Disruptive Innovation

Inside the final days of Borders’ bankruptcy

2 November 2016

From RetailDive:

When Mike Edwards stepped onto his flight from New York back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in July 2011, he was the still CEO of the second-largest bookstore chain in the U.S. But the 40-year-old retailer was crumbling fast beneath his feet.

Edwards was in New York that day to submit a plan of reorganization and refinancing for Borders Group Inc. to a bankruptcy judge. Since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2011, Edwards spent months courting investors, asking them to throw Borders’ sinking business a buoy of capital.

The deal was 90% done, Edwards thought in the days leading up to that flight. But at 5 p.m. the day before he was going to meet the judge, the CEO found out he would need to file an altogether different document: a plan for liquidation.

“It was at the last minute where [investors] backed out because they weren’t comfortable with the publishers’ support going forward — and they thought that would put the investment at risk, so they pulled the plug,” Edwards told Retail Dive in an interview about his last days as Borders’ CEO.

Up to that point, Edwards maintained optimism that the once family-owned, Michigan-grown bookshop would emerge from its decline into bankruptcy. Under the turnaround plan he was spearheading, the idea was that Borders would come out smaller yet profitable. Now, Edwards found himself coming back to Michigan empty-handed — unsure of what he would tell his waiting employees.

. . . .

At the turn of the century, Borders made a fateful move that looks especially bad in hindsight: The retailer struck a deal with Amazon to sell its books online, and it wasn’t too long afterward that the retailer began to struggle. In the mid 2000s, the company’s finances began to falter despite efforts to turn around the business, such as concept stores and a partnership with Starbucks. Borders lost $157.4 million in 2007 and put itself up for sale a year later.

Mike Edwards, a merchandising veteran with stints at Target and Lucy Activewear among others, first came to Borders in 2008. The retailer had already begun to shed hundreds of stores in its bid to stay afloat, and executives rotated in and out of the CEO position like a game of musical chairs.

Soon, it would be Edwards’ turn. On Jan. 26, 2010, Ron Marshall resigned as Borders Inc.’s CEO after only a year at the helm. The board of directors then tapped Edwards, an executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at the time, to temporarily take over the role.

Edwards became the company’s fourth CEO in five years.

. . . .

Amazon released its first Kindle e-reader in 2007 and it sold out within hours. Over the next few years, the trend grew and eventually culminated with the release of the iPad in 2010 — a device that was “petrifying” to Edwards and Borders’ future.

“The iPad, in a sense, is a Borders store in your hand,” he said. “You have music, you have video and you have books. And you have access to the largest selection in the world and you don’t have to walk to a bookstore.”

. . . .

Most of the decisions that led to the end of Borders were made long before Edwards’ plan to save the business. By the time he became CEO, the company had already spent years employing Amazon to sell its books online and had failed to seize on the e-book trend before it was too late.

. . . .

When Borders finally fell, Edwards said his “eyes were wide open” to what retailers need to do to avoid the pitfalls that led to the bookstore chain’s demise. If there’s just one lesson retailers should take away from Borders’ fall, it’s this: never underestimate a transformational trend.

“What I mean by that is you can be the best ice salesman in America until the refrigerator comes out,” Edwards said. “You can be driving your taxi one day and Uber knocks you out the next day. You can be in the hotel business and then Airbnb can surround you with 20 properties with a great size at a lower cost. I think you have to face the digital impact head on and not go through denial and don’t rely on past tactics to change the trajectory of the company because it doesn’t work anymore.”

The retail industry has evolved rapidly over the last decade thanks to mobile phones and the “looming Amazon effect,” which Edwards says is having a massive impact on all searchable product categories. Store traffic is under tremendous pressure, and for retailers who haven’t already, they need to downsize their store footprints and adopt a digital culture as quickly as possible. From experience, Edwards says crafting the right omnichannel experience for an over-stored traditional retailer is no easy task.

“A lot of retailers, if they are publicly traded, they can’t take that earnings hit, so they just do just enough to have an online presence, an omnichannel presence, develop marketplaces and try to turn their stores into marketplaces,” he said. “But it kind of goes beyond that because now the customer wants a digital relationship with their brands and that’s a very different thinking than the marketing in the past.”

Link to the rest at RetailDive and thanks to Ron for the tip.

