Covid-19 has put great strain on publisher workflows and accelerated a number of existing trends as publishers transition to cloud-based solutions making greater use of AI. James Evelegh, editor at InPublishing, interviews Atex CEO Federico Marturano to find out more.

Q: What lessons should publishing management take from the Covid-19 crisis?

A: The current crisis has presented unprecedented challenges but it has also unlocked great opportunities, at least for those ready to tackle them. It taught us that nothing is impossible. We have seen organisational changes happening overnight, such as entire teams reorganised to work from remote locations and editorial tools moved to the cloud. These changes were deemed impossible or at least very difficult in the preceding twenty years. We’ve also learnt that digital transition in the newsroom – to build a more resilient and efficient workflow – shouldn’t be delayed any further.

Q: When you look at typical editorial and production workflows, where do you see the main areas of inefficiency?

A: Print production is the area that would benefit most from a more efficient workflow. Many still think that major changes are not possible, but print – like digital – should and can be automated while maintaining high quality. We have seen with our customers that have gone down this path that it is just a matter of willingness. Efficiency can also be improved by outsourcing non-strategic services. This is something we have done with large publishing groups to help them focus their efforts on more relevant strategies, like moving to revenue-generating paywall led digital-first workflows.

Q: In what ways can AI be utilised to improve workflow efficiency?

A: AI has a lot of potential for the publishing industry in three main areas: how news is analysed, created and distributed. Analysis of large amounts of data allows you to extract meaningful information in a matter of seconds. Automatic tagging of texts and images is a powerful tool to present high-level concepts.

When creating news stories, AI is a powerful tool that can support journalists through automatic format conversion, image cropping and blurring, automatic translation, up to the extreme of robot journalism – where stories are created automatically from data sets such as weather reports or sport results.

Finally, the way news is distributed can benefit highly from machine learning tools. We are already seeing AI at work in comment moderation, content recommendation and social media publishing. By creating dynamic paywalls based on user profiles, it can increase the conversion rate.

In general, we see that where AI can give an immediate benefit is in streamlining the day to day work of journalists, by taking away a lot of the mechanical work and letting them focus on the actual story.

Q: What are the common characteristics of a modern fit-for-purpose workflow solution?

A: It needs to be simple, tailored, cloud-based and integrated. Users of a workflow solution should focus on their job and not on the tool, so it has to be simple. It should provide easy access to the relevant information needed in a specific moment in time, filtering out unnecessary data and noise. It should also be tailored to each team’s needs, with common processes and tasks made even more automated and easy to access.

The benefits of a cloud-based solution are considerable: accessible anywhere, through a secure connection, from any device.

Finally, a unified workflow will allow you to manage all channels – including digital and print – from one single integrated environment, with great benefits in terms of efficiency and flexibility.

Q: Do you see any potential for publishers outsourcing more of their functions?

A: Yes, there is a lot that publishers can outsource to improve their competitiveness. For example, some technical and production tasks that aren’t in the strategic core competencies for a news publisher: first and second level support, systems maintenance, print preparation, print production, website development and maintenance.

Suppliers like Atex have collected experience and know-how over the years and can help publishers avoid distractions and focus their efforts on growth. Outsourcing can also be temporary, just to support transient organisational changes or unexpected events. For example, one of our customers has temporarily lost, due to Covid-19, some resources in the area of print preparation. So, we have been able to support them in the short term while their staff recover.

Q: How do you expect workflow systems to develop further over the next few years?

A: Systems will become leaner, faster, more flexible and increasingly open. We’ll see cloud-based solutions that can be implemented in days, retaining the flexibility and the customisability of large ‘enterprise’ solutions.

AI will naturally alleviate the burden of long and repetitive tasks, making systems easier and faster to use. Integrated reporting solutions will help not only in managing costs but in matching them with the financial results.

The Covid-19 emergency has shaken the world and required tactical changes to overcome it. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of forgetting what was clear enough at the end of 2019: news has to become a self-sustainable business and it’s the mission of companies like ours to help publishers achieve that.


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