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Industry trends

Digital disruption in news is not all about data

Dr. Andrew Fletcher  Director, Thomson Reuters Labs™ – London

Dr. Andrew Fletcher  Director, Thomson Reuters Labs™ – London

The fact that technology is disrupting news is not new. We’re consuming news more and more via mobile, and sharing it more via social media. And we’re no longer noticing the originator of the news we consume; around 50 percent of us in the U.S., 65 percent in the UK, and 75 percent in Korea do not notice the brand according to the Reuters Institute of Journalism.

But in our most recent Data Science Insights talk, Tom Betts, Chief Data Officer at the Financial Times, painted a rosier picture of how they are turning technology and data to their advantage.

At the Financial Times, more than 70 percent of the paying audience consume via digital, not paper. This direct relationship with the customer has transformed their business. It wasn’t easy, and it took time, but they now collect structure data that helps them to truly understand each customer.

“[We] see data as our compass, or our GPS, keeping us going in the right direction.”

They use targeted marketing to drive 20 percent of new customer acquisition. They are creating personalized products by blending behavioral and demographic data. They have built a capability to use semantic relevancy to serve up adverts on the fly alongside their content. And in the new version of their website they are using linked data so you can choose your own adventure through the journalism.

Business value driven by more than data

Whilst Tom’s talk was grounded in data, his message was broader. It’s not all about the data. The value, and the competitive advantage is coming from:

  • Tools; to understand their readers and embed feedback mechanisms into workflow of journalists.
  • Tools; to improve data visualization and enable anyone to create visualizations that are ready for use on the site and in the paper from the outset
  • Testing; to improve the user experience
  • Teams; working globally to enable a seamless hand-over from London to New York to Hong Kong; bringing new capabilities around user engagement; and embedding cultural changes in the transformative power of using data

The importance of customer engagement

“Do you ever buy something you don’t use?” asked Tom. It leaves you feeling like you’re missing out; the digital equivalent of the papers piling up unread. What are the catalysts for you consuming content?

In Tom’s team they care about engagement a lot, tracking how recently you’ve engaged, how frequently you come back and what value you place on the content by investing time. They work to help everyone at the FT understand how to drive up engagement, but not using that to make content decisions. As he said, if they were “writing by numbers they would only write about gold, China and Bitcoin.”

The future of news

Tom gave some hints at where he sees the disruption of news going next:

  • Robot journalism
  • Personal news concierge
  • Digital serendipity

For more insights from Tom about how data and innovative technologies can help news organizations thrive in a time of significant change, view the highlights video below.

The full video (1:10:44) is available here.

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Visit Innovation @ to learn more about how we are pairing technology with human expertise at Thomson Reuters Labs™.

About the series

Data Science Insights is a series from Imperial College’s Data Science Institute, in partnership with Thomson Reuters. Through the series, guest presenters will share approaches and insights from data science in their organizations and how it makes an impact across the different markets that Thomson Reuters operates in. The events will vary depending on topic, ranging from guest presentations, to interviews and panel discussions.

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