More Wretched News for Newspapers as Advertising Woes Drive Anxiety

29 October 2016

From The New York Times:

The gloom began earlier this month, when Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, sent a memo to employees that said, in part, “every story should be as short as it needs to be.” The next week, William Lewis, the chief executive of Dow Jones, which owns The Journal, announced a newsroom review that he said would be “underpinned by a series of cost-management initiatives.”

Two days later, on Oct. 21, the anvil fell: Mr. Baker informed employees in another memo that The Journal was looking for a “substantial” number of them to take buyouts, and that layoffs were in the offing.

With print advertising continuing to drop precipitously, you would be hard-pressed to find a newsroom devoid of uncertainty anywhere in the country. Companies like Gannett have recently announced layoffs, and its stock price has plunged during a monthslong pursuit of the company that owns The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune. The New York Times recently went through buyouts and has acknowledged that its newsroom will get even smaller next year. And for journalists at The Wall Street Journal, anxiety in the last several weeks has been especially pronounced.

. . . .

Across the country, those working in the newspaper industry are fretting as the end of the year approaches. Driving much of the anxiety is a steep drop in print ad revenue, once the lifeblood for newspapers. Spending on newspaper advertising in the United States is projected to fall 11 percent this year, to about $12.5 billion, according to the Interpublic Group’s Magna.

. . . .

At the same time, digital advertising and other forms of revenue have been slow to pick up the slack, leading news companies, including The New York Times, The Guardian and Gannett, the owner of USA Today, to cut costs by downsizing.

“More and more publishers are coming to the recognition that there’s a new normal,” said Alan D. Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and writes about the media on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur. “And the new normal is not nearly as nice as the old normal was.”

. . . .

Across the industry, similar declines in print advertising coupled with the shift to digital and, increasingly, mobile, are driving newspaper companies to reconfigure their newsrooms.

. . . .

The Times has also announced its intent to make subscriptions the driving source of its revenue, an acknowledgment that newspaper advertising, both print and digital, can no longer be counted on to finance the company’s journalism on its own.

The New York Times Company, which will report its third-quarter earnings on Wednesday, said in August that its print ad revenue had fallen 14 percent in the second quarter. Digital advertising revenue dropped 7 percent.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG never likes to see people losing their jobs.

He included this item to demonstrate the great power of disruptive technology to affect some of the most established publishing institutions in the United States.

Book publishers are not immune to the same types of disruption. PG suggests that being contractually bound to such institutions under long-term contracts is a risky idea.

Newspapers Are Social Media

29 October 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Digitization exposes weak links. Then it breaks them. So much so that it makes you wonder what people were thinking in the first place. According to Bharat Anand, a professor at Harvard Business School, the weakest link is between producing content and everything else. Such connections “are at the heart of what shapes any digitally touched business today.” He looks as the content assumptions behind various industries and shows the ways in which, over time, they can become an obstacle to success.

To see why, consider the news. By the end of the 20th century, the master plan for a newspaper in a major metropolitan area was something like this. Step 1: Produce great journalism. Step 2: Become a trusted news source (e.g., by winning acclaim such as Pulitzers). Step 3: Use that reputation to get subscribers. Step 4: Offer the readers up to advertisers. Step 5: Market the weekend edition to nonsubscribers. And, finally, Step 6: Use the virtuous circle (readers beget advertisers beget more advertisers) to charge high ad prices. With so many steps between content and returns, this reads like the master plan of a particularly ambitious movie villain. It worked—until it didn’t.

It’s easy for investors or observers to rail against media executives for not seeing weak links in their plan. But when the business has always emphasized steps 1 and 2 (the creation of good “content”), it is “perfectly natural,” Mr. Anand writes, that the immediate reaction to a new set of market circumstances is to shore up the severed links. The problem, as Mr. Anand points out, is that, in the process of shoring up a collapsing business model, companies often fall into the “trap” of thinking that content is all that matters. To be sure, content is important. But what matters more is the connection between that content and the rest of the master plan.

Digital technologies break the plan somewhere between steps 3 and 4. In the case of newspapers, companies that made articles free on the internet stopped the subscriber flow; then other internet sites offered advertisers other ways to reach consumers. The firms that foresaw this disruption or were never relying on the same plan in the first place fared better.

. . . .

