Automation a boon, not a threat: editors

Automation a boon, not a threat: editors

The introduction of automated technologies into the news business will allow for more comprehensive coverage and allow journalists more time for on-ground reporting, rather providing than a jobs threat, according to several senior news editors.

Australian Associated Press editor-in-chief Tony Gillies is currently talking to several automated technology service providers in the US about the possibility of AAP using their services. He said that the prevailing attitude that frames “robot” journalism as an imminent threat to human reporters was the result of ignorance, or a lack of confidence.

“I’m looking at computer-assisted journalism to help us create a suite of products that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to, and to produce that content at internet scale and at phenomenal speed,” Mr Gillies said.

The reality is that automated technologies will provide more time for journalists to work on more complicated and difficult stories, he said.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of that technology, it should be about being mindful of the pitfalls and being realistic about the opportunities that would come from it – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

“This isn’t about replacing human journalists, it’s about giving us more of an opportunity to take more news on, with the same number of staff.”

Automated technologies use a series of algorithms to produce stories from sets of data, such as finance or sports reports. Associated Press announced in June that it would begin contracting the production of corporate quarterly earnings stories to an automated technology company, Automated Insights.

Lou Ferrara, the vice-president and managing editor for sports, business, entertainment and digital news products at Associated Press, said that introducing automated reporting into the organisation had not resulted in a zero-sum game for jobs between humans and machines. There has been no reduction in staff as a direct result of AP’s move to use Automated Insights, he said.

“We have numerous services that we pay for and over the years some of those services I need less and some of those services I need more,” he said.

“For me, it was just a matter of moving money from a service that I previously paid for, in this case less money for sports statistical data, and I just moved that money to cover this – none of it involved somebody’s job.

“The people who spent a lot of time doing earnings reports before, we’re now shifting them more into other types of breaking news and we are able to put more energy and resources into meeting our customer’s demands in other areas of reporting.”

Reg Chua, executive editor, editorial operations, data and innovation at Thomson Reuters, said that the company had been using various types of automation, which allowed for greater speed and efficiency particularly for Reuters’ financial reporting.

“I think that, to some extent, I think that it is a bit of a failure of imagination to see automation technology simply replacing what humans do,” Mr Chua said.

“It’s true of all of us that when a new technology comes along, we tend to look at it in terms of what it can do that we are already doing. When electricity came along people looked at it as a substitute for a candle, rather than as a way to power a computer, which makes sense as computers weren’t around back then.

In a post on his blog, titled Beyond Human, Mr Chua discussed the idea of ‘cybernetic newsrooms’, where automation reporting tools work in collaboration with human reporters for most efficient and valuable journalistic outcome.

“Humans are better at producing human-type journalism, and God knows, we need much more of that. But is it the only thing we need, and what are machines better at producing that the world needs?” he writes.

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