Big data is not an exact science, it is a process of discovery.

The big data journey of publishers worldwide – how they deal with data, how it impacts their organization and the first promising results in increased user engagement. In short: the INMA Big Data for Media event in London. Or how I discovered big data is no exact science, it is a process of discovery.

To stay ahead in the digital game, you need to provide the right story to the right people to the right time. Not an easy task nowadays. The publishing industry is not just competing with other media companies, it competes with digital distraction at large. Facebook, Snapchat and other social distractors catch the reader’s precious screen time, but also the likes of Coca-Cola or BMW are acting as brand publishers seeking to engage with readers.

How do you distinguish yourself? Data. The sooner, the better. Don’t wait for your business vision to be defined. Don’t keep your data isolated in ponds or silos, but create a normalized data lake. This should be the basis to enhance audience insights. These insights will help to make better decisions in the newsroom.

To quote Kenneth Cukier from the Economist:


Catalyst for digital growth

Data is one if not the key catalyst for digital growth and digital business, both in and outside the publishing industry. Data can aggregate multiple news sources to help discover the next big story, predict epidemics, mass tag content and even automated content.

This not only sounds like a big change in organizations, it actually is. But that doesn’t exclude smaller companies from competing in the big data race. They’ll just have to work smarter than the global brands. And they can, thanks to their business flexibility, enabling them to work with a scalable tool like e.g. Chartbeat. This nifty and affordable tools measures and displays metrics, enabling users to understand what drives people to their products and sites.

Let’s not forget: the data acts as a facilitator, it is a means to an end, not the end goal. Stand-alone data won’t work for you or anyone. You need to invest in internal training to improve your data handling skills. Data analysts, data scientists and data engineering teams collect and dig deep into the data collection and algorithms, but they also know how to translate that to the newsroom interface, onto a real-time content performance dashboard. Editors and journalists need to quickly assess that information in a comprehensible manner, so they can further optimize the content they put out there. The battle of words can be won be keeping an eye on the battle of numbers. Am I right?

Complex? Yes, and if you keep out it will get even worse. As stated: it’s not an exact science, it’s a process of discovery.


Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Generation 

Aside from Big data activities, INMA also dealt with Artificial Intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies and Natural Language Generation (NLG). Do editors and journalists have to use these technologies in the future? The audience let out a strong “no” to that question. I wonder why. Wouldn´t it be good to have an intelligent, automated storytelling agent using artificial intelligence and structured data analysis to automatically write stories and deliver these personalized readers stories on different channels?

– Media content like the local weather report still requires human explanation. AI can produce this content without the need for an editor.

– Youth soccer league stories are hardly ever covered by journalists, to the detriment of a local audience (not in the least soccer moms). AI can instantly produce thousands of articles like these and thus increase the media coverage.

– A NLG platform can produce human-sounding narratives from data, this could generate articles in no less than 20 different languages.

Or in the words of Carrie Lomas at IBM: “The cognitive technology creates a new kind of partnership between people and computer that enhances, scales and accelerates human expertise.

What will the future hold when we combine Big data with Artificial Intelligence to put expertise into the system and communicate data to audiences in an engaging way? I’ll tell you: better conversions, content fit for any age range, improved traffic and subsequently increased subscriptions. And with that the knowledge and power to drive advertisement and subscription revenue.

I took the positive mood, inspiring presentations and the thrilling topics back home with me. This INMA event was another milestone in the publishing industry. How about we keep on improving the data knowledge in the media industry?


Rainer Kirschke

Business Manager Mobile Publishing