Robotic Reporters

22 Feb 2019

Robots can do many things previously entrusted to humans. How should we manage their entry into new fields for the maximum benefit to all?

With robot-generated news stories in the news of late, we return to a study, abstracted below, that explains how they work. On his blog, Matt Carlson introduced his paper like this:

Digital Journalism has posted my new article, “The Robotic Reporter: Automated Journalism and the Redefinition of Labor, Compositional Forms, and Journalistic Authority.” It’s part of a special issue edited by Seth Lewis on big data and journalism. In my contribution, I examine how algorithms tasked with crunching big data can now be used to write stories. This is a nascent practice, but one that we can easily imagine will become more prominent as the technology develops. What’s important now is to understand both the processes around the institutionalization of automated journalism and how these process are being thought about. That is, computer-authored stories raise all kinds of questions about journalism as an informational practice and a creative practice, or news as a commodity and news as culture.

Among the emergent data-centric practices of journalism, none appear to be as potentially disruptive as “automated journalism.” The term denotes algorithmic processes that convert data into narrative news texts with limited to no human intervention beyond the initial programming choices. The growing ability of machine-written news texts portends new possibilities for an expansive terrain of news content far exceeding the production capabilities of human journalists. A case study analysis of the pioneering automated journalism provider Narrative Science and journalists’ published reactions to its services reveals intense competition both to imagine an emergent journalism landscape in which most news content is automated and to define how this situation creates new challenges for journalists. What emerges is a technological drama over the potentials of this emerging news technology concerning issues of the future of journalistic labor, the rigid conformity of news compositional forms, and the normative foundation of journalistic authority. In these ways, this study contends with the emergent practice of automated news content creation both in how it alters the working practices of journalists and how it affects larger understandings of what journalism is and how it ought to operate.