Robots on the Rise: Automation of the Journalism Industry

Christina Boodée 1 Comment

You’ve heard that Google uses automation technology to create cars that drive themselves, and we’ve told you that similar technology is used in the staffing industry to recruit job candidates without human input. But automation technology has entered yet another industry, and this one might surprise you: journalism.

Do you keep up with financial news? What about sports news? If you answered yes to either question, chances are high that you’ve already read a story written by a robot. Back in July 2014, the Associated Press began utilizing automation technology to turn data from public companies’ quarterly earnings into basic financial reports. A year later, automated journalists now generate about 3,000 financial reports every quarter—ten times as many reports as the AP previously produced—including reports for big-time companies such as Apple, Google and Coca-Cola.

The task of converting quarterly earnings into concise written reports that the average citizen can comprehend is a monotonous yet necessary part of business journalism. Philana Patterson, an assistant business editor at the AP, said that implementation of this technology is not taking jobs away from human journalists; rather, it gives reporters more time to devote to investigative journalism and in-depth stories. “That’s the goal, to write smarter pieces and more interesting stories,” Patterson said.

Automation technology is also being utilized to produce sports news. Sports coverage, like business journalism, is often data-driven and full of statistics. By implementing automation technology, news outlets are able to cover a much wider variety of events—like Division III college sports and Little League baseball—that they previously would not have had the manpower for.

So how does it work? The AP has partnered with and invested in an artificial intelligence company called Automated Insights which is based in Durham, North Carolina. Automated Insights produces software called Wordsmith that uses a technology known as algorithmic distribution that deciphers data and translates it into easily comprehensible written stories. The software uses natural language generators so that the wording seems ordinary, and the stories even adhere to the rules of the AP style guide. Not convinced? See if you can detect which texts have robot authors in this interactive by The New York Times.

According to Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen, there is another advantage of robot journalists: whereas traditional journalism pieces are written for the masses, automated journalism is able to produce custom stories for each reader based on his or her preferences. For instance, if human reporters were tasked with creating custom Fantasy Football post-game reports for each player, it would take hours. But robot journalists can do it in seconds. “We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” Allen said. “Instead of one story with a million page views, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.”

Automation of the journalism industry is appealing to CEOs for various reasons. First of all, it is fast and economical: industry-wide, automated journalists have been producing 4,000 stories or more a quarter while human reporters only produce about 300 stories. Additionally, robot journalists never exhibit unwanted human characteristics such as boredom, fatigue or tardiness.

With all of the great attributes of automated journalists, should traditional journalists fear for their jobs? Not necessarily. “Automation was never about replacing jobs,” AP vice president and managing editor Lou Ferrara said. “It has always been about how we can best use the resources we have in a rapidly changing landscape and how we harness technology to run the best journalism company in the world.”

The automated journalism sector continues to grow, and Automated Insights CEO said that his company is
projected to produce more than a billion stories in 2015. So next time you read the news, don’t be surprised if you can’t find a human byline.

What are your thoughts on automated journalism? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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