Journalism Technology

Robot-generated stories: The next wave in publishing?

The ongoing decline of newspaper readership since the digital revolution has led publishers to seek new alternatives to the publishing model which had worked so well before. One alternative being explored lately is “robot-generated” stories which simplify the publishing process and allow publishers to devote more time to the editorial process.

The Associated Press has been teasing the idea of robot-generated stories for some time, with support from Google’s Digital News initiative in the form of a $700,000 grant and a closed pilot of the programme launched a few months ago.

What are robot-generated stories?

“Robot generated stories” involve increasingly sophisticated Artifical Intelligence (AI) such as  Natural Language Generation software which processes information and transforms it into news copy by scanning data, selecting an article template from a range of preprogrammed options, then adding specific details, such as place names.

RADAR is the name of this programme developed by Press Association( PA) and Urbs Media to pioneer the idea of robot-generated stories. The project aims to create 30,000 localized stories a month from data using Natural Language Generation software to write them automatically.

To test the programme’s capability in real-world newsrooms, a closed pilot began at the end of November 2017, with multiple versions of four stories distributed in the first week, one of which was published by Express & Star. The pilot involved 35 regional titles from 14 publishing groups including Archant, Independent News and Media, Iliffe Media, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Midland News Association and Trinity Mirror.

Now, a three-month open trial is underway in which a 1,000 regional titles in the UK can sign up to receive computer-generated data-driven content from AP.

Speaking to the Guardian, PA’s editor-in-chief, Peter Clifton said the scheme aims to meet an “increasing demand for consistent, fact-based insights into local communities” for regional media outlets as well as independent publishers and hyperlocal sites and bloggers.

Benefits for publishers?

The advantages of AI reporting are clear. “Robots reporters” are built to produce large amounts of material in extremely short time, which allows publishers to devote time to more important and time-consuming aspects of the editorial process.

By automating routine stories and tasks, journalists and publishers can devote more time to complex jobs such as investigative reporting and in-depth analysis of events. The means more content can be produced in less time, saving time and resources, and redirecting them to more costly projects such as the investigative and watchdog cases.

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