In this special Conversations episode we hear about the past, future and most importantly present of robot journalism. Automated journalism has been around for many years now, delivering value back to the parent newsrooms that use it effectively. AI tools allow newsrooms to tailor the output of the robots to fit their house style, to interview people for inclusion in the created article – and to allow the newsrooms’ human writers to spread their wings.
Cecilia Campbell of United Robots helps myth-bust some of the common fallacies about what robot journalism can – and can’t – do. From the integration of video or interactive features to what it allows the newsroom to concentrate on beyond rote data work. To help illustrate what is possible we’re also joined by Ard Boer, Product Manager for Sport at NDC Mediagroep, who tells us how their sports team is making the most of robot journalism.
Getting buy-in from the newsroom
Ard Boer: The most difficult part about getting your news organisation to use automated content is is explaining the concept to your colleagues. Most journalists, they’re not that tech savvy – at least not for a regional publisher like us.
One of the things that really helped here with this organisation is that I can tell everybody that we were now able to cover events that we would normally never be able to. Everybody will understand that for a really small football match with only 100 people attending or something, we will never send a freelancer out there. But we now are able to report on it, and then they understand.
The ROI from automated journalism
Cecilia Campbell: Of course, if you’re going to set up an internal department to build robots, it will be expensive. You have to look at this cost not as a one off – it’s a constant stream of news that you get every month of the year, which means that you can build a business on that content.
With MittMedia, it was part of the complete local paid content offering – and it actually started driving digital conversions. There’s a there’s a web publisher in Norway called Bergens Tidende, and they have built a whole vertical on their site about home sales. It’s entirely populated with the automatically generated content. With the readers and the ad revenue that they actually gain from that vertical it far outperforms the cost of the robot content. So it really depends on how you use it.
At the end of the day, it’s it’s not expensive for what it delivers – if you use it right.
Good types of data for robot journalism
Ard Boer: Sports is one of the types of news that has really good structured data, because there’s so much data collection around sports in terms of goal scores, matches, places where the matches took place, and it’s organised really well. So what people are used to right now is looking at league tables and results, lists and whatnot to discover what happened to the team they’re interested in.
What we can do with robot journalism is to make it easier for people, so they don’t have to go to the league table and find out, “Well they’re now ranked eighth… okay last week they were third, what happened?” Now we can do that for them in a nice, well-written article, say five to 10 sentences. That’s a convenience for our readers, which is really good.
Are robots stealing our jobs…!?
Cecilia Campbell: I think saying that robots steal journalists’ jobs is the wrong way around to look at it. Because it’s not about stealing jobs. It’s actually about news publishers improving their offer, and actually securing the business. If you can offer better journalism, obviously you have a better chance at a future.
I’m not going to say that there has never been a single freelancer who hasn’t lost a gig because of a robot… But for the majority of publishers that we work with, the robots are part of the strategy to grow the business and improve the business.
The workflow with added robots
Ard Boer: The most energy involved is in just checking the messages and the articles, and seeing if they need improvement. Because it’s used with AI technology, if there’s an error, if there’s a sentence not written really well or you want some word not used or used differently, you can put it in a feedback loop. And then the robot knows, ‘Oh, I need to do this differently the next time.’
That will never happen with a human – they will probably do it 10 more times! But actually training the robots to write the articles the way you really want, that’s where the effort goes in. And the rest – not always – but the rest is done without human intervention. You have to make sure that the connections are still working, but that’s a relatively small amount of time and effort, and is more of an effort from the digital department than it is from the newsroom.
This Conversations episode is sponsored by United Robots, the world’s leading Content-as-a-service solution for robot journalism. Learn more about how publishers work with United Robots to leverage robot content as a base to launch new sites, grow in new geographies, reach new audiences and drive new revenue over at unitedrobots.ai.