Rise of the Machines: How Automated Journalism is Changing Newsrooms
Automated journalism has become an integral tool for many publishers, including Forbes, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.1
Automated journalism, also known as “robot journalism,” uses natural language generation algorithms powered by AI to convert data into narrative news stories, images, videos and data visualizations—all of which can be automatically created and distributed by automated journalism platforms. 2
Automated journalism has become the center of ethical debates as many experts believe it will lead to job loss and the distribution of incorrect or malicious content. However, the consensus is that automated journalism will not replace human journalism, but instead make human journalists more efficient. 3
“There are some computer programs that write newspaper articles, but typically they work on articles that wouldn’t be written by human reporters,” said Sarah Kessler, deputy director of Quartz at Work. “For a human with limited capacity, it makes more sense to focus on stories that seem particularly interesting to a wide group of people rather than try to cover every single earnings report or athletic event.” 4
While the ultimate implications of automated journalism remain to be seen, some publishers have already benefited from the emerging technology. 5
Here’s How Automated Journalism is Changing the Newsroom
Automated Journalism Reports and Writes Articles
Publications are leveraging AI to remove low-level, tedious tasks from journalists’ workloads.
Patch, a publishing network that operates local news sites in 1,277 U.S. communities, incorporated AI within its content management system to create and distribute articles based on existing frameworks. Its AI technology is now publishing 3,000 articles each week—generally repetitive work such as weather and financial reports. 6
“One of the things we are constantly searching for are efficiencies,” said Warren St. John, CEO of Patch. “We have a lot to cover and it’s a perpetual challenge for us. We’re running on our own steam, so anything we can do to free up our reporters from any busy work, we try to do.” 7
Additionally, Press Associated (PA), the United Kingdom’s leading news agency, recently brokered a deal with Urbs Media to generate more localized news reports for small towns and villages around the country. The automated platform, called RADAR, creates 30,000 additional localized news reports every month, which are distributed to hundreds of media outlets. 8
“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually,” said PA’s editor-in-chief Peter Clifton. “It is a fantastic step forward for PA.”9
Automated Journalism Recommends and Creates Multimedia
Unlike reports and articles, images used in publications are not created by robot journalists. Rather, machine algorithms recommend images based on contextual-relevancy and past engagement metrics. 10
For instance, Getty Images released Panels in 2018. Panels is an AI tool for publishers that uses customizable filters and a self-improving algorithm that learns how an editor selects Getty’s content, enabling it to better optimize results over time. 11 The tool aims to help journalists tell engaging stories while spending less time searching for multimedia.
“In today’s digital world, publishers are under constant pressure to tell the latest story and compete for consumer attention,” said Andrew Hamilton, senior vice president of data and insights at Getty. “At the same time, we know how important compelling imagery is to creating online engagement.” 12
Furthermore, artificial intelligence allows publishers to create videos for more evergreen articles with minimal human input. 13
Many publishers, including USA Today, have partnered with Wibbitz to produce videos that accompany their sports articles. The technology’s automatically created videos feature an article’s prominent text subjects and relevant photos or video clips.
By utilizing AI to automate video production, USA Today has developed over 1200 videos each month with an average of 13.2 million views per month. 14
Automated Journalism Creates and Distributes Interactive Data Visualizations
AI has also empowered publishers to create interactive data visualizations at a fraction of the time and cost. 15 Such visualizations enable publishers to achieve engagement rates that are four times higher than articles with ordinary images, though they’re typically much more challenging to produce. 16
One AI-powered solution by Opinary is an AI-powered product that “reads” articles to understand their subject, then generates interactive data visualizations and places them directly into articles. The Opinary data visualizations allow users to share their opinion on the topic of the article while also consolidating and sharing responses from other readers in real-time. 17
“The whole idea is to give readers and communities a voice within journalism, and to show a multitude of opinions and views on a topic in a simple way so that it’s easy for users to engage in a differentiated way,” said Opinary CEO Cornelius Grey. “It makes a real change in how the newsroom thinks about putting out new pieces.” 18
After using Opinary, publishers have seen a 30 percent increase in time-on-site, a 100 percent boost in sharing rates and engagement rates that are 18 percent higher than Instagram or Facebook. 19 This is comparable to Arkadium’s AI-powered product, InHabit, which creates and distributes interactive sports data visualizations at scale Notable metrics include a 100 percent increase in session duration, up to 35 percent click-through rates and a 37 percent increase in retention for our publishing partners. 20
While the industry continues to debate the long-term implications of AI in the newsroom, many publishers are already using the technology to their advantage. Regardless of the perception towards “robot journalists,” one thing is certain: They are here to stay, and publishers will continue to leverage the technology to their advantage however possible. 21
1. Belan, Ekaterina. “How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Publishers Thrive.” WoodWing Software, Woodwing, 9 Nov. 2017.
2. Miroshnichenko, Andrey. “AI to Bypass Creativity. Will Robots Replace Journalists? (The Answer Is ‘Yes’).” MDPI, 23 July 2018.
3. Haselhort, Paulina. “The Robots Are Coming! Ethical Implications of Robot Journalism.” Center for Digital Ethics & Policy, 2015.
4. Kramer, Melody. “Will Robots Automate Our Journalism Jobs? In Many Ways, They Already Have.” Poynter, 16 Nov. 2018.
5. Castellano, Orge. “The Future of Journalism: Will Robots Get It Right?” Medium, Medium, 9 May 2018.
6. Liffreing, Ilyse. “Patch Is Using AI to Write 3,000 Articles a Week.” Ad Age, 8 Mar. 2019, adage.com/article/digital/patch-ai-publish-3-000-articles-a-week/316914/.
8. “PA & Urbs Media Receive €706,000 Grant from Google for Automated News.” PA, 17 Sept. 2018.
10. “Getty Images Launches AI Tool to Transform Search for Media Publishers.” MarketWatch, 2 Aug. 2018.
11. Swant, Marty. “Getty Images Is Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Newsrooms Choose Better Photos.” Adweek, 2 Aug. 2018.
12. “Getty Images Launches AI Tool to Transform Search for Media Publishers.” Getty Images Press Room, 2018.
13. “5 Ways Automation Is Benefiting Digital Publishers.” Wibbitz, 17 May 2018.
14. “How Wibbitz Supports Video Production for over 50 of USA TODAY Sports Media Group’s Brands.” Wibbitz.
15. Blitz, Shelby. “How Machine Learning Improves Data Visualization.” Sisense, 6 Feb. 2019.
16. “Data Visualization: A Key to the Kingdom of Engagement.” EPublishing, 2015.
17. Bilton, Ricardo. “Opinary Is Building New Tools to Help News Orgs Use Polls to Inform Their Coverage.” Nieman Lab, 2018.
19. “Opinary.” Opinary, opinary.com/publishers/.
20. “InHabit – Interactive Data Visualizations at Scale.”
21. Saddul, Ashwin. “What AI Can Do for Publishers: Cutting through the Hype.” What’s New in Publishing, 27 July 2018.
22. Icon by Eucalyp from Flaticon.com. Licensed by Creative Commons.