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Automated News Reporting, Courtesy of Google

Robot reporter thinking.

The Google Digital News Initiative recently committed more than $800,000 (£622,000) to The Press Association (PA) for the creation of an automated news story writer. Called the RADAR (Reporters And Data And Robots), the software will be able to write more than 30,000 news stories per month. The Press Association has brought on board Urbs Media, a news startup based in the United Kingdom, to help create the software.

This gives a bias skewed towards urban centers, and helps create an echo chamber for those who are in urban areas.

The aim of the software would not be to replace the job of writers still writing, but to augment the number of articles produced due to the decrease in the number of community publications. With the decline of local newspapers, there are a lot of regional and local stories which are not being written, and are no longer picked up by the national papers.

A BBC reported was quick to allay fears that the software will take the place of human writers. Journalists will be responsible for the curation and editing of the stories, as well as help with the fact-checking. With the proliferation of “fake news”, human sorting and curation would help keep these out of the news feed.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but RADAR allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually,” PA editor Pete Clifton was quoted in the article.

Another potential problem inherent in automated news collation and writing is that there is going to be a shortage or outright lack of elegance of language. News writing has always put nuance into the use of words, putting more weight and meaning in the short stream afforded by the format. With humans on boards, the flair for language and creativity is seen on the page, and the resulting quality of output can be maintained.

Interestingly, the Associated Press has a similar program in place. The stories they produce are mostly financial and small niche sports articles, with the tagline: “This story was generated by Automated Insights”. Using Google search for the tagline reveals a wide range of stories.

Writing Stories That Need to be Told

A stack of newspapers

The internet has become a big source of news for a lot of people. The news can now be read through a user’s phone, and can come from a world of sources. This has prompted small regional and local newspapers to shut down. Along with these closed newspapers are countless news writers and reporters who have been forced out of their jobs. A direct effect from the loss of these papers is that small stories about people and local events which were already obscure before, have now completely disappeared. They are now seldom referenced even as special interest stories.

National circulation newspapers usually pick up these stories from the regional and local papers, as they also have their own page for such stories. However, with the dwindling sources, there are not enough interesting stories to be published. A paradox ensues where stories center around national or global events, skirting hometown news altogether. This gives a bias skewed towards urban centers, and helps create an echo chamber for those who are in urban areas. Opinions and events from rural areas and other sparsely populated areas are no longer heard.

The irony here is that artificial intelligence has now been tasked to tell these tales.

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