Schibsted is creating new editorial formats — from messaging to personalized homepages

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Last year, the giant Scandinavian publisher Schibsted restructured its product team. It centralized its efforts, creating one unified product and technology group that worked across all its publications. The idea was that the product team would be able to work with individual publications to develop new products before scaling them out to the rest of the company.

Schibsted — which publishes newspapers such as Verdens Gang and Aftenposten in Norway and Aftonbladet in Sweden, along with a strong digital classifieds business — also created a Next Generation Publishing Products team to help develop new ways to tell stories and present news to readers.

“We want to build common product and common technology,” Espen Sundve, Schibsted’s VP of product management, told me. “Not just for the newsroom, but for the end user. We’re rebuilding parts of the plane while it’s in the air.”

Sundve spoke last week at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and he and I met after his talk to discuss Schibsted’s strategy in more detail.

He described how the team is working with Verdens Gang to develop a messaging-based news product and also working with Aftenposten to create automated personalizable homepages. The ultimate goal, Sundve said, is to enable all of Schibsted’s publications to use the platforms. “If they nail it, all the other companies will be on that other platform,” he said.

What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Sundve: Yeah, but it’s more in the actual newsrooms now. The same with Alexa, which is only in English. You want to test it, but there’s no really way to get anything besides qualitative data back on the performance. In some of these things, we should be really fast adopters of emerging and interesting technology as opposed to just when it starts to get some traction.
Lichterman: Is there anything else I should know about?

Sundve: This is not a reorganization that is forced upon a publisher. It’s a joint realization that if we join forces we can do more than by operating on our own. That also enables and makes it very easy for us to have integrated work between the newsroom, product, UX, data, and commercial.

My key worry when we started investing in a lot of data was that the newsroom [wouldn’t be involved]. They need to be part of it — otherwise, we have no competitive advantage.

Lichterman: The data needs to be useful to the newsroom.
Sundve: Or, like, what is interesting data to capture? What are the interesting editorial signals to capture. You can’t sit somewhere in a different building and think of those; if you do you’ll just think of the data Facebook captures, which is users, likes, and traffic.
Lichterman: What data points are you more interested in capturing?

Sundve: At the moment, we do very basic things. In the creation process, it’s getting the meta information around the story itself: tagging, what an image is conveying, what place, what’s the news value of the story, what’s the lifetime of the story.

My dream here — and this is far from reality — but take VG as an example. Every day at 10:45, the editor-in-chief goes down to the newsroom. The whole team, not just the newsroom, the whole organization, gathers for 15 minutes of “we’re great at this,” “we’re bad at this,” and these types of things. Those are amazing signals, right? The guy stands there and says: “We don’t portray women like this, this isn’t who we are.” There are a lot of these editorial aspects that we could start to capture.

Lichterman: So more qualitative things that you’re then able to quantify?
Sundve: I want to make sure over time that we’re able to quantify a lot of those things, so that when we do automation and personalization, we infuse the editorial signals in a very sophisticated way.
Screenshot of Sundve from this YouTube video.

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