How the industry feels about robo-journalists

Back in 2015 I covered an interesting study that hoped to explore how readers feel about their newspaper stories being generated by a machine.

Interestingly, our preference for automation seemed to differ depending on the topic of the article.  Readers preferred the robot when the article was about finance, but the human when the topic was healthcare.

“It seems that we might not be as comfortable with robots delivering news related to health,” the authors say. “We suspect that this was because of an ‘eeriness’ or a creepy feeling the participants felt, and our results backed this up.”

How does the industry feel about them though?  That was the question posed by a recent study that aimed to examine how journalists and editors feel about their robotic ‘peers’.

Our robotic peers

The paper revealed that whilst most journalists had a rather dim view of their robotic peers, there are still plans to further the roll-out of robo-journalists in future.

The research saw a number of leading journalists, editors and executives from a range of publications interviewed.  The participants were also given hands-on experience with automated writing software.

The feedback was that the heavy reliance on data by such software resulted in a lack of contextual understanding, with the complexity and creativity of traditional reporting thus missing.  What’s more, the story template used by most packages created a rigid straitjacket that often limited the ability to tell an effective story.

Signs of progress

Despite these apparent flaws however, the participants did nonetheless believe that automated systems had some potential, not least in reducing the cost and increasing the speed of certain aspects of reporting.  What’s more, it could also allow publications to cover a wider range of stories than they have the workforce to cover at the moment.

As such, it was seen by the industry as something that could both support the industry, but also threaten it.  For instance, some felt that automated fact checking could help to ensure the accuracy of stories.  Others however, felt that the sheer volume of content possible to create would make it easier to introduce bias and follow agendas.

“The increased volume of news resulting from automation may”, the authors say, “make it more difficult to navigate a world already saturated with information and actually increase the need for the very human skills that good journalists embody—news judgement, curiosity, and skepticism—in order that we can all continue to be informed, succinctly, comprehensively, and accurately, about the world around us.”

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