In the most recent years, automated generation of news content has arrived in the editorial offices. Some people like to talk about ‘robot journalism’. While automation has conquered plenty of industries, the media appears to have fallen behind. If a robot is capable of performing surgery on human bodies, why could it not assist journalists in the newsrooms as well? This a comparison media and journalism researcher Carl-Gustav Lindén often makes during his lectures on the topic. In this blog post he will present a few key arguments as to why our newsrooms could benefit from automation.
Perhaps we should not call these systems robot journalists at all, as they do not include mechanical parts. In fact, they consist of a snippet of code or an algorithm creating news stories from structured – often numeric – data. The data might for instance originate in sensors detecting seismic activity, or somebody reporting sports results from a local football game.
While journalists are busy working with their more complex editorial tasks, a text generator can produce huge amounts of shorter texts for a wider audience.
“In the case of routine news of low value, I think journalists need to consider how we can reduce the amount of human labour by using smart machines that generate and distribute texts. This could enable journalists to concentrate on unique complicated stories that provide the most value to the audience, engaging content that people are willing to pay for,” Carl-Gustav Lindén says.
Automation in the newsrooms has existed for decades. Software has edited, managed, and distributed content.
Introducing news automation in an editorial office does not mean that journalists, or the human involvement, will be erased from journalism. Algorithms and NLG-systems are not black boxes, they are created by humans and therefore journalists need to get involved.
According to Lindén it is a matter of crucial editorial decisions on what machines should do, and algorithmic authority and accountability is not a minor issue. However, new technology is something journalists are used to so this should not be a problem.
“Automation in the newsrooms has existed for decades. Software has helped journalists with editing, managing, and distributing content. Think about Photoshop or complex CMS-systems. If you walk into a television studio you will find automation everywhere. This is only the next step.”
The automation of news production seems to fit in the media industry, where the commercial pressures and higher profit expectations have heavily increased over the past few years. News automation can also investigate areas, which we previously have not been able to cover. Essentially this means that algorithms and text generators can work alongside journalists and perform tasks that humans are incapable of doing.
“I see so many applications that I do not even know where to start. One very exciting opportunity is to use sensor data monitoring human activity, in say traffic or other movements of people,” Lindén says.
Carl-Gustav Lindén’s newest article Decades of Automation in the Newsroom was recently published in Digital Journalism.