Problem solved: Local business was an underreported segment at Bergens Tidende, as reporters' time was focused on investigative journalism rather than breadth of reporting. With the Business bot automating company annual reports, the publisher can suddenly cover all industries. Bonus: the business coverage is a smash hit with subscribers.
"The Business bot imitates the whole spectrum of journalism – and on top of that it is hyperlocal as well as niche. Hyperlocal because you can read about the corner shop or the favourite restaurant in your street. Niche, because it sheds light on entire local industries, providing readers with new insights of things like profitability."
Jan Stian Vold, Project Lead
In summer of 2021, Bergens Tidende went live with automated coverage of the results of all Bergen companies' with a turnover of €300,000 or more (€500,000 for companies in the wider Vestlandet region). The Business bot turns annual reports (publicly available in Norway) into easy-to-understand summaries of the company's revenue, profit and profit before tax. The robot also includes information about the number of employees, CEO salary and dividends in the article.
Many subscribers read the business content every day
This business content is a massive success with subscribers and has frequently topped the most read lists since launch, according to Project Lead Jan Stian Vold at BT. "That’s really unheard of when it comes to automated content. 70 articles have been read by more than 10,000 subscribers, an outstandingly high number for an automated service in a publication the size of BT." The most read article, a story about a traditional roadhouse, reached 40,000 views. About 10,000 subscribers have visited the service daily. (For perspective, BT had 65,000 active digital subscribers daily at the turn of the year.) In total, two million page views were generated from July to December 2021.
The bot covers what staff doesn't have time for
Journalism is changing and a lot of stories local news titles used to cover don’t get attention. Logical and unavoidable, says Jan Stian, given the reduction in editorial staff in recent years. "The problem is that this leads to reduced content diversity. Automated journalism is a remedy to fix this, but more than that, it can provide subscribers with a completely unique new depth." During the corona crisis, BT was able to continuously document how companies in vulnerable industries were doing thanks to the Business bot. They also uncovered large local companies never mentioned in BT before, among them "several large cash cows."
The new business content is redefining local business journalism
A regional newspaper like BT is usually not staffed for niche journalism and hyperlocal content. The editorial staff tend to choose stories that are interesting and important to as many readers as possible. "This leaves society and readers with blind spots," Jan Stian points out. "The Business bot sheds light on these, which adds substantial value to our subscribers. Subscribers can now read about their favorite neighborhood restaurant, the shop on the corner – in addition to local investigative and explanatory journalism."
Trying to cover local business news to meet the demands of all niche interest reader groups has been beyond the capacity of the newsroom for years. "With the next level of content automation, the dynamic changes – to the benefit of subscribers," says Jan Stian.
More data = new, investigative journalism opportunities
The service builds up a unique database, which can lead to more investigative journalism. "We’ve already produced a massive investigative piece on women's representation in local top management. The journalistic value will increase over the years, as the aggregated data becomes even more deep and accurate. This in turn will increase the value for the subscribers," says Jan Stian Vold.