Credit: Mousetrap Media / Frank Noon

Dmitry Shishkin is perhaps best known for his two decades at the BBC, where he spearheaded a user needs model strategy to better align content to audiences' wants and needs.

Since then, the model has been replicated and adapted by other organisations. Shishkin himself moved on to travel media startup Culture Trip with the same ambitions, veered into media consultancy where the user needs model was later updated and refined, and as of January this year, was appointed the CEO of Swiss media group Ringer Media International.

So much has the user needs trend caught on that it will be covered in the upcoming Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the annual, global study of digital news trends.

Shishkin revealed this in a keynote speech at Newsrewired last week (22 May 2024), where he spoke more about his grand plans in the hot seat at Ringer Media International, which is aligned strategically with Ringer Media Switzerland.

Ringer owns a leading title in five Central and Eastern European countries: Blic (Serbia), Aktuality.sk (Slovakia), Onet (Poland, 50-50 joint owned with Axel Springer), Blik (Hungary) and Libertatea (Romania). There's also a range of top Pulse titles in countries across Africa.

Shishkin's job is to cement these titles' dominance, whilst growing their other brands jostling for top spot in their regions. How? Through integrating a group-wide, AI-assisted user needs strategy.

The user needs model

There are eight user needs total, and newsrooms usually overproduce one of these - "update me" articles - underserving audiences craving the other seven. User needs that overscore in engagement metrics, despite lower article counts, are considered underserved.

Read more: New playbook to help publishers boost content strategy

Dmitry Shishkin, Ringer Media International

Overproduced and underserved user needs on the smartocto analytics dashboard

For instance, early user needs analysis indicates Serbia's Blic has keen politics readers. The "divert me" user needs are rarely commissioned, yet are some of the best-ranked stories. Not to be confused, Hungary's Blikk has lots of general news readers, but "connect me" stories are missed opportunities.

Slovakia's Aktuality readers love economy news, but do not get enough "inspire me" content given the demand for it. Go a step deeper, and what they really want to know about is sustainable cities and their role in making that possible, ergo "help me" content.

A user needs journey begins, typically, with backdating and tagging six months' worth of user needs in order to gauge what audiences gravitate towards. Traditionally, that is a big, manual task. But Shishkin says that AI has come a long way in the last two years, and although not perfect, can now automate the process, making it easier for newsrooms to get started.

Ringier will be introducing an AI virtual editorial assistant over the summer to automatically identify user needs of stories, make recommendations (to headlines, copy and metadata) and story-specific tips on how to follow up an article with a new user need in mind.

AI is a large focus of his new role; acquiring and creating the tech (though his preference is on the former), building daily habits, leveraging it to make use of archived content, and trying to communicate to audiences how it can help in their lives.

But cautious not to get carried away with the tech, he urges newsrooms to prioritise applications for AI that help them get closer to their audience and differentiate from their competitors.

"I am expecting my AI co-pilot to help all journalists to come to work and instead of reading planning notes, they already will be looking at some really interesting suggestions based on AI that will have crunched the numbers for you - and it's really easy," he says.

"It would be really, really unhelpful to even think about where AI will take us in five years' time, because let's just get our house in order right now."

Ringer Media International aligns its strategies with Ringer Media Switzerland

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