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Future of News: Beyond News Applications, What Products Can Newsrooms Offer?


By Kwami Ahiabenu, II


All over the world, most newsrooms are now making use of new digital technologies in all facets of their work. The degree of application varies across board. However, without technology these days, news production and distribution is nearly impossible. According to wired, Robots will in the Future, not only write news but also produce and recommend news pieces directly; responding to preferences of individual users. Currently, Associated Press (AP) using algorithms and natural language generation based technology, is able to produce a limited auto-generated articles and news stories in plain-language narrative from easily interpretable data.

AP now produces nearly 4,300 quarterly earnings stories – a 14-fold increase over human generated efforts. The interesting fact about these stories is that you can’t tell the difference between robot journalists output and what a human has written, except an explanatory note is added to the story that it was machine generated. AP’s huge step in deploying this technology means they have a tangible product which can provide them with a competitive edge in the future.

News Apps and Products

Beyond churning out of news, newsrooms can now produce content with value added, news applications and news products. In classification of apps, we can have 3 types; namely, native apps running on desktops, online apps and mobile apps.

Generally there are three types of mobile apps namely utility apps which provide relevant information such as stock market prices, traffic, sports results, weather etc.; productivity apps are usually more complex focusing on monitoring, updating and producing content, this include social media such Facebook, twitter, etc. and lastly immersive apps which focus solely on content such video games, super interactive apps like video-editing apps, etc.

News app is, simply put, an application which enable users to consume, interact, contribute, interrogate and critique news content often on demand. Whereas news products is more tangible, long lasting applications provide more lasting utility to the end users extending news cycle by giving news longer life.

One exciting area when looking at new digital technologies in the newsroom is data journalism, since it enables newsrooms to produce value added content and support the development of news applications and products. Data journalism is a journalism specialty reflecting the increasingly important role that numerical data is playing in story production and distribution in the digital age. It reflects the increased interaction between content producers (journalist) and several other fields such as design, mathematics, computer science and statistics. Data journalism can help journalists find truth from publicly available data for public interest, find and write stories from huge amount of data derived from multiple sources including governments, write most compelling stories more quickly and facilitate the telling of complex story through engaging visualisation.

Where can I get the cheapest Petrol?

Ghana recently liberalised its downstream petroleum industry which means that each oil marketing company is able to set its prices at the pump based on given parameters. News media carried this story, with some providing in-depth analysis, info on where to get the best deal. However, this news piece across radio, TV and newspapers will last not more than one week. For newsroom to be relevant, they need to develop products beyond this news piece. In this direction, they can develop a news application (apps) which can be downloaded by their audiences. This news app will solve this problem of where to get the cheapest petrol at the pump. For example, I am driving in Kumasi with a need to fill my tank. By using this product, I can find out which petrol stations is offering the cheapest fuel. More importantly, since my location service is on, the app will calculate and provide me with real time information; given traffic situation and how long it will take me to get to the station. Based on this app, I am able to determine where to get cheapest petrol given a number of options in real time. This example buttresses the notion that news articles are great but in an information rich society with a lot of audiences’ demand always on content, creating news products with an extended life span can contribute to sustainability of the newsroom. There are thousand and one opportunities in this direction for newsrooms.

MTN Ghana could be the next biggest news organisation

News media market place is shrinking. To survive, news organisation must invest in understanding emerging new digital technologies especially how to leverage its growing opportunities to sustain their audience base and grow new ones. Journalism ecosystem, influence and its place in society is continuing to shrink. For example, Google is now World’s largest aggregator and distributor of digital content; not only audio and video information but also news. Implications of these development is profound with one stark warning that, if news organisations do not innovate with new apps and products others innovators will come in. Ghana’s leading telecom provider MTN, could become tomorrow’s largest news organisation because they have the platform and especially when news organisations are sitting idle instead of rising up to the occasion.

High quality journalism demands innovators

For a long time players in the Media sector have assumed a thin god status with the mindset of not caring about what their audiences want, effectively pushing audiences’ needs to the back rooms. Today, consumers are now in the driving seat, demanding more than news. Newsrooms that are to staying alive, influential, profitable and competitive are therefore the ones able to combine experimentation spiced with pragmatism in their quest to meet insatiable appetite of today’s news consumer.


****As part of its Future of News Event in August, Penplusbytes, a leader in new media & innovations; tech & good governance, and mining, oil & Gas, is pleased to release a series of future of news articles. This 3rd article is titled: “Beyond News Applications, What Products Can Newsrooms Offer?”


Watch out for next article in series: “The editor is gone, welcome newsrooms Algorithms”

Follow @penplusbytes for more #futureofnews updates.