2015 News Trends: Think Mobile, Act with Bots

20 November 2014

Bertrand Pecquerie

If you asked colleagues around you to name news trends for 2015, about half of them will invariably say 'Mobile'. The other half will also say 'Mobile'. On-the-go news is essential yet difficult to adapt. Newsrooms are all thinking about this new audience and platform revolution. Keep in mind that just three years ago, for many media organisations, tablets and mobiles represented less than 20% of their traffic and today they represent over 50%. Never a transition in news distribution has been so quick or so global, affecting all countries and all ages. News production is also very much affected: how can journalists provide brilliant and relevant information for small screens?

[Mobile news will be discussed at the GEN Summit 2015. See some examples of sessions: Web traffic is 50% mobile: how wan your Newsroom Adapt? or Mobile News On the Weekend: Which Apps are Winning Eyeballs? See the rest of the schedule here]

So let's definitely think mobile. But behind this first revolution there is another one. The mobile shift is only the tip of the iceberg and editors must dig deeper to see the entire picture. What is less visible is the automatisation of the news process and the birth of robot journalism. Why?

First, mobile content and social networks must be curated with real-time alerts for breaking news. Immediacy is the standard and your organisation must be faster than the rest. If not, users will quickly move elsewhere. A few years ago, your content was appreciated because of its accuracy or its relevance to your audience, today speed is a huge component of audience rankings. It is a terrible challenge for organisations such as The Washington Post, F.A.Z., Vanguard or South China Morning Post. Their trustful relationships with their readers were based on over 100 years of professionalism and suddenly they are asked to fight against unknown players: a blogger breaking a story a just minutes before them.

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Yet, on the other side, it is impossible to report on rumours or inaccuracies if you don't want to lose all credibility! The dilemma for news organisations in 2015 will be to fact-check any and all breaking news or scoop. This brings me back to the robots: the only way to be 'fast and accurate' will be a process of automated fact-checking. Human beings, the journalists, will be there but they will be helped by algorithms and fact-checking technologies covering both social networks and the web at large. Learning to work with bots is the first consequence of the mobile news revolution.

Today's best performing newsrooms are data-driven newsrooms. Editors are still in command, but helped by a dashboard on the side of their screens. There, they are constantly aware of the most-read pieces, anticipated news trends through social networks or segmenting processes for different audiences. It is not Augmented Reality, or AR. You don't need a 3D stereoscopic device, it is just Augmented Content or AC, a kind of immersive experience for driving the newsroom, commissioning new articles and following your storytelling process throughout the whole day. What is behind this new way of doing your job as an editor? Again robots: certainly assistant-robots, but still robots. I recently spoke with Jim Roberts, the CCO of Mashable, and he to explained me that no human was in charge of the home page of their site: it is nearly 100% data-driven, based on real-time traffic and other specific algorithms (learn more on our talk with Jim Roberts here). Bots are again essential for running mobile operations.

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I'm not predicting the revolt of the bots, but the revolt of the users. News organisations must be aware of their readers' limits and not to overstep their audience's trust. At the moment, many users are upset with cookies and ads following them from one website to the next. Personally I bought shoes online for my daughter three weeks ago and today I read an article on Iraq that was surrounded by shoe ads. We are in the prehistory of mass surveillance and at the moment it is not a huge issue. But citizens can quickly become very upset at being followed - not only by advertisers but also by their favorite news organisations. It is fine to think 'personalisation' but an over-use of bots and super-cookies will upset users very soon.

Personalisation and news targeting only represent progress if they are wanted and accepted by the user, not if they are forcibly imposed. Here the risk is that users will escape from the internet and move to the darknet. At the moment, the darknet is a digital space for tech-minded and concerned citizens using Tor or other encrypted software, but tomorrow it can become a mass movement: citizens have the right to say 'Stop' if news organisations are also becoming surveillance organisations.

All these dynamics and more will be explored during the upcoming GEN Summit 2015, to be held in Barcelona 17 - 19 June. I would be happy to discuss this short introduction if you are interested to learn more. Please let me know your thoughts and comments: director@globaleditorsnetwork.org.

Photo: Chris Isherwood