What happens when you bring a journalist to an analytics tool? We’ll find out with our newest team member Stefan ten Teije. In his first blog he explains why he switched jobs.

Have you heard of false wolf spiders yet? These poisonous and aggressive spiders arrived in Dutch news media recently as spiders emerge in bedrooms everywhere: all of a sudden and without any invitation. In the Netherlands we’re used to pets and livestock, but venomous, poisonous critters? That’s homepage material.

When I took a dive into the smartocto data, it wasn’t a surprise that the lion’s share of the clicks on this very subject came from the search behaviour of visitors. Perhaps you already googled “are false wolf spiders dangerous?” yourself after reading the first sentence. Or: “what’s ‘false’ about them? Are they untrustworthy?”


For the last couple of years I’ve been an editor in the service journalism newsroom at DPG Media. I wrote for two of the biggest online news websites in The Netherlands, AD.nl and NU.nl. Our main purpose was to create content as a service: to help readers understand things they come across in their daily life. That being the case, educating people about the false wolf spider would have been our first take: we would have focused on those key questions of what they are, where they came from, and whether or not we should stay up all night worrying about them.

The false wolf spider was gone too soon

I noticed that many media outlets reported on this story, but failed to follow it up in a way that the audience were actually asking for. I think we - yes, me as well - normally go on to the next story.

As a journalist, I know that most of the time we mainly follow our own curiosity in deciding the subject and angle for our next story. I think that data analysis tools can help every journalist and editor make better decisions - We just need to listen to it.

stefan colleague
Stefan ten Teije

However, interpreting data takes time and energy that we would rather put into the story itself. Spending time finding out how big, important or impactful the story is to our visitors is not our natural way of working.

Smartocto not only explains what’s going on at the websites and apps we publish for. The tool also gives the tips and suggestions, which we need to improve our stories. Those concrete notifications help us take action. It might begin with a notification like: ‘This large story is still attracting a lot of audience. Post it on social media again.’

Now, with the new feature Smartify, smartocto is taking the next step: decision making assisted by artificial intelligence. In addition to the notifications mentioned above, the system predicts what the impact of a certain action will be - and how it affects conversion, reach or engagement. Smartify tells you when the audience would like to have a follow-up story and which user needs you should consider addressing in them. I’m convinced that further development will result in the system telling you what the best angle would be.

Journalists who use data analysis tools are taking the lead

What analytical tools can do for journalists following this path blows my mind. Every single journalist will be able to make stories based on their user needs, even the ones who are sceptical about using data in any way. Of course it’s still journalists who decide what to do and how to collect the information needed, but the ones that use smartocto certainly have the advantage - and seem to be the ones taking the lead.

How this can change the way journalists and other storytellers operate is fascinating. Newsrooms could easily skip a couple of meetings about discussing the stats of their website if these insights were automated somehow.

Still, there’s likely to be an ethical debate on the role of artificial intelligence in newsrooms. Independence is at the core of journalism and I’m sure there will be journalists who feel that there’s no way they’re going to let a robot tell them what to do. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how technology can be better accepted in certain situations and creative solutions.

I want to be part of this development. As smartocto’s newest content editor I'll share my journey in blogs, whitepapers and webinars. I will become the fly on the wall covering the biggest challenges facing our profession and sector. All while hoping there won’t be any false wolf spiders nearby.

Do you have an opinion about data analytics tools or do you have a story about journalism I need to write about, please let me know.