Personalisation is important for news media companies and it’s showing in the products they are developing and the (slow) acceptance of the technology in their newsrooms.
On the final of INMA’s five-module Product and Data for Media Summit, Julian Delany of News Corp Australia talks about their My News product, Schibsted’s Christoph Schmitz explained the content personalisation product Curate, and Uli Köppen Bayerischer Rundfunk discussed versioning and regionalisation is helping reach future readers.
Coming at the topic from a product, mission, and collaborative perspective, the three examples show how personalisation is influencing new product development at media companies around the world.
News Corp Australia
For a company like News Corps Australia, with more than 100 brands, there is something the chief product and technology office has been pursuing — what he calls the “holy grail of personalisation.”
“We’re very clear on the consumer problem that we’re trying to solve,” Julian Delany said. It turns out the solution remains somewhat elusive.
Delany specifically addressed the active personalisation (reader-driven), like the weather. People could be interested in weather around the nation or the world in general, but what was important to them was what surrounded them in a micro environment. The goal is to get readers to select that option.
The assumption has always been that “integrity” and “credibility” were associated solely with editorial content. It turned out readers also linked those qualities with how their digital news was presented – hence the drive to achieve a better personalisation experience.
It would be easy (and habitual) to look at just what other news sites, both on the Web and the app, are doing. Delany argued that it was vital to examine the digital options by which consumers got and shared their news, including Facebook, Reddit and TikTok.
Delany’s company, wrestle with – a substantial challenge of personalisation quantity-wise. But the philosophy, driven by data, remains the same.
“You’ve got to confront the data, you’ve got to look at what the consumers are saying to you through the data,” he said.
So the company developed a proprietary technology that took into account consumer subscriptions, interactions, and a database of consumer behaviour. The hope was to find a method that would persuade readers to discover and welcome ways to personalise and localise content.
The result was “My News,” a dropdown menu of options including topics, genres, and locations.
“We launched this. We feel like it’s doing great, and then we say, ‘OK, let’s check in on this,’ ” Delany said.
To the team’s dismay, more than 40% of respondents to follow-up inquiries didn’t even know the existence of “My News.” Some readers didn’t even want to deal with personalisation because they had little time to play around with it.
“This is stuff that happens off-site. People do this on Facebook. Why is it not happening on our site?” Delany said. ”So we’ve gotta make sure that people understand the benefits.”
In the end, one of the conclusions was that publishers would need to explicitly lay out to readers what was available to them. And he is not dissuaded by the initial results.
“So the learning we’ve got here is, don’t be afraid to tell people this is a personalisation capability that you’ve got,” he said.
“To be honest, there are lots of problems when it comes to personalisation of news,” said Christoph Schmitz, product manager of Curate at Schibsted in Norway.
Newsrooms typically have more concerns about personalisation and automation, and Schmitz said it changes the identity of a newsroom.
“What does it do with them as a journalist and how will their neighbours perceive them and their family? Because they’re no longer the person putting a story on the front page and defining the news in the country of that day.”
Curate, Schibsted’s content recommendation engine, is helping ease some of the challenges that accompany automation and personalisation in the newsroom. It’s important newsrooms have different tools than advertising because they each have a different purpose, Schmitz said.
“[Curate’s] mission is to serve the right content to the right person in the right format, at the right place, at the right moment while still safeguarding the journalistic mission,” Schmitz explained. “We have to safeguard the journalistic mission, and our vision is to empower all the Schibsted media houses to create the best possible content offering to each user.”
With a tool called the front-page manager, editors can drag and drop stories into different positions on the page, and Schibsted receives data on clicks and impressions generated. Curate helps define what is most important at that moment and will assign a value to that content; it determines if it should have a short, medium, or long lifetime on the page.
It can combine fresh articles with evergreen ones and see how well stories are converting and how much time readers are spending with articles.
Curate includes a tool that serves as a sort of “black box” for stories and find out what happened if a story suddenly drops from a high position:
“Data scientists can go in and read the history and see the lines and how they’re performing,” Schmitz said. “They can even change the algorithm and replay history with a different algorithm and have a time travel moment, which is really powerful for them to understand this.”
The automated approach is paying off, and Schmitz said that when Schibsted added personalisation to automated content on the front page, the average CTR on stories increased by 10%. With Aftenposten, it has seen a jump in CTRs particularly on content related to football and family and parent life.
“We had a huge increase by 38%, 26%, especially in the group of news lovers,” he said. “So we are really able to move some numbers there as well by adding personalisation.”
A common problem facing media outlets everywhere is dwindling resources.
That’s why the investigative unit at German public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk has spent the past two and a half years focused on personalisation as it fulfills two missions:
Investigative journalism for everyone, using algorithms and automation.
Developing automated formats, texts, graphics, and audio news briefings.
“Data-driven publishing is what has helped to identify two area of personalisation, versioning and regionalisation,” Uli Köppen, head of AI and automation and co-lead of Bayerischer Rundfunk data, told summit attendees.
Bayerischer Rundfunk has always published in multiple versions, including TV and radio, and by different lengths of stories. All of this changes depending on the time of day, Köppen said. Her unit has been building prototypes for summarising stories and creating graphics that allow an editor to change the format to fit the media version (from TV to social media, for example) with just a click.
To achieve regionalisation, metadata is used to get the news of where readers are at that time and to find new users, Köppen said: “We want to think of the future. How do we reach our users in the future?”
Want to know more about personalisation? INMA recently released two reports, one by Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton and another by Smart Data Initiative Lead Ariane Bernard. Best Personalisation Practices for News Media and A Personalisation Primer for Media Companies are free to INMA members and be purchased here by non-members.