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In automated journalism, also known as algorithmic journalism or robot journalism, news articles are generated by computer programs. Through artificial intelligence (AI) software, stories are produced automatically by computers rather than human reporters. These programs interpret, organize, and present data in human-readable ways. Typically, the process involves an algorithm that scans large amounts of provided data, selects from an assortment of pre-programmed article structures, orders key points, and inserts details such as names, places, amounts, rankings, statistics, and other figures. The output can also be customized to fit a certain voice, tone, or style.
Data science and AI companies such as Automated Insights, Narrative Science, and Yseop develop and provide these algorithms to news outlets. As of 2016, only a few media organizations have used automated journalism. Early adopters include news providers such as the Associated Press, Forbes, ProPublica, and The Los Angeles Times.
Due to the formulaic nature of automation, it is mainly used for stories based on statistics and numerical figures. Common topics include sports recaps, weather, financial reports, real estate analysis, and earnings reviews. StatSheet, an online platform covering college basketball, runs entirely on an automated program. The Associated Press began using automation to cover 10,000 minor baseball leagues games annually, using a program from Automated Insights and statistics from MLB Advanced Media. Outside of sports, the Associated Press also uses automation to produce stories on corporate earnings. In 2006, Thomson Reuters announced their switch to automation to generate financial news stories on its online news platform. More famously, an algorithm called Quakebot published a story about a 2014 California earthquake on The Los Angeles Times website within three minutes after the shaking has stopped.
Automated journalism is sometimes seen as an opportunity to free journalists from routine reporting, providing them with more time for complex tasks. It also allows efficiency and cost-cutting, alleviating some financial burden that many news organizations face. However, automated journalism is also perceived as a threat to the authorship and quality of news and the precarity of employment within the industry.
Robot reporters are built to produce large quantities of information at quicker speeds. The Associated Press announced that their use of automation has increased the volume of earnings reports from customers by more than ten times. With software from Automated Insights and data from other companies, they can produce 150 to 300-word articles in the same time it takes journalists to crunch numbers and prepare information. By automating routine stories and tasks, journalists are promised more time for complex jobs such as investigative reporting and in-depth analysis of events.
Automated journalism is cheaper because more content can be produced within less time. It also lowers labour costs for news organizations. Reduced human input means less expenses on wages or salaries, paid leaves, vacations, and employment insurance. Automation serves as a cost-cutting tool for news outlets struggling with tight budgets but still wish to maintain the scope and quality of their coverage.
In an automated story, there is often confusion about who should be credited as the author. Several participants of a study on algorithmic authorship attributed the credit to the programmer; others perceived the news organization as the author, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the work. There is also no way for the reader to verify whether an article was written by a robot or human, which raises issues of transparency.
Credibility and quality
There are concerns about the perceived credibility of automated news. Critics doubt if algorithms are "fair and accurate, free from subjectivity, error, or attempted influence." It is also remarked that machines do not replace human capabilities such as creativity, humour, and critical-thinking. Computers alone lack the ability to write stories with perspective, emotion, thorough analysis, and surprising observations.
Among the concerns about automation is the loss of employment for journalists. In the interest of saving costs, as mentioned previously, news organizations are inclined to cut staff when switching to cheaper, faster machines. In 2014, an annual census from The American Society of News Editors announced that the newspaper industry lost 3,800 full-time, professional editors. Falling by more than 10% within a year, this is the biggest drop since the industry cut over 10,000 jobs in 2007 and 2008.
The future of automated journalism can be seen as beneficial by some, however, others would argue that it could be detrimental to the industry as it removes the sense of objectivity. As stated above, in the benefits section, the costs and efficiency of robot journalism are present and proven, however, utilizing a system of automation may separate the audience from the article. This can happen because a human journalist writing on world issues may have their own personal writing style attached to the story, whereas, an article written using automation would result in the story being bland, and not having of a personality. All automated articles were written within this firm would have a style that is similar to each other and the sense of a journalist would be lost in this process.
The question regarding this issue is: what if these problems only exist with current technologies? In the 2020s, the industry may change and new technological advancements may have been made, which can implement and fix some of the issues currently associated with the thought of using robot journalism.
In a Nieman Reports article, it identifies whether or not machines will replace journalists and addresses many concerns around the concept of automated journalism practices. They discuss some of the benefits surrounding the concepts of automated journalism and how it can be beneficial to the industry, however, ultimately they support the idea that human journalists will stay around no matter how much technology changes. Their rationale is supported with the thought that the benefits of automation will never outweigh the perks of having a skilled journalist who is up to date with current technological advancements. Due to the journalism industry's reliance on technology, the industry itself must stay dynamic and shift with current trends. The professionals who work within this field must do the same as this field and can be competitive and over saturated due to the internet. As the internet has caused many shifts in the way this industry operates, it also opened the avenue for a citizen journalist to participate in the media much more frequently than before. Due to many people owning smartphones, with access to online databases and media sites, many people have taken on roles of amateur journalists. Overall this has benefited the industry from an efficiency perspective, however, it can be seen as hurting the professionals who work in the journalism field.
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