Vocer hosted its 4th Inno­va­ti­on Day at der Spiegel’s head­quar­ter in Ham­burg on Satur­day 11th Novem­ber. As the event drew to an end, atten­de­es left with new insights and ide­as around digi­tal trans­for­ma­ti­on in news publi­shing, and how to use data to inno­va­te in an ever chan­ging tech land­s­cape. As spon­sors and active par­ti­ci­pants of the event, here are our key takea­ways.


Some publishers are beco­m­ing less reli­ant on adver­ti­sing reve­nues and moving toward sub­scrip­ti­ons and reader dona­ti­on models

Moni­ka Bäu­er­lein, CEO of pro­gres­si­ve US maga­zi­ne Mother Jones focu­sed her Igni­te Talk on the topic Can Trump save jour­na­lism? The press has been both pun­ching bag and bene­fi­cia­ry in the age of Trump. As a jour­na­list she high­light­ed the need to pay atten­ti­on to all spec­trums of news, and not sett­le for the cosy opti­on of stay­ing insi­de a libe­ral echo cham­ber.

To put the bene­fi­ci­al part in con­text, the New York Times alo­ne now has 2.3 mil­li­on digi­tal-only sub­scri­bers sin­ce Donald Trump’s elec­tion, a growth of 62% com­pa­red to the same peri­od last year. Bäu­er­lein exten­ded on this by sharing Mother Jones’ main reve­nue streams, which shows 65% of reve­nues comes from a com­bi­na­ti­on of reader dona­ti­on and sub­scrip­ti­ons reve­nues.

Monika Bäuerlein, CEO of Mother Jones

Moni­ka Bäu­er­lein, CEO of pro­gres­si­ve US maga­zi­ne Mother Jones


Publishers are in favour of auto­ma­ti­on to do what it does well

When asked by a dele­ga­te about her views on auto­ma­ti­on in jour­na­lism, her respon­se was “let robots do what they do well.” Ret­res­co wel­co­mes this view and high­light­ed in our ope­ning address that auto­ma­ti­on is a big field. It goes far bey­ond robot jour­na­lism, an out­put powe­r­ed by Natu­ral Lan­guage Gene­ra­ti­on (NLG) tech­no­lo­gy. Data-dri­ven pro­ducts such as seman­tic app­li­ca­ti­ons and advan­ced ana­ly­tics tools are all made pos­si­ble by con­tent auto­ma­ti­on.

An examp­le is the algo­rithm deve­lo­ped and main­tai­ned by Ret­res­co that sup­ports Der Spiegel’s 70-per­son strong fact-che­cking team cal­led doku­men­ta­ti­on. Dr. Hau­ke Jans­sen, head of doku­men­ta­ti­on descri­bed it to Digi­day as “a rese­arch instru­ment to orga­ni­ze infor­ma­ti­on in a dif­fe­ren­tia­ted way, bet­ter than Goog­le can.” This is an examp­le of what robots do well.

Retresco's Eveline Sliwowska Speaking at Vocer Innovation Day

Retresco’s Eve­li­ne Sli­wow­ska (left) with host Eva Schulz (right) addres­sing Vocer Inno­va­ti­on Day dele­ga­tes


Let data be your fri­ends. Focus the ent­i­re orga­ni­sa­ti­on on audi­ence enga­ge­ment

Data was a com­mon the­me in this year’s con­fe­rence. Adam Tho­mas, direc­tor at the Euro­pean Jour­na­lism Cent­re and Dani­el Fie­ne, edi­tor from Rhei­nish­ce Post in sepa­ra­te ses­si­ons dis­cus­sed data ana­ly­tics tools for the news­room. The goal of the­se tools, whe­ther deve­lo­ped in-hou­se or with third par­ties such as Crowd­Tang­le, is to pro­vi­de jour­na­lists with access to rich, real-time data, hel­ping them bet­ter under­stand the impact of sto­ries, and how audi­en­ces are inter­ac­ting with their jour­na­lism.

Some tools have been more suc­cess­ful than others with their adop­ti­on in the news­room as well as across com­mer­ci­al and pro­duct teams. Our key takea­ways:

  • Per­so­na­li­se pro­ducts and use data to sup­port dis­co­very
  • Impro­ve expe­ri­ments with data by being test-dri­ven and evi­dence-based
  • Focus the ent­i­re orga­ni­sa­ti­on on audi­ence enga­ge­ment, and using data to bring teams clo­ser to the reader and their needs
  • Break down silos and embed cul­tu­ral chan­ges with the trans­for­ma­ti­ve power of using data


In short, Vocer’s Inno­va­ti­on Day 2017 cen­te­red around data-dri­ven jour­na­lism. We enjoy­ed see­ing deba­tes around how to get readers to pay for news, and how this fits with the posi­ti­ve trend of an increa­sing num­ber of peop­le wil­ling to pay to read news in a digi­tal for­mat.

If it were up to us, next year we would like dig deeper into the fol­lo­wing are­as addres­sed in this year’s Reu­ters Digi­tal News Report:

  • Per­so­na­li­sa­ti­on and how this may influ­ence push noti­fi­ca­ti­ons. Mobi­le news noti­fi­ca­ti­ons have grown signi­fi­cant­ly in the last year, for examp­le by 8% points in the US. It is beco­m­ing an important new rou­te to con­tent, thus giving a new lea­se of life to news apps
  • Decli­ne in open soci­al net­works for news and the rise of clo­sed soci­al media plat­forms such as Whats­App for news. Cau­ses could be down to messa­ging apps being per­cei­ved as a.) more pri­va­te, and b.) tend not to fil­ter con­tent algo­rith­mi­cal­ly
    • In Ger­ma­ny, the use of Face­book for news has decli­ned by 2% points com­pa­red to 2016
    • Whats­App is now the third big­gest soci­al plat­form for news with 12%. It is second lar­gest for ages 35–44 with 15%, ahead of You­Tube
  • Voice activa­ted devices for news. Despi­te low pene­tra­ti­on at the moment, 50% of tho­se who use smart speakers use it for news. News­rooms would need to con­si­der what their brand might sound like (see Finan­ci­al Times colum­nist Lucy Kellaway’s views on Expe­ri­men­tal Amy)

Being data-dri­ven helps publishers enhan­ce audi­ence enga­ge­ment, and con­ti­nues to show gre­at pro­mi­se. Inno­va­ti­on is not slo­wing down. Start­ups like Ret­res­co have things that publishers need: talent with inti­ma­te know­ledge of emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies, fle­xi­bi­li­ty to fail fast, chan­ge cour­se, and sca­le at bre­akneck speed. This is why publishers should work with tech­no­lo­gy ven­dors to keep up and embrace chan­ge if they want to stay com­pe­ti­ti­ve.