Forbes is building more AI tools for its reporters

This story and its headline have been updated.

Forbes is investing in tools to make its newsroom more bionic.

Over the summer, the business publisher, which just had its most profitable year in more than a decade, rolled out a new CMS, called Bertie, which recommends article topics for contributors based on their previous output, headlines based on the sentiment of their pieces and images too. It’s also testing a tool that writes rough versions of articles that contributors can simply polish up, rather than having to write a full story from scratch. The CMS is currently available to Forbes’ editorial staff and senior contributors in North America, and will be rolled out to all of its contributors in North America and Europe in the first quarter of 2019. The AI story-writing tool, which Forbes’s product team is experimenting with, does not have an immediate roll-out date.

With Bertie, a contributor who writes regularly about the automobile industry might open up the tool to find the makings of an article about Tesla, complete with links to relevant, related articles published both on Forbes and elsewhere. The tool will surface images that might improve the story as well. Bertie is part of a broader focus on using artificial intelligence to make publishing more efficient for Forbes staff, and to make it as easy as possible for visitors to consume multimedia content on Forbes’ sites, said Forbes Media’s new chief digital officer, Salah Zalatimo. “Anything we can do to make it easier and smarter to publish,” said Zalatimo, who previously served as Forbes’ svp of product and technology. “That’s the loyalty we bring [our contributors].”

Though contributor networks have fallen out of fashion for some publishers recently, Forbes continues to embrace its own network. About a year ago, it modified its contributor program so all of its members, some 2,500 people, are paid a minimum of $250 per month, with payments rising based on the number of loyal readers they accumulate. Those contributors are supervised by members of the Forbes editorial staff, which totals nearly 150, Forbes CEO Mike Federle said.

The contributors produce a majority of the nearly 300 pieces of content Forbes publishes per day. As such, their needs represent a priority for Forbes’s product team, which regularly invites top contributors into the office for meetings about how to better serve them. The AI tools in particular were developed partly to meet contributor needs, Zalatimo said.

The tools are not designed to produce something that a contributor or reporter would feel comfortable publishing as is. Instead, Zalatimo said, they are more like thought-starters, designed to get contributors’ creative juices flowing. That’s partly a function of artificial intelligence’s limitations, and partly because reporters and contributors would rather make the pieces their own.

Bertie adds Forbes to the list of publishers using artificial intelligence products to help drive editorial output. The Washington Post’s Heliograf tool, which generates short stories based on structured data about things like election results or Olympics events, has generated thousands of stories since it was introduced two years ago; Reuters’ Lynx Insights tool has been helping the business publisher crank out stories since March 2018, and the Associated Press is years into using AI to write stories on topics including company earnings and minor league sports.

These tools are all part of a broader trend of publishers trying to maintain high levels of editorial output while improving efficiency.

“Any sort of content creation-focused organization is pressured to make timely content and manage their costs,” said Ron Schmelzer, the principal analyst at Cognilytica, a market research firm focused on artificial intelligence. “This is smack-dab in the middle of that trend. We’re going to see more of these tools to help with some of this volume-based flow.”

Forbes, for its part, sees the benefits of its tool in other ways. The publisher declined to answer questions about whether the tool was enabling staffers and contributors to increase their output, but a spokesman said its site has doubled the number of loyal visitors — people who visit more than once per month — it attracts every month since rolling out the new CMS in July. Since that time, traffic has increased as well, hitting a 12-month high of 65 million monthly uniques in November 2018, according to Comscore.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Forbes’ article-writing tool is currently available to contributors.

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