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Newsmakers: Creating a “digital butler” with News UK

Mike Migliore

Not all news industry executives have a background like Mike Migliore. Before making his way into the business, he earned a master’s degree in musicology, focusing on 19th century Italian opera. These days, he uses his creative mind for a different purpose. As a senior business strategist at News UK, Mike’s work is at the nexus of digital transformation, product strategies and artificial intelligence. 

Over the past year and a half, this has translated into collaborative projects like JAMES, an AI “digital butler” that individualizes the way news is shared with News UK readers, on publications including The Times and The Sunday Times. Created in collaboration with Twipe and with the support of the Google News Initiative, JAMES has had impressive results, with 70% of readers clicking on suggested stories and a 49% decrease in subscription cancellations during the experiment. We spoke with Mike about his work and thoughts on the importance of integrating new technologies into the news industry.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

As Head of Customer Value, I use data to make sure that customers use our products, that they stay with us and ultimately spend more money with us over time. Metaphorically, I’m equal parts lecturer, traffic cop, orchestral conductor and cheerleader.

How did you start working in the news industry? 

I came to the U.K. to do my master’s in music at King’s College London, and I sort of fell into marketing. I got a job at News UK in 2013 and have been there ever since, working in a variety of digital marketing and commercial roles with our publications including The Times and The Sunday Times. Culturally, the company is full of smart, passionate people who are always looking for a new challenge or a new way of doing things, and I thrive in that sort of environment. 

How has technology changed the way readers interact with news?

Consumers expect brands to put them first, to put their needs and feedback before revenue. There is also a question of what counts as “news” these days. Consumers expect their own perception of news to fit into their lives, to elevate them, to keep them, in the case of The Times and The Sunday Times, not just informed but well informed. 

In many respects, our edition-based approach to publishing and our use of the newly launched JAMES are responses to these changes. We believe in considering deeply the impact of events, politics and current affairs on individuals’ lives, and our journalism reflects that. We publish the most considered stories four times a day instead of constantly updating minute by minute. In essence, we believe it’s better to be right rather than “right now.” That’s what led to the creation of JAMES. Using AI, we are able to anticipate readers’ needs and not only deliver the curated content that they want, but also determine when and how they want it. I look at the broader market and don’t see many other companies successfully doing that, so that’s something we are really proud of as an organization.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year? 

In the case of JAMES, that organizations the market might label as “legacy publishers” can collaborate and innovate. We have provided a better customer experience and created the opportunity for higher revenue without compromising on price or product, and what’s more, we did this collaboratively and used a novel technology. It’s a lesson that runs contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom that legacy publishers are declining and that we are not thinking outside the box. In our case, neither of those things is true. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken recently? 

Besides getting News aligned behind artificial intelligence? Ha—eating a ghost chili! In all seriousness, I think the greatest thing about working for a company like The Times, and, more broadly, a News Corp company, is the company’s ability to embrace innovation and change so effectively. But launching a new technology brings with it high expectations, so there was definitely a level of risk in doing that. I’m glad to see it all paid off.

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