Tech the game changer for news media business

As the media industry continues to show signs of recovery from the brutalities of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming apparent that the future belongs to media organisations that fully embrace technology in every aspect of the news process; news gathering, production and distribution.

I want to highlight the case of The Globe and Mail in Canada, a privately-owned company whose simple and sophisticated strategy is not only growing their digital business but – get this –  their print business as well.

At the turn of the millennium, print advertising revenue accounted for over 70 per cent of the newspaper’s total revenue, according to the company’s Publisher and CEO Philip Crawley. Today, reader revenue accounts for 62 per cent of the total revenue.

How did The Mail and Globe turn around theirs from a dominantly print business to a digital one, without entirely abandoning the print newspaper? A number of things, but I will highlight three; investment in good journalism, automating the newsroom and efficiencies in their print business.

To the first point, The Globe and Mail realised a fundamental truth about the current media business; the cornerstone of a successful digital strategy is good content. While newspapers around the world were laying off staff especially during the pandemic, the company increased the number of journalists and editors to improve their story output and quality of their journalism. The goal was simple, to make their content worth paying for. They understood that the subscription business is a highly competitive, ‘winner takes all’ game, where audiences prefer paying for only one news subscription. They also leveraged on partnerships with the Big Tech companies to expand their subscriber base.

Secondly, they integrated technology in their workflows. Specifically, they embraced Artificial Intelligence and created a system called ‘Sophi’ that uses data to automate some newsroom activities and more importantly, crunches the data to provide critical audience insights. For example, Sophi will tell you which reader on your website is more likely to pay for a subscription and helps to personalise content for every reader based on their preferences and consumption habits. Sophi has become a superstar and poster child for how newsrooms can leverage AI for the business.

Believe it or not, The Globe and Mail’s print revenue grew by eight per cent in 2021 and print subscription revenue by one per cent. How in the world did this newspaper company manage to stem the decline of the print business? Besides automating components of the newsroom, they introduced efficiencies in their print business. They made it leaner, more nimble and easier to run. For example, they did away with unprofitable delivery routes and automated key duties layout to save time and free up manpower.

At the core of their success, whether it is the efficiencies to boost their print business or the use of Sophi to dissect their audiences, what is clear is that The Globe and Mail understood not only the impact, but the potential of technology in their business.

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