The Rise of the Robot Reporter
As reporters and editors find themselves the victims of layoffs at digital publishers and traditional newspaper chains alike, journalism generated by machine is on the rise.
Roughly a third of the content published by Bloomberg News uses some form of automated technology. The system used by the company, Cyborg, is able to assist reporters in churning out thousands of articles on company earnings reports each quarter.
The program can dissect a financial report the moment it appears and spit out an immediate news story that includes the most pertinent facts and figures. And unlike business reporters, who find working on that kind of thing a snooze, it does so without complaint.
Untiring and accurate, Cyborg helps Bloomberg in its race against Reuters, its main rival in the field of quick-twitch business financial journalism, as well as giving it a fighting chance against a more recent player in the information race, hedge funds, which use artificial intelligence to serve their clients fresh facts.
“The financial markets are ahead of others in this,” said John Micklethwait, the editor in chief of Bloomberg.
In addition to covering company earnings for Bloomberg, robot reporters have been prolific producers of articles on minor league baseball for The Associated Press, high school football for The Washington Post and earthquakes for The Los Angeles Times.
Examples of machine-generated articles from The Associated Press:
TYSONS CORNER, Va. (AP) — MicroStrategy Inc. (MSTR) on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter net income of $3.3 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Jonathan Davis hit for the cycle, as the New Hampshire Fisher Cats topped the Portland Sea Dogs 10-3 on Tuesday.
Last week, The Guardian’s Australia edition published its first machine-assisted article, an account of annual political donations to the country’s political parties. And Forbes recently announced that it was testing a tool called Bertie to provide reporters with rough drafts and story templates.
As the use of artificial intelligence has become a part of the industry’s toolbox, journalism executives say it is not a threat to human employees. Rather, the idea is to allow journalists to spend more time on substantive work.
“The work of journalism is creative, it’s about curiosity, it’s about storytelling, it’s about digging and holding governments accountable, it’s critical thinking, it’s judgment — and that is where we want our journalists spending their energy,” said Lisa Gibbs, the director of news partnerships for The A.P.
The A.P. was an early adopter when it struck a deal in 2014 with Automated Insights, a technology company specializing in language generation software that produces billions of machine-generated stories a year.
In addition to leaning on the software to generate minor league and college game stories, The A.P., like Bloomberg, has used it to beef up its coverage of company earnings reports. Since joining forces with Automated Insights, The A.P. has gone from producing 300 articles on earnings reports per quarter to 3,700.
The Post has an in-house robot reporter called Heliograf, which demonstrated its usefulness with its coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and the 2016 elections. Last year, thanks to Heliograf, The Post won in the category of Excellence in Use of Bots at the annual Global Biggies Awards, which recognize accomplishments in the use of big data and artificial intelligence. (As if to make journalists jittery, the Biggies ceremony took place at Columbia University’s Pulitzer Hall.)
Jeremy Gilbert, the director of strategic initiatives at The Post, said the company also used A.I. to promote articles with a local orientation in topics like political races to readers in specific regions — a practice known as geo-targeting.
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