New software for regional newspaper: too few people, too many stories

The "Rheinische Post" is getting an algorithm that tracks stories on social networks. Corporations use it as a shitstorm alarm.

Run through the net once and collect everything. Photo: kallejipp /

Until recently, Christian Lindner was the digital babo among regional newspaper makers. The editor-in-chief of Koblenz’s Rhein-Zeitung was long ridiculed for sometimes tweeting more than talking. He tweets a lot: from "editor-in-chief’s joys" to "editor-in-chief’s woes" to the "Hall of Fame" of headlines his people have created. On Wednesday, he posted Hall-of-Fame headline No. 2000; that alone is a testament to digital continuity. It’s all paid off: the remote Rhein-Zeitung is now considered an innovative media company. But now someone is stealing its thunder: Michael Brocker.

Brocker heads – a few kilometers downstream – the Rheinische Post. He, too, has discovered digital for himself. First, he brought in a tutor in Daniel Fiene, who co-invented the radio magazine "Was mit Medien" and falls for a new tech toy every few days. Then the regional newspaperman suddenly appeared in Texas at the "South by Southwest" digital festival. And now he, too, is launching his own digital project: The Rheinische Post is getting a "Listening Center."

With this facility, which is ultimately just software, Brocker wants to scour the Internet for new stories more systematically than any other editorial team in the country. "We’re too few people for too many relevant stories out there," says the editor-in-chief. He says his editorial team should "listen better to what people are interested in."

Of course, editorial departments have also looked at the web in recent years, many even with special social media editors. However, they always had to make sure that they had the relevant profiles on their screens. The new software, on the other hand, scans all entries that users – more or less consciously – post publicly on Twitter, Facebook and the like.

Early warning system for shitstorms

"The program recognizes, for example, when a piece of content is frequently shared in our region – for example, because the user has photographed a serious accident," explains RP editor Fiene, who now runs through the editorial team as "Chief Listening Officer." That this designation has now found its way into the RP is only logical, since the software, which Brocker licensed for several thousand euros, is used by corporations that need the system primarily as a "shitstorm alarm. For example, at Vodafone’s German headquarters. The digital radar will check in whenever a blogger complains about poor service, and this will also generate interest on the web.

RP editor-in-chief Brocker is planning a small revolution with the algorithm: Each of his editors is to get personal access and at least each department a personalized view. When he calls up the tool, he sees who is tweeting and facebooking about his newspaper and how, and can quickly join in, counter or applaud if necessary.

Local editors, on the other hand, mainly see contributions that go viral in front of their editorial offices, i.e. make the rounds – like on a digital marketplace. This works especially well when users allow social network apps to pick up their location. However, the editorial team also feeds the algorithm its own search terms and, in addition, a basic set of relevant profiles whose fan base the algorithm, in turn, is supposed to take into special consideration during its forays through the vastness of the Internet.

Brocker tells us that his new program can process 25,000 search queries per minute. "That’s how far technology has come," says the editor-in-chief. Emphasizes nonchalantly. "And just as we’re constantly checking the situation with the news agencies, we’re now just looking at the Web."

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