“Our history of printing is over. After 400 years, we turned off our presses in October,” said Thomas Schultz-Homberg, CEO of Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger Medien, the media brand of the DuMont family group. The production of three newspapers has been entrusted to a third-party printer and the regional player from Cologne is now firmly relying on AI and technology.
“This company is under fire, totally under fire and the numbers you see below, you won’t see them next year. We are moving towards a digital technology company with journalistic content. But the business model and the editorial staff must fundamentally change. Nothing will ever be the same again. » Schultz-Homberg said WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Asia conference in October.
The family business dates back to 1620, when a printing works was established to produce prayer books and festive papers. In four centuries, it now has three newspapers, seven radio stations, nearly 1,000 employees and an annual circulation of 247 million copies. Printed materials are now produced by a third party as the strategic focus has shifted to technology solutions and increasing the 45 million monthly visits to its websites.
“Without technology, there is no future for newsrooms. There will be no more writing if we don’t do technology. And if we as publishers don’t do technology, others will do it for us,” Shultz-Homberg said.
Abandoning human curation increased visibility by 80%
The media outlet uses natural language processing (NLP) and AI extensively in the newsroom to understand and organize text and advertising on its websites. Thematic pages and advertising taxonomy are completely automated.
“Instead of using hand-picked and manually curated links, historical and contextual links are all machine-selected. No humans are involved. AI/NLP-based technology searches for stories that might match the topic of the article. It features text links,” he said.
Since automating this process, there has been “a huge increase in article visibility.”
AI apps recommend and personalize stories and sections for each reader – no two people see the same thing.
“Thanks to AI, we have millions of dynamic profiles that we adapt to users,” Schultz-Homberg said.
During a trial period of AB testing, human selections were analyzed against those made by the machine.
Automated curations had click-through rates 80% higher than when editors made the selection, proof “that the machine knows better what the individual wants to read next.” Schultz-Homberg said this does not mean the editor-in-chief can be replaced by a machine – because someone has to produce the journalism.
Publishers accept that “the machine knows best”
The results of the automatic selections and their ability to encourage people to read in depth, beyond headlines and teasers, convinced its editors.
“We no longer have the question of whether it is the machine or the human who knows better. Now almost all of our website is run by machines,” he said.
Visitors to the website receive a unique, personalized version of the website, delivering on the belief that “technology should promote and enable journalism that people want to read, not journalism that publishers think they should read.”
At Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger Medien, editors are the content creators and contribute to a content hub. Machines provide curated content to people who now read more often and more deeply. They also see more ads – which is good for the company and its journalism.
Meet Klara, the robotic content creator
The group also introduced an artificial AI colleague/editor, “Klara”, who is responsible for writing 6% of the articles written on the EXPRESS.de platform and 5.2% of the total articles viewed.
Klara takes charge of the editorial team. It will also detect topics that should be on the page but are not, by analyzing current topics on the group’s news channels that serve the Cologne region. If there is no article, she starts writing one.
Schultz-Homberg imagines what 10 Klara would do in terms of traffic and relevance.
“Klara makes mistakes, of course, but less and less every day. During the first few days, we used Klara with a companion editor who monitored every word she wrote. And of course it detected some errors. Now Klara works alone and the associate editor checks if everything is correct and then publishes.
Above is a map showing where Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger Medien can, and where it does, use AI.
Some applications are experimental, others are directly business related. All the numbers are on the rise.
“We don’t have any AI models in the newsroom that have produced worse numbers than before the AI was introduced, and it’s getting better because the AI is getting better every day. So don’t be afraid of AI – embrace it,” he said.