The Content Trap” is a book filled with stories of businesses, from music companies to magazine publishers, that missed connections and could never escape the narrow views that had brought them past success. But it is also filled with stories of those who made strategic choices to strengthen the links between content and returns in their new master plans. The author shows that “winning strategies come from recognizing the context you operate in, not the content you make. . . . They come from setting priorities and saying no, rather than following the herd.”

One company Mr. Anand praises for going its own way is the publisher Random House (now Penguin Random House). When other publishers were working with Apple to try to find ways to fight Amazon’s push for lower e-book pricing, CEO Markus Dohle kept Random House out of any dealings (and thus out of the later antitrust tangles, too). To understand why, look at the old master plan for book publishing: Steps 1, 2 and 3 (creating content and finding readers) follow the newspaper model except with the goal of getting books into stores. But digitization hit the industry right between steps 3 and 4 (monetizing content) by bypassing stores and then bypassing shelves. The industry focused on Steps 1 and 2, thinking that providing books that people wanted to read would get them the rest. Often, however, books bought were not books read. They were, in part, meant to be displayed in homes or on desks as a signal that the person might have read them. For e-books, the situation is different. That’s why the romance genre flourished under the digital onslaught. Random House, it turned out, had one of its biggest print successes of recent years when it acquired “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a book that people don’t claim to have read if they haven’t.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Paying to Have and Not to Hold

26 October 2016

From Slate:

Imagine, for a moment, that you want to buy The Complete Works of Primo Levi edited by talented translator Ann Goldstein. If you were to buy a new version of the hardcover collection on Amazon, the price is $58.40. If, however, you decided that rather than adorning your shelves with Levi, you wanted to download it to your e-reader, saving yourself paper and time, you would need to pay $59.49. It would cost you more not to physically own the books.

Of course, it’s just a difference of $1.09. But spend some time on Amazon and a trend becomes clear: Many (though certainly not all) digital versions cost more than their physical counterparts. The Blu-ray Disc of the Christmas classic Love, Actually costs a very reasonable $8.68, but to download and buy the HD version on Amazon Video costs $14.99. (To download and rent it costs $3.99, while a used version is only $2.37). Download Beyoncé’s Lemonade from Apple to your iPhone for $17.99, but get the CD on Amazon for just $15.76.

Certainly this is far from the case in every instance—there are lots of examples of the digital version being cheaper than the physical. But the list will only get longer, raising the question: Why are we increasingly paying more money to notactually have the thing we’re buying? Amazon and Apple acknowledged receipt of but did not respond to requests for comment.

. . . .

For one thing, we’ve reached a point at which it’s the digital version that won’t let us down. Mark Dean, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Columbia University, surmised in an email that while he could try to create “some clever behavioral econ explanation,” he thinks the real answer is that we are paying more to download because we are learning to trust the digital, easily available version. It used to be that to have the physical copy was to have reliability and consistency. But that isn’t true anymore, he said. The internet is now reliable, and with it Amazon and Netflix. In fact, they’re more durable than thephysical copy, as anyone who has scratched a CD or had a package get lost in the mail or misplaced a beloved book would likely agree.

. . . .

Physical formats, on the other hand, so quickly become outdated. Richard Wilks, anthropologist and co-director of Indiana University’s Food Institute, noted in a phone interview that millennials (of course it’s the millennials) have seen their parents lug VHS tapes to Goodwill. In other words, they have seen, and are currently seeing, the technologies with which they themselves grew up become obsolete. Why pay extra for the DVD when you know your next computer probably won’t have a DVD drive?

This is true, of course, true of movies and music, but not of books. What is true of all three, however, is that the digital version is often more trusted and more convenient, and that the digital is an accepted part of the way we live now.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Plummeting Newspaper Ad Revenue Sparks New Wave of Changes

21 October 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Newspapers are suffering an accelerating drop in print advertising, a market that already was under stress, forcing some publishers to consider significant cost cuts and dramatic changes to their print and digital products.

Global spending on newspaper print ads is expected to decline 8.7% to $52.6 billion in 2016, according to estimates from GroupM, the ad-buying firm owned by WPP PLC. That would be the biggest drop since the recession, when world-wide spending plummeted 13.7% in 2009.

