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Do 'robo hacks' spell the end for human journalists?

In the future, could most news stories be machine generated?

Would you care if a story you read in a newspaper or online was "written" by a machine rather than a stressed-out hack? Would you even be able to tell the difference? Welcome to the world of "robo journalism" - and it's coming faster than you think.

Squirrelled away at the Press Association's (PA) headquarters in London is a small team of journalists and software engineers. They're working on a computer system that can do the work of multiple human beings, picking out interesting local data trends - everything from crime statistics to how many babies are being born out of wedlock.

As part of a trial, the PA has begun emailing selected machine-generated stories, no more than several paragraphs or so in length, to local newspapers that might want to use such material. "We've just been emailing them samples of stories we've produced and they've been using a reasonable number of them," says Peter Clifton, editor-in-chief.

Sometimes human journalists will rewrite or add to the algorithms' copy, but quite often, he says, it is published verbatim. Automated stories about smoking during pregnancy, recycling rates, or cancelled operations have all found their way online and in print.

The Press Association's Peter Clifton says automation could help, not harm, journalists. This "robo-journalism" is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world's newsrooms, as publishers struggle to cope with dwindling newspaper circulations and the switch to online advertising. Mr Clifton hopes to be distributing 30,000 of these stories every month by the end of April. The project, called Radar - is a partnership with Urbs Media and is funded by a EUR706,000 (£620,000) grant from Google.

But how much of a journalist's workload can really be automated? And are jobs ultimately at risk? Mr Clifton points out that, at this stage, the system simply amplifies the work human journalists do, some of whom are involved in developing the system's output. The automated part is currently limited to trawling through the data, something that would take humans far longer to do.

In 2017, research revealed that thousands of stories a month are now being produced in European newsrooms with the help of algorithms. The survey, from Oxford University's Reuters Institute of Journalism, found that many publishers are using automation to release interesting data quickly - from election results to official figures on social issues. There are other uses, though. One agency in The Netherlands uses an algorithm to rewrite stories with simpler language, for a news wire aimed at children.

Source: BBC


Päivitetty/Updated: 30.01.2018

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