriptions Summit is sponsored by AdvantageCSChargebeeChartbeatGoogleFT StrategiesPianoUnited RobotsWordPress VIP, and Zuora.

About Yuki Liang

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