How appropriate is it to let data make editorial calls?

How appropriate is it to let data make editorial calls?

There isn't a flaw in policy, process or performance that Big Data can't or won't correct.

By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's desk)

Published: Sat 28 Sep 2019, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 29 Sep 2019, 5:38 PM

If I had a dirham for every time I heard someone say 'data is the new oil,' I'd be rich - and retired. Data is supposed to be that magic potion which, used effectively, will cure all our ills - whether strategic, tactical or operational. There isn't a flaw in policy, process or performance that Big Data can't or won't correct. From FMCG to pharma, healthcare to hospitality, food to financial services, and mining to media, there isn't an industry that doesn't stand to benefit from jumping on the data springboard to get back on the horse that may have previously bucked it - and ride into the sunset.
Multibillion-dollar multinationals are already leveraging the power of data to study the consumption patterns of their consumers and predict future buying behaviour with a view to produce, stock and deliver products just when they're needed. If you order your grocery from Souq (now Amazon), for instance, you'd know that it is aware that the jar of coffee or jam that you ordered three weeks ago is about to run out. It helps you, of course, when an online grocer prompts items 'based on your past purchases', but the analytics working behind-the-scenes help the retailer move enough of the coffee or jam jars to their Dubai or Abu Dhabi warehouse to cater to you and me even before we've clicked 'Buy Now'. So that when we do make that purchase, we can expect 'same day' or 'next day' delivery. That's data analytics at work for you.
How appropriate, however, would it be to let data drive decisions that impact things that are far more significant than our weekly grocery list? Should algorithm-powered automated bots, for instance, decide the editorial content and hierarchy of a news publication? It isn't that journalism doesn't need data or can do without it. Not at all. Today's newsroom is equipped with apps and accessories that give journalists and editors an unprecedented level of information and insight into the audience's psyche. It was never easier to identify traffic-generating themes and sources and, therefore, create more articles on such topics to keep the audience engaged. Analytics and reporting tools help us immensely at the Khaleej Times newsroom in determining the audience's preferences, boosting engagement and promoting such news and information on a plethora of platforms, both digital and in print.
But that is - and will remain - just one part of what a media organisation does. For, if we were to only track the most popular trending topics and dole out more of the same, we'd be belittling the media's primary role, which is to shape public opinion. It remains our responsibility to highlight the wrongs plaguing our society and spell out the truth, however unpalatable that truth may be. An algorithm may not rule in the favour of running a series of articles on, say, climate change, but it is the media's obligation to lay bare the stark facts and stats regarding global warming and its impact on the planet.
At Khaleej Times, that is precisely what we're up to - using actionable analytics to enhance engagement without compromising editorial priorities or prerogatives. Our pursuit of page views isn't going to stop us from performing our fundamental duty towards you, the audience, and we won't let the popular eclipse the legitimate. Even as we increasingly use the apps, analytics and apparatuses at our disposal to create content that interests the public, we'll never shy away from our duty to create content that is in public interest.

More news from OPINION