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Building the 21st Century Newsroom

 5 min read / 

Putting together the morning edition of your newspaper is difficult. Journalists must find stories, research them, write up their reports and submit to their editor. They may have to do that several times a day. Editors don’t get stories which are ready to publish. They have to fact check them, edit them, improve them and write standfirsts and headlines. Articles have to meet word count requirements. They needed to be bulked up or slimmed down and then they must be laid out on the page. Photos have to be gathered and adjusted. Once the content is ready, no easy task, then tens of thousands of papers have to be printed, put together and distributed. Deliveries must be made to subscribers and newsagents all over the country. They must be in place before people wake up. All of this has to be repeated every day. It is tough.

Papers have to achieve all of this while budgets and headcounts are falling. It is the old problem of having to do more with less. There is not an easy solution. But there is a solution.

Computers revolutionised publishing. They took a lot of the manual drudgery and repetition out of the work. Drafting, reviewing and editing articles has been changed completely by the introduction of desktop publishing programs and word processors. Preparing print files has been made a lot of easier with the introduction of applications like InDesign. There are similar solutions which can ease the burden placed on the newsroom. They can fix the problem of fake news too.

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Machine learning, which takes statistical methods and allows a computer to make predictions based on the data it analyses, has become the latest hot new thing. While it is still in its infancy it has shown that it can be a powerful tool. PayPal uses it to detect fraud, Siri and Alexa use it to understand human speech and Netflix uses it to show you the next show it thinks you will binge watch. Those recommendations often lose me entire evenings and weekends. They are powerful and accurate. They will get even more so.

The same technology can be brought to the newsroom. One subfield of machine learning is natural language processing, the thing Alexa uses to translate what you said into something a computer can understand. The same techniques can be used to extract factual claims from articles. By comparing those statements with a human-curated database, they can be verified or flagged for review. This is not easy but is becoming more and more possible with the increase in computing power. Automated fact checking will bring the same revolution to the newsroom as the desktop. It will liberate editors and reporters from an often laborious task of finding and checking facts and claims.

But why stop there? With this tool in place, it will allow Mogul News to fully decentralised the newsroom. The clacking of typewriters and blue smoke of countless cigarettes have been eliminated from the newsroom. But even the concept of dozens or hundreds of people sitting at row upon row of desks is anachronistic.

Imagine reviewing an article and all the facts are highlighted. Some are fine, others are a little out of date. You update those and make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors, though this process will be automated as well. Time can be spent instead of improving the clarity, style and expression of an article meaning that the experience of reading and writing on Mogul News will be exceptional. And those editors and writers can do it from anywhere in the world, at a time that suits them.

Unshackled from an office desk, Mogul News contributors can be free to go out into the world finding and writing about those stories they know are important. Without the legacy costs associated with so many newspapers and publishers, Mogul News will be able to pay writers and editors more of the financial upside associated with their articles. Subscribers will pay only a fraction of the industry standard for access to this content.

The same innovations can be used by other institutions. It can help support local journalism which is struggling with falling revenues and lower headcounts. It can help reinvigorate high-quality, focused journalism. In such an environment the threat of fake news is diminished. Without a space to thrive in, it could be eliminated.

I have spoken before about why journalism and writing are particularly suitable to become part of the platform economy. A fair price for journalism and a fair price for content will be bundled effectively together. This is the promise of a platform economy and it will be delivered by Mogul News. High-quality reporting available to everyone is what Mogul News will deliver. That is why I am excited to share it with you.

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