Robots in the newsroom: how robots change journalism

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On: September 27, 2020
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With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, robots are entering the world of journalism. They do not longer function only as an aid for journalists but are also able to write news articles individually. What kind of consequences will this bring to both the reader and the journalist? And what are the pitfalls and opportunities for robot journalism?

Meet Quakebot

You should read this article carefully and think about it’s writing style and structure for a moment. Does it read naturally? Or do you notice something while reading? The text in the article is written by Quakebot (2020), a software robot that automatically writes articles based on data from the US geological survey (Chace, 2020). 

Emergence of robot journalism 

In the last 50 years, IT reconstructed the way newspaper companies provide news. The change from analog to digital newspapers changed the structure of the system (Kim & Kim, 2018). The internet caused an immense transition in how news is distributed, consumed, and produced. One of the most recent developments in journalism is regarding software-generated content. With news articles written automatically by a computer, journalism enters a new digital stage: robot journalism (Jung et al., 2017). 

Current type of articles 

As mentioned in the introduction, the LA times uses robots to automatically write articles about earthquakes using data from a US geological survey site. Forbes.com produces automated news articles from data sets and data from previous articles using artificial intelligence (Gani, 2018). The current articles written by robots often use the same type of data and deal with the same topics such as finance, sports games, and crime. What is worth noticing about robot journalism is the fact that it mostly involves objective data and that it is used to create news articles about facts and figures. The accuracy and speed of the news articles are its primary features and the depth of the story is more in the background (Kim & Kim, 2017). 

Screenshot LA QuakeBot Twitter

Consequences of robot journalism

The question that now must be asked is what the consequences of robot journalism are. What is the public attitude towards articles written by robots? And how about the future of journalists? To begin with the first question, there are almost no differences between the public’s perception of an article written by a journalist or a robot. In the study from Clerwall (2014) readers can not separate the human-written content from the robot-written content. The readers did show a slight preference for some of the features in the human-written text such as the text being pleasant to read and being clear. But features regarding objectivity and trustworthiness received more appreciation in the robot-written text. In a study from the Dutch van der Kaa and Krahmer (2014), the consumers thought the robot-written article was just as credible as the article written by journalists. So the readers have no difficulty in reading articles produced by robots, but how does the digitalization affect the journalists? The attitude of journalists towards robot journalism can be divided into three categories. The first type believes that robots will not be able to substitute human journalists. They think robots have too many limitations to function as full-fledged journalists. Considering the development of machine learning, they do think robots will outsmart human journalists in some fields. The second category includes journalists who see robots as possible threats. This group thinks robots are capable of damaging the quality of journalism and believe robots will cause a decrease in their status in society. The last type of journalist shows a positive attitude towards robot journalism. They do think that robots have their limitations but they focus on the opportunities robots can bring, like the development of more detailed news  (Kim & Kim, 2018). 

Opportunities 

Currently, the opinion of the second group seems unfounded. The role of robots in the newsroom is not to replace the journalists. In an article from White (2020) they mention that only a small part of the tasks of the journalist will be adopted by robots. Companies using AI to write articles state that robots will not eliminate jobs anytime soon, but are there to assist journalists in their work. The point that the quality of the articles is declining when using robots does not seem to be valid either. There is estimated that AI will give journalists 20% more time to spend on other tasks and to focus more on the quality of the content (Martin, 2019). Journalists will have more time to work on interviews, investigative journalism, and more in-depth stories. And robots are of course not able to write elaborate articles without the help of journalists. The journalists still check the facts, collect information, and contextualize the stories. Their job is about being creative, curious, and skeptical at all times. Robots will not be able to replace this position very soon (White, 2020). Besides, it will also bring opportunities for the reader. Algorithms can trace which topics the readers prefer using data of, for example, how many times a certain article is read and how long readers viewed the article. A robot can suggest which topics will score well based on previous articles (Miroshnichenko, 2018). AI can give the reader an even more personal experience when readers can change the tone of the articles. Readers can for example choose for a lively told story or for a version that is more focused on being informative (Staff, 2018). 

For now, the future of robot journalism seems quite modest and mostly focused on supporting journalists. Robots are not able to write complete in-depth stories without help and this does not seems to be changing very quickly. 

(This article was written by a human) 

References

Chace, C. (2020, August). The Impact of AI on Journalism. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/calumchace/2020/08/24/the-impact-of-ai-on-journalism/#349ba9fe2c46

Clerwall, C. (2014). Enter the Robot Journalist. Journalism Practice, 8(5), 519–531. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2014.883116

Gani, A. (2018). Could robots be the journalists of the future? the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/media/shortcuts/2014/mar/16/could-robots-be-journalist-of-future

Jung, J., Song, H., Kim, Y., Im, H., & Oh, S. (2017). Intrusion of software robots into journalism: The public’s and journalists’ perceptions of news written by algorithms and human journalists. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 291–298. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.022

Kim, D., & Kim, S. (2017). Newspaper companies’ determinants in adopting robot journalism. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 117, 184–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2016.12.002

Kim, D., & Kim, S. (2018). Newspaper journalists’ attitudes towards robot journalism. Telematics and Informatics, 35(2), 340-357.

Martin, N. (2019). Did A Robot Write This? How AI Is Impacting Journalism. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolemartin1/2019/02/08/did-a-robot-write-this-how-ai-is-impacting-journalism/#6fa4bd8e7795

Miroshnichenko, A. (2018). AI to Bypass Creativity. Will Robots Replace Journalists? (The Answer Is “Yes”). Information, 9(7), 183. https://doi.org/10.3390/info9070183

Quakebot. (2020, September). Magnitude 3.4 earthquake felt near Temescal Valley, Calif. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-21/earthquake-near-temescal-valley

Staff, W. (2018). Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter? WIRED. https://www.wired.com/2012/04/can-an-algorithm-write-a-better-news-story-than-a-human-reporter/

van der Kaa, H. A. J., & Krahmer, E. J. (2014). Journalist versus news consumer: The perceived credibility of machine written news. In Proceedings of the Computation+Journalism conference

White, P. (2020). How artificial intelligence can save journalism. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-artificial-intelligence-can-save-journalism-137544


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