Is news written by robots the future?

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It was announced recently that the Press Association has won a grant to run a news service which will use computers to write localised news stories.

Alongside its partner, data-driven news start-up Urbs Media, PA won a £621,000 grant from Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI), which was set up to support innovation in European digital journalism.

The grant will see PA and Urbs Media create RADAR – Reporters And Data And Robots – to produce thousands of stories each month. These stories will mainly be regional and local stories to cope with the demand for consistent and fact-based insights in these communities.

This development, along with the increased usage of artificial intelligence in other sectors, will see many predicting the end of traditional journalism. In 10 years’ time will all the news we read be written by robots?

As you might expect, PA has insisted that human journalists will continue to play an important role in the creating of content. It claims that it sees RADAR as an opportunity to harness artificial intelligence and produce a greater volume of stories for a local audience that would not have previously been possible.

However, there is no doubt that journalists at national, and even more so regional, news outlets have increasingly stretched resources and are under pressure to produce greater volumes of online content for readers. I have often been told that ‘evergreen content’ is planned in 30 and 60 day advanced blocks by media outlets with topics chosen with SEO in mind rather than the news agenda of the day.

News outlets recognise that consumer demand is for 24-hour online rolling news rather than once-a-day print versions. Evidence of this can be seen with a decline in print readership and an increase in visitors to regional news websites.

Looking at our local papers in Newcastle as examples we can see how print circulation of the Evening Chronicle newspaper has declined in the past year to 25,056 (down 12% year-on-year) while at the same time daily visitors to the outlet’s website have grown significantly to 297,527 (a 25% year-on-year increase).

Many media outlets are also under increasing commercial scrutiny – for example, News Corp recently reported a $817m financial loss on the back of a fall in the value of its newspapers. In my opinion, moving towards automated news services or using robots would make financial sense for them.

Another question that immediately sprung to my mind was what about the role of PRs? Is it just a matter of time before I’m replaced by a robot or will this give us a more important role in shaping the news agenda? In my opinion, the role of robots will be quite limited, while they may be good at creating and duplicating mass content they will not be able to write engaging copy and longer feature articles or conduct interviews.

An opportunity exists for PRs to focus on our role and how we can provide quality content for news outlets. Journalists will continue to have stretched resources and need our input to create engaging copy.

While there is no doubt that journalism as we know it is evolving with the digital age, I think to predict that robots will shortly be taking over creation of all content is slightly premature. There is, however, no doubt that the media landscape will continue to change and digital channels will grow at the expense of traditional media platforms. I will also be interested to see if the quality of news that consumers are presented with will be affected.

I’ll end on a scary thought – in 50 years’ time how many of our jobs could be replaced by robots?


Further reading

Total print circulation in June 2017 (source ABC):

Number of daily unique browsers to regional news websites in June 2017 (source: ABC):


Post by Finlay Magowan, Media and PR Manager

Image by Kordite.

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