Media companies are primed to make bold tech, digital moves in 2023

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Sonali Verma is a member of the advisory council to the INMA Newsroom Initiative. She’s the director of business development for The Globe and Mail’s, the intelligent artificial home page and content layout system pioneered by the Canadian media company and now available as a software-as-a-service product.

“My prediction for 2023 is a bit self-serving but based on fact: I think publishers the world over are waking up to the potential of AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/machine learning) systems, whether it is for writing copy for routine stock market reports or local sports stories, or for deciding which content to paywall or whom to ask for a subscription, or deciding where to place content on a page (print or digital),” Sonali told me.

AI is predicted to become even more important to news media companies in 2023.
AI is predicted to become even more important to news media companies in 2023.

“Everyone is under pressure to keep a lid on cost. Their brilliant, overworked journalists’ talents are better used for sniffing out a story or writing sensitively, and the algorithm is actually better at optimisation math than journalists are. 2023 will be the year when many publications make bold moves to adopt AI/ML systems — some because they want to and others because they have to. The ones who do it successfully will be the ones who understand dual transformation.”

I have seen how the io works at The Globe and Mail online and maybe even more impressively with some case studies where it can manage newspaper layouts — an area that is going to be critical next year as the cost of newsprint soars and the push towards digital accelerates. 

Which, in a sense, is the perfect segue to my prediction for 2023.

This is what I told Nieman — with a couple of additions for this newsletter:

The cost of publishing, especially of printing and paper, is skyrocketing and will go even higher in 2023, dramatically forcing the pace of media transition to digital from the print newspapers that still drive a great deal of income. At INMA we hear this all the time, and it’s driving great thinking about innovation in newspaper production.

For example, Mette Østergaard, editor-in-chief of Berlingske in Denmark, talked in the recent INMA Newsroom Leadership master class about their high-speed move away from a newspaper focus in the newsroom.

That question of trading paper dollars for digital cents we talked about a decade ago is coming back, but it’s about costs now.

Newsprint prices have risen more than 50% in many markets — if you can get supplies. Paper mills are converting from newsprint to boxes. Printing costs — including maintenance of aging and capital-intensive presses — threaten to make newspaper (and in many cases magazine) printing and distribution uneconomical.

The price of the printed newspaper may make it uneconomical in many regions.
The price of the printed newspaper may make it uneconomical in many regions.

That cost pressure will force the pace of digital transformation. Many publishers — despite what they’ve said for years about their commitment to digital-first — still cling to print, both for understandable revenue reasons and because they can’t break away from the historic cycle of daily publication. That means some of the fast-paced transitions will be disastrous.

Scandinavian publishers are experimenting with outsourcing print entirely, reducing publication days and going weekend-only on paper. The Independent in the UK abandoned paper years ago and hasn’t looked back; it’s one of the few truly digital publishers to emerge from the newspaper industry. Christian Broughton, managing director of The Independent, talked with us about the success of that digital-only leap in the last Newsroom Leadership master class.

Next year, those who moved fast over the past five years will come out on top. And those who didn’t will struggle, fire staff, and disappoint customers and advertisers with clunky sites, second-grade apps, and increasingly thin newspapers they’ll still try to charge the earth for.

Other predictions:

  • Mental health will be a big issue for journalists in precarious jobs. You might find the new journalism mental health support group The Headlines Network useful. Hannah Storm, co-founder of Headlines, spoke in the first Newsroom Initiative master class. I have been surprised how many newsroom leaders express concern about the mental health of staff.
  • Consumers will revise their subscriptions and become even more sparing than the 1.1 average reported now. Must-have sites like The New York Times will come out on top in that scenario, and local and regional sites will start to fail even more than they have so far, replaced by products like Axios Local and innovative local Substack-type sites. Vanity investigative and podcast and video projects are over, but well-costed, targeted products are in. Axios Publisher Nicholas Johnston talked to me about Axios and also took part in the Newsroom Leadership master class. There’s much more on subscription strategy in the INMA Readers First Initiative.

The full set of Nieman predictions can be found here, and the excellent UK site has a similar set of forecasts from industry figures.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Peter Bale

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