MANSFIELD, Ohio – Journalists can unite behind at least one theme, they were told there would be no math -- or at least very little of it.
One can understand the angst. The financial math has been bad for the business of journalism, really bad, for a really long time. Collapsing ad revenue and shrinking newsrooms have led to a situation so bad in some areas that a term had to be invented to describe it: “news deserts.” Nowhere is this situation worse than in small to mid-sized local newsrooms.
Two companies in Mansfield, Ohio have invented a tool that fixes this problem, and it’s targeted at newsrooms that need it most.
Richland Source, a leader in local news innovation and Abundat, an artificial intelligence solutions company, have collaborated on an artificial intelligence project called Lede Ai that produces local sports coverage at scale. The two companies partnered with Scorestream, the world’s leader in fan-driven high school sports results to deliver the data that powers the writing. It’s an innovation that’s coming from the bottom-up, designed in a newsroom to fit its coverage needs.
Lede Ai writes and publishes high school sports stories at scale immediately after the games end. The project has eight months under its belt, providing statewide coverage of various Ohio high school sports for Richland Source. In addition, Lede Ai published in closed beta for seven news organizations across the nation.
“The stories we produce through Lede Ai are focused on what people are searching for in the minutes after a game ends, which is the result. We deliver a concise, readable summary faster than anyone else,” says Larry Phillips, Managing Editor of Richland Source. “It’s a search-based product that evolved out of the most basic question, ‘Who won that game?’”
Beta testing began in late August 2018. After six months Richland Source had covered more than 18,000 games from all over Ohio using Lede Ai. Those stories received more than 600,000 page views, 440,000 unique visitors, and had just a 33-percent bounce rate.
Some stories received 4,000 or more page views, largely due to organic social sharing from fans that were responding to the results, which Richland Source published before everyone in the market.
The results were achieved with no paid marketing nor social media promotion, according to project leadership.
The revenue strategy for local newsrooms that use Lede Ai has evolved into a three-act play.
Regional sponsorships of season-long coverage.
Programmatic advertising for out-of-market games.
Membership / subscription strategies centered on exclusive content and analysis.
“Each organization will approach the revenue question differently depending on their strengths and their needs, but we developed Lede Ai from the beginning to be a tool that served readers, newsrooms and revenue teams,” Richland Source President Jay Allred says.
Some markets, Abundat Founder / CEO Evan Ryan says, may be better suited to programmatic revenue strategies. Others may see opportunities for wide-ranging regional sponsorships. Smaller, more isolated markets will likely find that a combination serves them best.
“Our mission is to give local newsrooms superpowers,” Allred says, “Lede Ai lets local sports editors shift their outlook from scarcity to abundance. They can cover dozens or hundreds of games a night now at a fraction of the cost. That serves the reader. When the revenue teams catch up and bring the opportunity to sponsors, we believe the sky is the limit.
“Journalism identifies problems and ideally finds potential solutions. Lede Ai gave us the chance to turn the focus on ourselves. We think the future of update-based news is in products like Lede Ai.”