C&B Notes

A Technological ‘Nose for the News’

A new German technology firm named Content Fleet is mining data from the Internet to help publishers identify ‘tomorrow’s headlines’ that will be of greatest interest to readers.  In other words, a journalist’s nose for the news is being augmented (or perhaps eventually replaced) by technology that is counting mentions from places like social media pages and Twitter posts to anticipate and meet reader demand.

Sixteen hours before Whitney Houston was pronounced dead on Feb. 11, a startup in Hamburg noticed a surge in Web traffic about the American singer after she had been seen drunk and arguing in a Hollywood club.  The data analysis company, Content Fleet GmbH, knew Houston would dominate headlines the next day.

Content Fleet has created software that constantly monitors 5 million subjects on some 600,000 websites.  It registered a sharp increase in Google searches, Facebook mentions and Twitter posts about Houston.  After comparing the volume of traffic to previous peaks and checking how much coverage the story had already received, Content Fleet knew that articles on Houston would draw readers.

Since May, the company has delivered tips to publishers for $1,500 a month in each of 18 topic areas.  The company says the stories on its lists, updated as often as every minute, are likely to receive top rankings on Google searches, attracting readership — and ad income.

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“We are not going to cause the death of journalism,” said Mattias Protzmann, a 39-year-old former Spiegel TV-journalist who founded Content Fleet in 2010 with backing from the venture capital arms of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE) and media house Bertelsmann SE.  “Our program just provides a data-driven base for what people are interested in, showing editors what topics maximize reach.”

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“Our journalists were very skeptical when we introduced the tool, as they of course thought they know best what to write about,” said Christian Fichter, who runs the site.  “But it works.  It helped us nail subjects that generate traffic, which is the hard currency in our industry.”