8 tips to guide introduction of robot journalism

News automation is making itself felt in the daily life of newsrooms and has proved it can aid journalism by taking over repetitive, time-consuming processes.

For many though the process is just beginning. What do you need to consider before taking the plunge?

by Cherilyn Ireton | March 22, 2019

In our new report News Automation: The rewards, risks and realities of ‘machine journalism’United Robots CEO Sören Karlsson offers some advice for newsroom leaders weighing up how to introduce robot journalism.

Support from the top

The editorial management team must engage in the project, show the editors that this is important, and that they believe in the project. In the Swedish newsrooms where implementation has been most successful, managers have been perfectly clear that this should be done, and argued for the project. This point applies to all change projects in an organisation.

“I have also seen the opposite, where top executives keep away and the poor news or sports manager has to take the responsibility, and the newsroom is able to sink the project.”

Engaging ad and marketing departments

Introducing automated content is an excellent opportunity for the newsroom to do business and product development together with other departments. Questions to ask are: Can we produce a brand new vertical site? A superb local offer? A new content category that attracts a particular group of advertisers? Content that would convert visitors to paying readers, such as the automated real estate texts produced by MittMedia?

Traditional journalistic virtues apply

You get local content, faster publication and a large number of texts. These qualities are considered strengths even when journalists write the news. In other words, automated content is good local content.

Use automatic texts as news tips

Data analysis is an important part of automated processes, and algorithms are much better equipped to find hidden relationships, outliers and so on, than people. Ensure that journalists and editors are alerted by automated systems when something interesting has happened, for example, when the most expensive house on the market is sold, or when a nobody scores a hat-trick in the 6th division.

Regard the texts as ready for publishing

If you want to add human creativity to a text,  you should be able to do so. When the texts are written well enough to be published directly, it should be done to maximise their potential.

Increase the volume and take advantage of the speed

The ability to produce very large amounts of texts in a short time is one of the great strengths of automation. Think about how your distribution systems and platforms can handle the vast amount of texts produced when automating, for example, all real estate sales or soccer games. Special sites, personalisation, local apps and push notifications are examples of different solutions.

Review the organisation

You do not necessarily need to reduce staff, but maybe review schedules and tasks. Questions to ask are: Do we need as many staff in the morning if the texts about all sports games are automatically written? Do we need as many, or the same type, of freelancers as we do now? Can we do anything other than routine reporting, which would add more value?

Think about the notion of news value

The news value of a print product that fits the audience, published once a day, can not be compared to the news value of a local digital flow that produces push notifications around the clock.

Over the past centuries, the structure of news and the work processes behind them haven’t changed much, and the news values and ways of presenting a news event have followed similar criteria. When the approach to writing and publishing changes,  these news criteria are put to the test. Instead of finding an angle that everyone finds interesting, the same news story can have several angles depending on who is reading the article.

This is an excerpt from the new report News Automation: The rewards, risks and realities of ‘machine journalism’ which can be downloaded free for WAN-IFRA members or purchased here.

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