Journalists question News Corp’s prediction tool

Using data to make news stories more interesting to readers isn’t a new thing.

Publications such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and The Australian have long used tools that help editors understand what stories are most important to readers and what is likely to attract new subscribers. Journalists usually have access to the analytics behind their stories to understand what works and what doesn’t.

But just how far is a publication willing to go? That’s the question journalists at News Corp Australia are asking this week as the newest version of their measurement tool, Verity 2.0, rolls out.

Publications are always want to learn more about readers. But how far will a publication go to get someone to pay?Credit:Louie Douvis

The Rupert Murdoch-owned media company, which publishes The Australian, The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and The Daily Telegraph, caused a stir among staff last week with an email about the newly updated technology, which it wants journalists to use daily.

The updated version, according to multiple employees, has more data and claims to break down audiences based on age, location and household income. It also profiles the audience into cohorts such as what it calls “first class life”, a group of typically older middle-aged families with significant assets and income (News Corp says this is 6.9 per cent of the population). Journalists are told how many readers of their masthead fit within these categories.

But there’s one other feature that has some journalists worried. Documents obtained by this masthead shows the updated version has a feature that can predict the “likelihood” of a person paying for a subscription based on factors such as headlines, angles, and story ideas.

The tool known as “Predictions View” is designed to let the journalist workshop headlines, angles and even whole story ideas, and give them an indication of the likely subscriber return. Workshopping ideas has traditionally been the domain of editors who rely on instinct and gut feel to make editorial decisions.

If an increased focus on data in the newsroom wasn’t enough, the internal note also requests journalists complete an assessment on how to use the technology or face a mark against their name at their next performance review.

A News Corp Australia spokesman said the tool was valuable. “Verity has been an important tool for our newsrooms for the past three years, and we continue to improve the value it provides our journalists to enable them to get closer to our readers and the stories they value most,” the spokesperson said.

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