That decline is hitting every major publisher, increasing pressure on them to boost digital-revenue streams even faster to make up for lost revenue and, in some cases, even reconsider the format of their print products and the types of content they publish.

. . . .

“We operate in a time of rapidly changing market conditions, especially in the world of print advertising,” Gerard Baker, editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, wrote Wednesday in a memo to employees. “These are days of accelerating change in the newspaper business.”

In light of the steep downturn, the Journal this week announced a coming revamp of its print editions that will include the consolidation of sections and other cost reductions, moves designed to make the print newspaper more sustainable for the long haul and help accelerate the newsroom’s digital transformation. Meanwhile, the Times has been working on a strategy to significantly boost digital revenue by 2020, including shifting more resources into digital initiatives and looking at ways to revamp things such as its Metro section.

“It’s definitely been a hard year for print in the first half,” said Meredith Kopit Levien, chief revenue officer at the New York Times.

. . . .

During the past decade, marketers have fled newspapers for a variety of reasons, including declining circulation, aging readership and the need to fund their digital initiatives.

Other factors more recently have come into play, including the growing use of data and analytics in the media-planning process. Moreover, advertisers aggressively are pushing into online video, and marketers in sectors such as retail, financial services and telecommunications are reducing print spending.

“There’s been acceleration in the downturn this year” in print advertising, said John Ridding, chief executive officer of the Financial Times. “That is partly structural towards digital and mobile and the major platforms, such as Facebook and Google.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Google Is Using Romance Novels To Build Artificial Intelligence

30 September 2016

From The Guardian:

When the writer Rebecca Forster first heard how Google was using her work, it felt like she was trapped in a science fiction novel.

“Is this any different than someone using one of my books to start a fire? I have no idea,” she says. “I have no idea what their objective is. Certainly it is not to bring me readers.”

After a 25-year writing career, during which she has published 29 novels ranging from contemporary romance to police procedurals, the first instalment of her Josie Bates series, Hostile Witness, has found a new reader: Google’s artificial intelligence.

“My imagination just didn’t go as far as it being used for something like this,” Forster says. “Perhaps that’s my failure.”

Forster’s thriller is just one of 11,000 novels that researchers including Oriol Vinyals and Andrew M Dai at Google Brain have been using to improve the technology giant’s conversational style. After feeding these books into a neural network, the system was able to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences. According to a Google spokesman – who didn’t want to be named – products such as the Google app will be “much more useful if they can capture the nuance of language better”.

. . . .

“We could have used many different sets of data for this kind of training, and we have used many different ones for different research projects,” he adds. “But in this case, it was particularly useful to have language that frequently repeated the same ideas, so the model could learn many ways to say the same thing – the language, phrasing and grammar in fiction books tends to be much more varied and rich than in most nonfiction books.”

The only problem is that they didn’t ask. The Google paper says that the novels used in this research were taken from “the Books Corpus”, citing a 2015 paper by Ryan Kiros and others which describes how the authors “collected a corpus of 11,038 books from the web”, describing them as “free books written by [as] yet unpublished authors”. It’s a collection that has been used by other researchers working in artificial intelligence and which is currently available for download in its entirety from the University of Toronto.

Forster says that she “always appreciates an interesting use of words”, but while Hostile Witness is available to download for free, no one asked her permission to use her novel as raw material to train a computer.

“Perhaps I’m still thinking in the old way, that a reader will read my book – it didn’t even occur to me that a machine could read my book. What I found curious was that these were referred to as ‘free books written by as yet unpublished authors’ because my state is very different,” she says.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

How Long Until a Robot Wins a Pulitzer?

27 September 2016

From Literary Hub:

The internet was originally built to withstand nuclear war. It’s decentralized, so even if part of its physical workings were destroyed, there are many other parts remaining, some run by wind or solar power, some in high-security bunkers. It’s not crazy to speculate that, in the case of an apocalypse, the internet might be one of the last standing traces of human technology. Sometimes I think it would be kind of funny if the last evidence of humanity was a Twitter bot, still tweeting into the void.

