“Automation enables journalists do things that ordinary people cannot do”

By Hanna Tuulonen

After two years of hard work and excellent results, the Immersive Automation research project received a worthy final seminar with quests from all over Europe. One of the seminar’s most expected quests was David Caswell, executive product manager of BBC News Labs and founder of Structured Stories.

BBC News Labs was founded in 2012 andin the past six years it has grown from a few part-time staff to about 20 team members including journalists, developers, scientists, developer-journalists and broadcast craft experts. According to Caswell, one of its – as well as the media future’s – main goals is to restore a privileged position for newsrooms.

In his presentation Caswell, said that the media field needs to find new artefacts for news that can restore and maintain a privileged position in a ‘many-to-many’ communications environment.

“One-to-many news artefacts, such as articles and programmes, cannot maintain a privileged position in a many-to-many communication environment because anyone can create them. We have to find and create something that is not easy to copy”, Caswell said at the seminar.

As a solution, Caswell presents several options. One of the most common yet interesting is personalisation. According to Caswell, it is efficient use of attention because it reduces cognitive friction.

Caswell also talked about how authority is moving from authorship to evidence and the need to shift a ‘trust me’ attitude to ‘see for yourself’ approach. In addition, newsrooms have to provide context on top of content.

“Content is abundant and cheap. Context is rare and valuable, and it can be assembled from networks of information such as connected data and integrated automation. It enables journalists do things that ordinary people cannot do”, Caswell explained.

At BBC News Lab, these ideas have been taken into use by providing many different kinds of news artefacts of the same story. The audience can, for example, choose to read a short or a long version of a particular story, or a watch a video instead

In addition to Caswell, two Nordic pioneers – editor Magnus Aabech from the Norwegian News Agency NTB and CEO Sören Karlsson from the United Robots from Sweden – talked in the seminar. In his presentation Aabech followed Caswell’s view of that one size does not fit all, illustrating this with the following picture.

On his turn, Sören Karlsson from the United Robots talked about what news automation means to journalists’ work in practise. He presented the following picture, where an automatic chatbot asks the team leader for comments after the match.

“Using this kind of tools gives us reliable, relevant and high quality data. It also increases the quality of the texts, gives a continuous flow of news and personalized distribution”, Karlsson said.

Besides Caswell, Aabech and Karlsson, also business developer Maija Paikkala from the Finnish news agency STT and head of Yle News Lab Jukka Niva from the Finnish public broadcasting company talked about how they are experimenting with new forms of structured journalism.

The seminar ended with the presentation of professor Hannu Toivonen who presented the University onHelsinki Department of Computer Science’s news project Embeddia, followed by apanel discussion moderated by PhD student Stefanie Sirén-Heikel. During the seminar, Immersive Automation research project’s WAN-IFRAreport was also presented by docent Carl-Gustav Lindén and PhD student Hanna Tuulonen.

The Immersive Automation research project’s final seminar was held in Helsinki at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki on the 28th of November 2018.

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