Last Tuesday, the leading French newspaper Ouest-France celebrated the 10th anniversary of L’Edition du Soir. This digital-only evening edition has been co-created with Twipe back in 2013. Since its launch, it has generated over 1.85 billion page views. It has become one of the pillars in the digital transformation of one of the largest newspapers in France.
In the context of this celebration, Ouest-France organised a full-day inspiration and reflection event in its brand-new offices in Rennes. Various speakers, including our CEO Danny Lein, reflected on the past and shed light on the future.
Our three main takeaways from the event:
- Think big, start small: L’Edition du Soir was launched as an internal startup by a small, dedicated team.
- The role of journalism and strong news organisations will become even more critical as we will be flooded with fake news and drawn into an ocean of information overload.
- Artificial intelligence does not exist: Luc Julia, inventor of Siri and now leading innovation at Renault, made a solid case for using Augmented Intelligence.
L’Edition du Soir, from startup to essential pillar in the digital transformation of Ouest-France
When Fabrice Bazard joined Ouest-France in late 2012 as its new Chief Digital Officer, his primary mission was the digital transformation of this large traditional newspaper publisher. He pulled together a cross-functional team of journalists, graphic designers and technologists. A first brainstorm generated four ideas, of which a digital-only evening edition targeting the then up-and-coming iPad was retained as the best.
In the next phase, an international survey of similar initiatives was done. After seeing four possible vendors, Twipe was selected because of the earlier work done by launching DS Avond with De Standaard.
Under an extremely tight deadline of only two months, the first Edition du Soir was launched on November 5, 2013.
“When launching a new product, you shouldn’t be afraid. However, you need to accept it will not be perfect from the start. We decided that speed was very important. Consequently, we were not ready to publish a daily edition, and we started on a weekly frequency.”Edouard Reis-Carona, then appointed as Editor-In-Chief of L’Edition du Soir.
It was not an immediate success. The initial usage on the iPad was low. The pick-up and growth followed only a few years later when web and smartphone versions were launched next to the tablet version. The initial goal of selling separate subscriptions was abandoned, and the product was made available to existing subscribers and, on a freemium basis, also to registered users. Adding easy-to-play interactive puzzles and innovative formats generated significant engagement and habitual reading.
While adding new features and creating new products for their evening edition, Fabrice and the team behind L’Edition du Soir used real-time data and user feedback to build their products. A separate feedback page was added from the first edition, and many people provided spontaneous feedback, which was then used to inform their decisions. “Iterating fast by carefully listening to our readers has been a cornerstone of our success,” explains Fabrice Bazard. They learnt that readers want straightforward, high-quality content and products: good stories, images, and videos. Unnecessary bells and whistles distracted from the content.
Today, L’Edition du Soir reaches a monthly audience of approximately four million users. A group of superfans reads the evening edition every day. Subscribers who access L’Edition du Soir regularly show the lowest churn rates in the customer portfolio of Ouest-France. Therefore, the digital evening edition has become an essential pillar in the subscription growth and retention strategy of this leading French publisher.
The role of journalism will become even more important in a world of Generative AI
With the advent of Gen AI, we can expect people to be flooded with even more content from various sources than today. The trustworthiness of the content will become a lot more important, as it will be challenging to distinguish between synthetically generated and human-created content. With the rise of fake news and deepfakes, the role of journalists to go after the truth and report on facts will become increasingly important.
“Generative AI will help us do our jobs more efficiently and more effectively, it will help us spend more time doing the essential part of our job.”Maud Lévrier, Director of Information Systems at Ouest France.
Artificial Intelligence offers many opportunities but also comes with important threats. Policymakers are typically slow to understand the impact and much slower to initiate legislation. Media have a role in reporting correctly on the possibilities and risks and collaborating with think tanks like l’Institut Montaigne, represented yesterday by Milo Rignell.
“News organisations like Ouest France will only survive and thrive in this new world if they become essential in people’s lives”, explains David Sallinen, founder of Upgrade Media. Print newspapers have been a partner in life for generations of people. Building a similar position in the crowded digital space is an extra challenge. Automated personalisation of newsletters or other AI tools may be part of the solution.
“Artificial Intelligence does not exist. AI is not Terminator.”
In his provocative talk, Luc Julia, French authority in AI, best known as co-creator of Siri and author of the book “Artificial Intelligence Does Not Exist”, argues that much of what is referred to as AI is just advanced machine learning and statistics. He believes that the term “artificial intelligence” is often misused and misunderstood and that true artificial intelligence, which he defines as a system that can think and reason like a human, does not yet exist. Julia’s argument is that we currently have narrow AI systems that are effective and competent only in the area in which they have been trained. He prefers to use the term Augmented Intelligence as many of the current AI tools are very useful and complementary to expand our human competencies. But none of them have the ability of our human brain even closely.
He also believes there is a big opportunity for the media to explain the functioning of those tools better, allowing one to use them better. Every tool has its appropriate use. A hammer, for instance, can be appropriately used to hit a nail, which is its intended use. But it can also be used to smash someone on the head, which is a harmful and inappropriate use of the tool.
The point of the hammer and nail analogy is that if we only have one tool, we may be tempted to use it for everything, even if it is not the best tool for the job. This can lead to problems and inefficiencies. It is crucial to have a variety of tools, to be well-informed about their best use, and to choose the right tool for each task.
Artificial Intelligence is not comparable to our human intelligence abilities
Researcher and columnist Aurélie Jean joined the belief of Luc Julia and highlighted the importance of a proper understanding of the current state of the technology. There are three main types of intelligence:
- Analytical intelligence, typically measured by IQ, encompasses our ability to think critically, solve complex problems, and use reason, logic, and intuition to draw conclusions from given information.
- Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions.
- Finally, there is practical intelligence, often also called our common sense. It is often associated with making good decisions based on experience and observation rather than relying solely on book knowledge or analytical thinking.
What is generally called Artificial Intelligence only partially relates to Analytical Intelligence. It does not cover any of the other facets of intelligence. As a result, it is still very far away from matching our human intelligence capabilities.
As we wrap up this reflection on L’Edition du Soir’s ten years of success, we want to thank everyone involved in bringing this edition to life. Here’s to ten more years of informed, engaging, and intelligent journalism.