The first time I was contacted by a Twitter bot was a couple years ago, after Margaret Atwood replied to a tweet I’d tagged her in. Being @-ed by a user as high profile as Atwood must have put me on some whitelist for spambots; over the next few months I received tweets that ranged from exclamations with no context (“I aint got time for it tonight!”) to punctuational gibberish (“ˆ¯ „„ „ˆ ‚   · ˆ„  ¯‚ … …„ˆ ¨ „ „…… ¨´”). Some had snippets from tweets that other usersactual humanshad tagged me in. Some were accompanied by images, from a picture of the Kansas State Wildcats mascot to a Samsung ad.

. . . .

But the tweets were also fascinating. With algorithms that drew text and photos from other accounts, they’d become a smorgasbord of cultural artifacts. One bot had created a collage from photos of Taylor Swift’s perfume, the latest iPhone model, and a selfie. They repurposed song lyrics, inspirational quotes, passages from novels, and pleas for more followers. They were like fun house mirrors, reflecting our words and photos twisted out of context, without human reason to familiarize them.

* * * *

But not all robots just regurgitate nonsensesome write poetry.



in the
lines on the



inscribed in
the depths

That was written by Janus Node, a “poetic program,” and it’s certainly better than any of the poems I wrote in high school. Janus tweets too. Her pinned tweet, fittingly, is a quote from Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human that reads: “One can almost say that wherever there is happiness there is joy in nonsense.” I sent an email to the contact info I found on Janus Node’s website asking for more information about how she worked. Within an hour, I received a reply from Janus’s creator, Chris Westbury, a neuropsychologist and author. He explained that Janus (formerly known as “McPoet”) starts a poem with a sentence template and uses word list groups to fill them in. It sounds simple enough, but things can get complicated quickly. The rules that Janus uses to fill in the template call on other rules, which call on more rules, and so on and so forth. This method is called “rule-based computation,” and can lead to some pretty complex writing.

It’s also useful for more than poetry. When an earthquake hit Los Angeles in March of 2014, the LA Times was the first to report on it, just minutes after it happened. While human journalists were still re-shelving their fallen knickknacks, the algorithm “QuakeBot” was pulling data on the quake from the U.S. Geological Survey and plugging it into a template, ready to be published. Narrative Science has built an entire company around this idea, creating programs that “transform data into meaningful and insightful narratives people can simply read.”

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

The Guardian to make major cuts to U.S. news operation

16 September 2016

From Politico:

Executives from The Guardian said Thursday there will be cuts at the British news organization’s U.S. operation, announcing a 30 percent reduction in head count across the board.

In a meeting with newsroom staff, Guardian Media Group CEO David Pemsel called the changes a “course correction.” Eamonn Store, CEO of The Guardian’s U.S. operations, told staff that the changes were due in part to low ad sales and to revenue projections that are “not enough to maintain our current cost base.” Store said the company needs to make up for a revenue shortfall of $4.4 million over the next six months.

The company plans to offer buyouts to unionized editorial staff first and will move on to layoffs if necessary. Layoffs of business side staff will begin immediately. A source briefed on the plans said the culling would amount to a reduction of about 50 jobs across the 150-person organization. Cuts in the newsroom will be negotiated by the union that represents Guardian U.S. journalists.

In an email to staff that was sent shortly after this story was initially published, Pemsel and Guardian editor in chief Kath Viner blamed volatility in the U.S. and U.K. media industries, where publishers are struggling to achieve digital advertising growth as Facebook and Google suck up more and more of the market share.

“It is inevitable that such seismic shifts in the business model are adversely impacting our revenues despite the Guardian’s strong US brand recognition,” they wrote. “The full impact of these changes will bring Guardian US closer to its target of break even in 2017/18 and provide a clearer financial framework for Guardian US for the years up to 2021 and beyond. However, as in London, we will continue to take the necessary action to manage the cost base in a volatile market in order to protect Guardian journalism in perpetuity.”

. . . .

Guardian U.S. also has grappled with a series of leadership changes, as well as tumult back at the mothership in London, where executives have been reigning in costs and implementing cuts to make up for steep losses in recent years.

Link to the rest at Politico

We’re All Cord Cutters Now

8 September 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Does the internet pose a threat to established entertainment companies? Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang lead a class at Carnegie Mellon University in which a student recently put that question to a visiting executive. He pooh-poohed the idea: “The original players in this industry have been around for the last 100 years, and there’s a reason for that.” As co-heads of CMU’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Messrs. Smith and Telang aim to counter this line of thought, and in “Streaming, Sharing, Stealing” they do just that, explaining gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.

