In May of 1996, The Washington Post published the article, “Internet won’t be able to replace newspapers.” In it, author Richard Harwood purported that “Reading large bodies of text scrolled up on a computer screen is a tedious, inefficient and probably unhealthy activity.”
Over two decades later, this type of shortsighted thinking contributed to publishers slashing jobs at a pace not seen since the 2009 recession. Even the most respected newspapers in the country aren’t immune to the decline in newspaper readership. USA TODAY claimed nearly 2.3 million paying customers in 2007 only to see that number plummet to 520,000 this year — and there are rumors the company could cease printing newspapers altogether.
The deterioration of newspaper sales continues despite the public’s bottomless thirst for information. They’ve simply switched the medium through which news is consumed. One such example: Pew Research Center reported in 2017 that 85% of adults attain their news through mobile devices.
With demand for the written word at an all-time high, a modern approach featuring content automation must be implemented to help save the publishing industry and job security of journalists.
Here’s how content automation is the elixir to soothe the parched newspaper industry at both the local and national levels, including filling the void of disappearing revenue.
Historical Source of Revenue
Historically, newspapers generated most of their revenue through classified ads. This vanishing source of income during the past few decades was displaced by TV stations and internet companies like Craigslist, Google and Facebook.
Just how far has daily newspaper ad revenue dropped? Publishers were raking in $49 billion in advertising dollars in 2005. By 2014 that figure dropped to $25.2 billion.
With this in mind, let’s do some quick elementary school math: Less ad revenue + fewer newspaper subscribers = laid-off journalists.
This is where content automation enters stage left. It reduces the cost of content creation, provides readers with tons of engaging content and frees journalists to concentrate on human-interest pieces and feature stories that computers can’t create.
Two Ways Publishers Can Leverage Automation
Publishers can leverage automated content as a cost-saver as well as a revenue driver.
Cost-saving is easy to understand. If a publisher currently pays X amount to write a specific type of content but can use automation to write it for less money, they would save budget. The preserved budget can be used to offset losses or delay layoffs.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many folks writing about automated content as a revenue driver for publishers. This is probably because most publishers focus on curbing losses rather than scaling newsrooms. Content automation enables publishers to cover topics and produce news that’s been too costly to create in the past. By automating that which can be automated and focusing editorial staff on breaking news, investigative journalism and features, publishers can produce news everyone in the community finds valuable. The result of more profound stories by journalists and a broader inventory of news is higher subscription rates and more advertisers.
The Economics of Automation
Basic economics suggests that if it costs $100 to write a high school football article, then the article needs to generate at least $100 worth of value (through ads or sponsorships) to justify production. This is typically when someone blurts out, “It doesn’t cost anywhere near $100 to write a high school game recap.”
Well, allow us to retort. What is the hourly value of the average journalist? When we multiply that value by the three-hour commitment of a sporting event and then add the cost of gas, entrances fees, food and the time of the editor, how much does that article really cost?
Furthermore, what is the revenue opportunity of three hours of high school football coverage versus three hours of volleyball coverage? Or three hours of local election coverage? Not only do publishers need to understand the value of time of their editorial staff, but they also intimately need to understand the ROI by topic.
Speaking of high school football, let’s take a quick halftime break to speak briefly of automation’s limitations.
Machines cannot complete the work required to win a Pulitzer Prize. Automation cannot investigate, interview, develop sources or validate credibility. None of the traits or tasks that make a great journalist are threatened by automation.
Publishers never cut profitable content producers. Unfortunately, many content producers are producing unprofitable content.
Embracing the Future of Technology
As we saw in Hardwood’s 1996 piece, publishers have historically ignored the advantages that modern technology offers. Publishers failed to see the value in online advertising auctions (Google and Facebook), online classifieds (Craigslist and OfferUp) and now we can add content automation to the list.
Publishers can continue grasping legacy business models or embrace technologies like content automation built to improve user experience, open up new revenue streams, and maximize job security for talented journalists around the country.