Does your Newsroom need an Algorithm?

14 January 2015

@LaureNouraout @SJToporoff @HakeemMuh

Some say that algorithms know you better than you know yourself. In news, it means having the news you care about, when you want it, where you want it. News Republic is aiming at delivering the best quality news right to your mobile, without one press card on staff. Gilles Raymond, CEO, gives us a tour of this newsroom sans journalists.

In the future, can you imagine news services without journalists?

Absolutely not, journalists are the force behind news. They have a unique skill in identifying facts, checking them, understanding them and analysing them. When you do not have journalists, you do not have news; when you do not have news, you do not have democracy.

What does a newsroom without journalists look like?

The strict definition of a newsroom is ‘the area in a newspaper or broadcasting office where news is written and edited’. Within this scope, we do not have a newsroom, as we do not have journalists.

[To learn more about his topic, attend Gilles' session at the GEN Summit 2015: 'How to Start a Media Group without Journalists']

Our mission is not to write news – we neither have the team nor the skills. The 1,057 news organisations we work with have more than ten thousand journalists in total all over the world. They are highly skilled, highly trained and highly respected. Our job is to publish and promote their content – to the right audience and in the right eco-system.

Our duty every month is to offer each of the 12 million readers we have all the news they want. We believe the reader is the best editor-in-chief for him or herself. Therefore, we want to offer to each and every reader all the news that is important for his or her own world on top of the news that is important about the world in general. In other words, readers have the total freedom to be informed about Lady Gaga, the Giants team, as well as Chechnya even when it is not in the headlines.

How do you set it up? How does News Republic work?

We first partner with the best media groups and top bloggers in 45 countries, such as The Guardian, The Associated Press, Al Jazeera, Sohu, AFP, Hearst Group, BFM, The Huffington Post, etc. With each of them we link our server to their servers and build a revenue sharing deal. Every day, these partners send us 50,000 news items.

News Republic Quote 1

We have a semantic engine that a) understands the meaning of each article, b) categorises the article, and c) confirms its originality.

On the customer side, we have a unique interface that gives readers the chance to select the topics they want to follow among any of 1 million different topics. On top of that, we publish headline news based on the selection of the media. This is probably why each reader is consuming 200 pages per month on average.

What is the background of the people employed? 

We are all news addicts and obsess over delivering information with the purpose of engaging readers. This is why we want the news to be free, to be international. We want to offer a full view about each event from the Jerusalem Post to Al Jazeera, from Asia to Europe, from right wing to left wing. We are a small team with many different profiles, a wide range of backgrounds, and 11 different nationalities. 

Is there any room for a human touch? If so, how?

The news is fully personalised by the reader; it is by definition 100% human and goes back to each individual. Indeed the technology plays a huge part and with one purpose: let readers decide what they want to read. It is the most human centric media. If you are not interested in real estate or soccer or baseball, you will not read news about these topics unless the media deems them breaking.

How do you ensure credibility, fact checking, and ethical behaviour?

By partnering with the best news publishers. Unlike many news aggregators, we do not troll the web or grab RSS feeds. Instead, we syndicate news. We want top content from top publishers for our readers. The reason is obvious: media professionals are the people who understand, filter, analyse, check, cross check and build each bit of information. And we want to enhance their expertise.

News Republic Quote 2

What are the advantages of this method? On the other side, what are the inconveniences?

In my view, you have the best of both worlds. You have headline news to keep a global view on key events as well as news on your specific subject.

Some major brands are not yet embracing this opportunity, and in some countries some flagship news organisations are not in our offer. It is probably the biggest constraint, but trends are encouraging, especially in the United States.  Sometimes the fact that we offer a 360 degree view by publishing the news from several media organisations might be perceived as a high volume of news on the same subject. News Republic offers many features to filter news providers as well as a predictive engine that recommends the most relevant article, but these tools are not always obvious for the end user.

Is this the newsroom of the future?

It is not the newsroom of the future, but a massive trend named unbundling or delinearisation. We saw it in music, video and in all content – including news.

It is now obvious that a similar trend rising in the apps eco-system. Half of the top ten news apps in Google Play are syndicators or aggregators. The challenge is to be sure this new approach is built on consistency with news publishers and in the right eco-system for all contributors. We guarantee that this happens through media partnerships.