Media Entrepreneurs: Echobox’s Antoine Amann on the role of AI in automating newsrooms and the importance of patience in entrepreneurship

Alan Soon
Alan Soon
Apr 24, 2017 · 6 min read

Antoine Amann founded Echobox to help newsrooms take the sting out of writing social posts, scheduling them and distributing them. The platform uses AI to create posts and automatically determine when to push it out based on historical and real-time data.

In this interview he talks about what AI can do in automating newsrooms, as well as his thoughts around entrepreneurship. He appears here as part of The Splice Newsroom’s profiles of media entrepreneurs reinventing the service of journalism. Follow him here on Medium.

Photo provided by Echobox

You started Echobox four years ago. What was the trend that convinced you that this was the right time to build such a tool?

Journalism plays a vital role in society, but journalists and publishers are under unprecedented pressure. Resources are scarce, trust in the news is being undermined and the progress of technology is unrelenting.

When I worked at the Financial Times, I got to see first-hand how publishers are trying to cope with these pressures. What we needed was a cost-effective service that could automate repetitive processes in a newsroom, like data analysis and the logistics of content distribution, so that journalists can focus on what they do best: find and report the news.

What was the itch you wanted to scratch by doing this?

Two problems struck me as things that technology can solve.

Firstly, there is too much data and too little useful analysis. All of the available analytics tools required a high level of technical expertise to use, and almost all of them were purely backward-looking. They would inundate the user with pretty graphs and intricate metrics, but none of them could actually do any analysis, which is the part that is hard and time-consuming.

Secondly, the social media platforms that have become so central to traffic generation — Facebook, above all — are not user-friendly enough for bulk users. Writing and scheduling share messages is time consuming and often a frustrating process that takes up time which could be used in more creative ways if there was one streamlined interface powered by intelligent automation.

Where do many newsrooms go wrong when distributing content?

There are a couple of challenges that we see again and again. The main one is that there is a lot of amazing content, but not all of it is distributed in an optimal way. With intelligent automation, publishers tend to post on social more frequently and, consequently, they see a substantial rise in readership. With a round-the-clock AI posting content, thousands of potential advertising dollars are unlocked.

The sheer amount of data we have access to also enables us to advise publishers how best to use features such as audience segmentation or A/B testing, and how to respond to breaking news in order to get the biggest audience. Many basic questions about how to use social media remain without a definitive answer because of the secrecy of the platforms. We now have access to so much data that we are in a position to give unprecedented evidence-backed advice on how to get the most out of social media.

We initially focused on giving actionable recommendations to users, but over time realized that intelligent automation was what the industry really needed.

How do you describe your service today? How has that mission evolved since you started it?

Echobox is an AI-driven, superhuman social media editor with an unrivaled understanding of its audience.

We initially focused on giving actionable recommendations to users, but over time realized that intelligent automation was what the industry really needed.

Today our AI goes beyond making recommendations. To save users even more time, it can take over the entire logistics of content distribution by automatically creating and posting material to share on social media. Social media optimization is a never-ending task and a major distraction for publishers, with frequent and obscure algorithm changes by social platforms requiring a constant adjustment of each publisher’s strategy for an ever-increasing number of social networks. Our AI has become sophisticated enough to overcome this problem on behalf of our clients.

What do you know about yourself today that you didn’t know when you started the business? What have you learned about yourself?

I realized that the most important thing about being an entrepreneur is to be passionate about the industry you’re in. In my case, I’m truly passionate about the news industry and the people working in it. This passion allows me to be persistent and always go the extra mile. I have always been passionate about the things I care about, but only founding Echobox taught me just how valuable this is.

What lessons do you wish you learned earlier in the process of being an entrepreneur?

Building a business is one of the hardest things there is, which people warned me about — but until you try it for yourself you neither fully understand how hard it is, nor have any idea how great the rewards are. Things also take time and you have to be patient. That is a difficult lesson to learn for entrepreneurs, who tend to want to get things done and see results. Learning strategic patience was key.

I could not have built Echobox without the experience of working in a newsroom. If you don’t have that experience, go talk to journalists before you do anything else.

What advice do you have for people looking at trying to solve newsroom problems through entrepreneurship?

Understand the extraordinary people you work with. Journalists are some of the smartest, most dedicated people I know. The news is not a commodity to them. Any disruption you seek to introduce has to have buy-in and credibility, and it must solve an actual problem. I could not have built Echobox without the experience of working in a newsroom. If you don’t have that experience, go talk to journalists before you do anything else.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?

Our team is our best asset. We use cutting-edge technology and we work with some of the most recognisable media brands in the world. So above all, we look for extremely smart and curious people who we think will fit into our team. Everyone at Echobox gets a high level of responsibility and independence, so we look for people who work hard to get the job done — even if it is something others think is impossible — and who are fun to hang out with when we take a break or go on one of our many team events.

What’s the most insightful question you ask when hiring new staff?

Our interviews tend to be informal conversations — we often talk about what people read and what are they passionate about. This helps us understand how the applicant thinks. Of course, for technical roles we get into the nitty-gritty of code and programming languages. And we throw some curveballs at everyone, to see how they react to unexpected situations. Unfortunately I can’t give away the details on those.

As a professional, what scares you about the future of the media space?

I think it’s safe to say that it has been an unsettling year for many people. Clearly, the media are under attack. Far too many journalists have gone to jail for doing their jobs. Far too many newsrooms have had to make painful cuts to their staff. Far too many people think that all news is fake news. As a society, we need the media to function properly. Without reliable information and open debate, democracy cannot work because we need journalists to hold those in power accountable.

Technological change has contributed to these problems, but ultimately I believe it will offer the solution as well. AI in particular will be an essential part of that, and if its power can be harnessed I remain optimistic that there is a bright future ahead.


This interview is part of a series of stories around the journey of entrepreneurial journalism and the different ideas that could help build sustainable models.

We want to showcase both the ideas and the courage that goes behind breaking new ground on the business of media. If you know of someone who should be interviewed here (or yourself), please drop me an email — alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com

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The Splice Newsroom: The business of media transformation.

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Alan Soon

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Alan Soon

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia.

The Splice Newsroom: The business of media transformation.

We’re no longer updating our page on Medium. Please head over to our site for more — http://www.thesplicenewsroom.com