That such thinking still exists, at a time when Apple and Alphabet (that is, Google) are by far the world’s most valuable corporations, is testament to the power of self-delusion. Whether in music or movies or television or books, digital technology has given artists the tools to strike out on their own, enabled audiences to avoid paying for anything they don’t want to pay for and denied media companies the ability to control audience behavior. No longer can executives in New York or Los Angeles force music fans to buy an entire album instead of a single song; or movie buffs to line up at the box office for something they’d rather watch at home free; or television audiences to rush home and endure a barrage of ads in order to see their favorite shows. Remember NBC’s “Must See TV”? Not if you’re under 30.

The book opens with an emblematic story about “House of Cards,” the Netflix political drama that upended television, not just because it didn’t come from a conventional network or because the whole first season was released at once but because Netflix dispensed with the pilot process and put up $100 million to produce 26 episodes sight unseen. What looked from the outside like a stunt was a considered investment. Because Netflix has finely grained information about its subscribers—their likes, dislikes, viewing histories—the company can make determinations that television networks, which see audiences through a Nielsen lens that reduces viewers to demographic blobs, cannot.

Data gets you not just granularity but clarity. Do low-cost e-books cannibalize the sales of expensive hardcovers? No, it turns out that people who want one format were never likely to consume the other. What about piracy? Evidence suggests that it does indeed hurt music and video producers, though hardly as much as they claim. Efforts to fight piracy have been shown to cut down on illicit downloads and increase sales; so does a strategy of making more titles available legally. What doesn’t work is conducting business as usual.

Consider what happened when NBC decided to pull its shows from iTunes in a 2007 contract dispute: Not only did viewers fail to buy DVD box sets or migrate to NBC.com, as the network expected; many of them decamped for BitTorrent and started downloading pirated shows en masse—and they didn’t stop when NBC finally crawled back to iTunes nearly a year later. NBC thought it was playing hardball with Apple; in fact, it provoked its audience to learn how to pirate.

. . . .

The authors also note that, by making it easy for writers, musicians, and directors to work independently, digital technology has vastly increased the number of works available. Between 2000 and 2010, an explosion in self-publishing raised the number of new books issued per year to 3.1 million from 122,000. Predictably, the overwhelming majority of these titles went nowhere. But one that was self-published in 2011—E.L. James’s “50 Shades of Grey”—became the ultimate blockbuster, selling more than 100 million copies and spawning multiple sequels and a multi-billion-dollar movie franchise. And it’s not alone.

The authors’ point is not that the long tail is where the money is, though that can be the case. It’s that “long-tail business models,” being inherently digital, can succeed where others do not. Mass-media businesses have always depended on the economics of scarcity: experts picking a handful of likely winners to be produced with a professional sheen, released through a tightly controlled series of channels and supported by blowout ad campaigns. This, the authors make clear, is a strategy for the previous century.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Washington Post will use robots to write stories about the Rio Olympics

8 August 2016

From recode:

The Washington Post has a big team of journalists covering the Rio Olympics.

Also covering the games for the paper: Robots.

The Post is using homegrown software to automatically produce hundreds of real-time news reports about the Olympics. Starting tomorrow morning, those items will appear, without human intervention, on the Post’s website, as well as in outside channels like its Twitter account.

The idea is to use artificial intelligence to quickly create simple but useful reports on scores, medal counts and other data-centric news bits — so that the Post’s human journalists can work on more interesting and complex work, says Jeremy Gilbert, who heads up new digital projects for the paper.

“We’re not trying to replace reporters,” he said. “We’re trying to free them up.”

Gilbert and Sam Han, the paper’s head of data science, have a team of three engineers working full-time on Heliograf, the Post’s AI software. A few more product analysts are spending about half of their time on the project, and four or five newsroom staffers are also spending time shaping the software.

. . . .

In 2012, Gilbert said, some of the Post’s election coverage was up to 16 hours behind, as a handful of humans waded through returns.

The plan is to also use the same software to look for interesting data points, like trends in voting patterns across the country, that it can flag for human reporters to build upon.

And at some point, Gilbert says, the Post wants to be able to “inject” contributions from its AI into stories its flesh-and-blood journalists are creating. Ideally, readers won’t be able to tell who made what.

Link to the rest at recode

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