Sometimes churning out story after story can make a journalist feel a bit like a robot. Well, now robots are starting to take over some of the writing work at notable news agencies with the help of automation platforms that turn data into coherent articles.
The Associated Press is the latest news agency to begin using robotic automation to write news stories -- specifically, financial stories about companies’ quarterly earnings.
As a journalist who’s had to write these types of stories in the past, I can tell you that they involve mainly regurgitating financial data and plugging numbers into a story template, and they can be a tedious chore.
This is exactly what makes them conducive to being written by a robotic automation platform rather than a human reporter, James Kotecki told Design News. He's the manager of media and public relations at Automated Insights, the company providing the AP with the technology, called Wordsmith. “Corporate earnings stories are a great fit for our Wordsmith platform because they are based on lots of quantitative data.”
Data is what is key to the Wordsmith platform, which takes several steps to write stories, not unlike the path journalists also take, but in an electronic fashion. First the technology retrieves publicly available data and then analyzes it, creating metrics that classify interesting trends, records, deltas, and streaks.
The platform then finds patterns in the data and puts them into context, finding data that can be used in a story. Finally, the platform structures a narrative as a reporter would and then publishes it to a content-management system.
In addition to financial stories, Automated Insights also offers its technology in a number of other vertical markets, including sports, consumer content, business intelligence, and website analytics, Kotecki told us.
Using Wordsmith will allow the AP to provide 4,000 more earnings stories quarterly and free up journalists to write other content, Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor at AP, said in an online interview with AP director of Media Relations Paul Colford.
This is the point behind the technology -- not to replace human journalists, but to relieve them of routine stories that, frankly, a machine can write, allowing them to pursue other more creative and interesting topics, according to Kotecki. “Our technology goes places humans cannot go or do not want to go,” he told us. “When Wordsmith creates those additional stories for AP, it's not replacing anyone. It's adding content to the world. In the cases where a human was writing a basic earnings story, Wordsmith will free that person to do more interesting work.”
“This is about using technology to free journalists to do more journalism and less data processing, not about eliminating jobs,” AP’s Ferrara concurred. He added that AP’s writers generally are pleased with the introduction of the new technology, which begins this month.
The AP is not the first news outlet to begin using automation to write news stories. The LA Times already has experimented with robotic automation to write breaking news faster than its human reporters can. Other agencies also are working with a company called Narrative Science, which has a platform similar to Wordsmith called Quill.