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Rise of the machines: Robot reporting and automated journalism

The massive amounts of layoffs in the journalism industry in the last few years have left many newsroom positions vacant and many reporters and editors are charged with taking on more work than ever. Enter automated journalism.

Computer programs and artificial intelligence are taking over the tasks that were once the work of journalists and sometimes making an actual human obsolete. If this sounds like futuristic malarkey, consider the following examples of how automation is making the live reporter extinct.

Weddings

The New York Times is one of a few media orgs who have taken advantage of semantic web technology to automate wedding announcements. Instead of a reporter writing each announcement by hand, readers can simply input information in an online form such as the bride and groom’s name, occupation, and more. The information is then used to create a wedding announcement, Mad Libs-style.

 

Sports

Sports writers should also hold on to their notebooks as new technology is in the works to produce sports stories based on various stats. If one team wins or loses, a computer can automatically generate a readable story, including what happened in the game and when based on input data. You can check out an example of how this works in this Business Week article and more information on automation in sports journalism here.

Finance

Financial news and analysis will also be impacted by automation and advanced technology. Programs like Infonic’s Sentiment software can analyze thousands of news stories and determine how a particular company is faring. The technology is pitched to financial traders, but is, in essence, the news affecting the news.

News design

A number of academics have proposed the idea of using algorithms to determine the layout of a newspaper or print publication, an idea encapsulated by this post by Steve Yelvington. Instead of a news designer laying out the paper or magazine, a computer examines the content of available stories and lays them out according to factors like length and keywords. The idea hasn’t caught on just yet as human-powered news judgment is still the preferred method of design. However, the idea of automated layouts isn’t so farfetched.

TV news

It’s not just the print journalists who are becoming obsolete. This Variety.com article examines Tribune Company’s experiment with anchor-free television. Instead of news anchors, voiceovers are heard as video clips and images are played. In the experimental model, there would be no anchor desk and no on-air correspondents. (The article is worth a read, if only for this quote: “We’re trying to get away from Barbie and Ken sitting behind a desk chit-chatting with each other with their nice teeth.”)

If you still like to see and hear people delivering the news, check out News at Seven’s news reports delivered by animated characters. The voices of the characters are also computer-generated:

 
While the traditional reporter isn’t going anywhere just yet, automation will continue to find its way into journalism. Is this a good or bad thing? On one hand it frees up journalists to do less menial tasks and focus on “big J” journalism. On the other hand, it makes news reporting less human and gives up lots of control to computers. What do you think?

 
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