Hello there,

Although we’re only a few weeks into the new year, it’s clear already that 2024 is set to be a year where elections dominate the news cycle. Half the world will head to the polls. Europe is electing a new parliament, the United States a new president. But India, Indonesia, and Mexico are choosing new governments too. It’s all go.

From a journalistic perspective, this is a year where you need to make your mark. Do you already know how you're going to serve your audience? Have you decided which of the countless stories you'll cover, and how you'll distinguish yourself from competitors, especially since they'll also be reporting on the election fever?

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, in his prediction for Niemanlab, warned that higher traffic shouldn't be seen as the end goal, since news avoidance remains a distressing trend:

“The fundamental problem is that much of the public does not find news particularly worthwhile, and accordingly engage with it less and less.”

Although this sounds alarming, we view this as an invitation to double down and focus on the relationship with your visitors. We're here to help you engage with your audience. Coming up with a North Star, leveraging (free) AI tools, and adhering to a content strategy that suits you, are simple steps you can start with today.

Quality boost userneeds.smartocto.com

Our own free tool, powered by artificial intelligence, is now better than ever. It helps you identify user needs in stories. Here's what the updates mean for users:

  • Enhanced ability to recognise and interpret emotions in articles. 
  • Capability to identify specific user needs, going beyond the four basic drivers: fact, context, emotion, action.

The tool can be accessed at userneeds.smartocto.com and remains free. However, from this week onwards, users will be required to provide their name and email address to use this service. The reason our user needs tool at smartocto has evolved so effectively is largely due to client feedback and collaboration. By involving users in the dialogue, the user needs team hopes they too will become an integral part of this evolving process.

The improvement of the tool is best illustrated with an example. We present to you… a mouse helping a man tidy his shed. 

You're guide to start working with user needs

Regular followers are likely already familiar with the content of the Playbook we shared online this week. In December, we shared a wise lesson each day designed to assists media professionals in implementing the user needs approach. We have compiled these lessons into a document that you can download and distribute among colleagues for free.

‘The playbook takes you through a series of exercises that help you identify what makes your brand unique, complete with examples and tips from media executives who trodded that path before. Bonus points for guidance on how to enlist ChatGPT to help you write your mission statement and identify your target audience.’

Marcela Kunova of Journalism.co.uk put it beautifully. We are very pleased with this endorsement for our new playbook, which serves as the sequel to the whitepaper that explains the User Needs Model 2.0 through data research. We wanted to take this research to the next, more practical level and help every media professional get started with it, and according to Marcela, we have succeeded.

Compare tools

It has been over two years since we first published our most-read blog: how should you compare tools like smartocto with its competitors?

We've given this blog a fresh update, including new insights on artificial intelligence. Since the introduction of smartocto.ai, we have struck gold: a combination of data analysis, a well-stocked knowledge base of what works and what doesn't, coupled with editorial assistance through large language models.

But let's not turn this into a sales pitch, as that's not the purpose of this blog. It is an exposition of the elements that, in our opinion, matter when you're looking for a tool to help you improve and execute a content strategy.


  • The Financial Times’s team of crystal ball gazers had their best year for a while in 2023, with only three wrong answers — “Though we got these pretty wrong.” But it is indeed interesting to see what the FT editors will make of it this year. For instance: they believe that Trump is not going to win the elections…
  • ‘Different audiences have different criteria for news organisations to meet in order to be trusted. It is up to us to find out what those requirements are’, writes Patrick Johnson for journalism.co.uk
  • Artifact was a promising AI-powered news application. It was launched last year by the founders of Instagram. Now, it is shutting down just a year after its launch. The app used an AI-driven approach to suggest news that users might like to read, but it seems it didn’t catch on with enough people, as reported by The Verge.
  • Aos Fatos (‘The Facts’ in Portuguese) is a Brazilian investigative news outlet that focuses on fact-checking and disinformation. The platform uses a ChatGPT-esque bot to answer reader questions, and it seems to work out according to this piece on Niemanlab


And with that, we've reached the end of our first newsletter of the year. We'll be here twice a month, striving to keep you informed and inspired with news and insights from the world of online media. Are you curious to learn more about our products? Keep an eye out for our upcoming product newsletter, which you can sign up for. By subscribing to our webinar newsletter, you'll be the first to know when we announce a new webinar. 

All the best!

Team smartocto