Since the advent of generative AI, numerous tools have been knocking on the door of the modern newsroom. Once you’re convinced of their utility, the next challenge is: how do you implement them?

It’s not always easy: perhaps there's an existing contract with another software tool that you have to wait out, maybe there's a temporary lack of funds, or it could be that the editorial team has just started another project that demands their full focus.

But even if such issues are not a factor, there are still mountains in the way - and often these are even trickier to overcome, according to smartocto’s sales and strategy manager, Olga Nemčanin.

"I speak with decision makers at media organisations on a daily basis, so I know that it’s hard to get everyone on board for experiments with data or AI driven tools. They aren’t free and it feels like a big commitment to make sure people will use them daily. When it comes to editorial analytics, a significant shift is needed - a different view on data usage in journalism."

This is what our client says about it:

Data is an essential part of our editorial process. It may sound cliché, but we still work data-informed rather than data-driven. However, from all the figures, we can certainly extract a lot of data, allowing us to occasionally tweak our journalistic direction and respond more swiftly to developments around our defined audience needs.

Twan Bovée Editor-in-chief @, DPG Media

Ed Walker, a consultant who worked in a senior central editorial role at the UK's largest commercial news publisher Reach PLC, often led the introduction and roll-out of digital transformation projects including introducing new tools to newsrooms, recognises that the response from newsrooms when a new tool is introduced is often best described as ‘irritable’. "The first response will be: another new thing. It can be a struggle to introduce a new way of working, including the technical implementation."

Journalists in particular have reasons to focus on something else

It’s also logical: journalists, in particular, want to protect their independence in all respects. Editors sometimes do not want data dictating where they should invest their time and energy. "They want to talk with people, gather valuable and relevant information, go to events—all the things that journalists do," says Walker. "They mostly didn't get into the job to understand the amount of interactions on Facebook or whatever."

Olga agrees: "It’s kind of nice when you can do certain things on autopilot. When that changes, you are quickly inclined to focus on what is no longer possible with the new technology. I experienced this myself when we switched CRM systems. But once you see the benefits, you can make significant progress pretty quickly."

How do you ensure that the editorial team quickly embraces a desired tool? Ed and Olga share their key insights and tips:

  1. Look for your champion, as Olga calls them. Try to find some kind of ambassador whom many people admire and who can persuade others. According to Ed, this could even be someone who is quite sceptical at first. "The enthusiasts are easy to win over. It’s easy to write people off as not being interested in data. Most of the time, it's a fear or lack of understanding of how it can help. Those people can be the best advocates. Other people might think: if they say so..."
  2. Get a clear understanding of the technical implications. For example, to give smartocto access to all your data, two lines of javascript need to be placed on each page. Olga: "That can be done in a matter of two days. Onboarding, explanation, and implementation take a core group at most a few sessions of an hour each. That’s the easy part. The commitment and effort are needed in the next step - and that is adjusting the workflow, which can be harder. Most of the time, that will take a couple of months, depending on how invested the management team is.”

The onboarding process with smartocto has gone smoothly for me. Once all the tracking integrations from DPG Media were properly configured, we were able to roll out the live dashboards effectively to our editors. We can communicate quickly with your team, and within DPG Media, we also have efficient data communication channels.

Twan Bovée Editor-in-chief @, DPG Media

3. Here’s a tip from Ed: If you're at a large publisher with many titles, then starting a pilot at a fairly new title or one that has just brought in new people might help. If you are smaller, you can try this 'trick' and focus on a single sub-editorial team, such as the sports team or the business team

4. Your first task should be to set up a clear strategy on paper with the goals of using the tool clearly in mind. You might find out that you don’t actually need the tool at all, but it also helps to come to the editorial team with a good story. Here’s Ed again: “Look for the challenges the newsroom is facing. Maybe a goal is to increase the number of newsletter subscribers. If you can show precisely how a tool can help achieve such a goal, there is an incentive to get started with it.

5. Keep in mind what the workflow of a journalistic day looks like. "No one is going to read 17 reports a day," says Ed. "Each editorial team has its rhythm. It must be adaptable. When is the tool deployable and how does it fit into the schedule of the day or the week?" just started with smartocto and sees that the editorial team is not yet able to fully utilise the tool. "This is not due to smartocto but other factors", Twan Bovée tells us: "For instance, we would like to conduct A/B testing with headlines, among other things, but we currently have insufficient traffic on our homepage. Additionally, we aim to make progress with metrics such as scroll depth to continually improve the quality and structure of our articles. As we are still heavily reliant on platforms like Google Discover and Facebook, it is more challenging to draw specific conclusions from certain data, given the volatility of these external factors. Whenever we have questions, we receive excellent support. Success manager Martijn de Bie keeps us informed about developments, such as AI. We are keen to engage with this, as it offers us opportunities for headline suggestions, for example. We work with many junior editors, and additional tools can be a valuable resource for developing their skills further and enhancing our product."

Newsrooms have come a long way, and we’ll leave you with this thought from Olga. "Five years ago, it was really difficult to get media professionals to use data analytics to inform their work. Now journalists realise that the impact that they made is relevant for what should be done next. Change comes more naturally to newsrooms that nurture an experimental mindset in their organisation.”

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