The year ahead for automated journalism, by Nabd’s Shams Al-Attar

Robots will not be coming for the jobs of writers yet, but they can still produce a lot of content and free up humans for more nuanced articles, writes Nabd’s partnerships manager, Shams Al-Attar.

Humans love storytelling. We have developed intricate ways to express ourselves over the centuries, from cave paintings to the written word to journalism. Over the last few hundred years, we have seen journalism evolve in numerous ways, moving with the times through print, radio, broadcast, digital media and now automation.

Today, we see the rise of a new form of journalism, one that is changing and adapting according to the way users consume content. Sharing information is all about speed, especially given how social media is dominating our lives and the virality of content. In a lot of cases, we hear about current events from user-generated content before we hear about it from news channels. Not to mention the race between media outlets for who can go live with a breaking news story first. In order to keep up with the times and with the ways users are consuming content, journalism has evolved and adapted into a new era, one that uses automated journalism.

Automated journalism, or robot journalism, is when news articles are generated entirely through artificial intelligence. Through artificial intelligence, a computer program can interpret, organise and present data in a human-readable format. Within seconds of analysing data, artificial intelligence can generate a news article using standardised templates. So, quite simply, an entire news article can be produced automatically by a computer, rather than a human reporter.

Would it surprise you if I told you that since 2012, automated journalism has become more common and news giants such as The New York Post, Bloomberg and The Washington Post have been introducing automated journalism in their newsrooms. Through automation, a third of the content published by Bloomberg News in 2019 was done using automated technology. Automation allowed Bloomberg to produce news stories within seconds of the computer analysing any financial report. Associated Press went from publishing 300 quarterly reports on businesses to producing 4,000 quarterly reports, with the help of automation.

But, you may ask, why would news giants who have enough talented human resources want to use automated journalism? Because the media industry has come to an inflection point. Information today is not only about speed, but it is also about generating enough content to keep up in a world where there are thousands of pieces of content being shared every second.

Automation allows journalists to focus on bigger news stories that have higher values, on investigative reporting and high-quality stories, whilst artificial intelligence can focus on smaller stories like weather reports and financial reports. Automated journalism allows journalists to focus their brainpower on creating powerful content, whilst artificial intelligence carries out the routine work. It also allows news outlets to be able to publish more stories at a quicker speed, without increasing human resources. Quite simply, automation will supplement journalists and provide a helping hand for the media companies.

Automation in journalism has increased reader revenue for publishers, it has lowered inventory costs and it has rapidly expanded coverage in any topic on which automated content can be produced.

And with the rise of automation, we are seeing the rise of robot journalists. Jia Jia is a robot journalist that reported for a Chinese news agency and was able to conduct a live interview. Whilst she can hold a simple conversation and make certain facial expressions, she is limited to only responding to basic questions. It is safe to say that robot reporters will not be replacing human reporters, at least not in the next few years.

Media companies are turning to artificial intelligence as a way of delivering more personalised experiences and being able to produce more content efficiently. In 2022, we will see more newsrooms around the world using automation, and artificial intelligence will be seen as a critical aspect on the business side in helping media companies to attract and retain users. It will allow media companies to lower costs, whilst producing more news stories. Automated journalism will allow media companies to keep up with the virality of content. However, we still have a long way to go in terms of being completely reliant on automated journalism.

So is this the end near for our fellow human journalists? Definitely not. Robot journalists and automated journalism will share the job with human journalists. Whilst automation can produce a news article within seconds and whilst the idea of a robot reading the news to us may be fascinating, we as humans still require that special human connection. We need empathy and emotions when being told a news story. Something that Jia Jia the robot is not capable of offering.