The growing trend toward news automation or what some call ‘robot journalism’ has understandably stirred up feelings that the ‘machines are taking over’. These feelings have only been magnified by the recent experiments in automation software coming from publishers like Bloomberg and The Associated Press. While change may be the only constant in life, this can be cold comfort to journalists who fear they’ll be replaced by robots.
Looking at the Bloomberg and AP automation model, these concerns have not materialized so far - if anything, automated software has simply helped journalists work more efficiently by taking over the most tedious, time-consuming tasks. We’d like to show you how robot co-workers can be more friend than foe, and make the newsroom an even more exciting place to work.
The capabilities of robotic newsroom colleagues
Automated journalism is mostly used for data analysis, especially in those cases when there are tons of data sources that need to be combed through quickly. Elections stats are a perfect example of how automation can swiftly ‘serve up’ information from different sources. As a journalist, spending countless hours compiling data is no fun. AP's former Vice President, Lou Ferrara, spearheaded the adoption of Automated Insights’ automation platform Wordsmith. He reassigned monotonous and repetitive work like compiling time-consuming earnings reports and digests, copying, pasting and emailing to automated software.
Another process that Ferrara says is ripe for automation in the newsroom is video. Publishers everywhere are finding it difficult to reach the scale of digital video that audiences demand, as most newsrooms do not have the time or resources needed to to create, edit and publish a video for every news story. Ferrara has stated that video-automated technology is on the horizon. Breaking news! The future is now. Platforms like Wibbitz run on Artificial Video Intelligence (AVI) and can handle an entire newsroom’s worth of video creation tasks in minutes.
For human hands (and brains) only
Robots can do an awful lot, but they can’t do everything. The missing link between data analysis and reaching the reader is storytelling. As long as people want to read the stories behind the data, there’ll be jobs for journalists. And the more machines are assigned to the more mundane newsroom tasks, the more time humans will have for writing quality stories.
The time freed up by automation will also give journalists more time to be part of the conversation. A robot co-worker, like Newswhip’s 'Spike', can monitor conversations on social media and alert the journalists of trending stories. Time can then be spent joining the chat and gaining the inside scoop on a topic. The more connected reporters can become with their audience, the better the potential to create engaging content.
Beautiful things happen when humans and robots work together
Bloomberg’s Editor-in-Chief, John Micklethwait, believes that:
“Done properly, automated journalism has the potential to make all our jobs more interesting”.
Robot co-workers should be seen more as assistants, and collaboration is the key in terms of assistive technology. A good story contains accurate data, but a great story provides the context that makes this data interesting. Offloading monotonous but crucial reporting tasks on robot co-workers helps journalists to pursue the passion of creative writing and storytelling. The publishing industry, like every other, is going digital - bringing with it heaps of big data. But without human interpretation, this data would be useless. Journalists should take advantage of these new data-crunching co-workers, and spend more time championing the human side of journalism.