Jesse Hirsh on Robot Reporters

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What if the article you read about the football game on the weekend wasn’t written by a sports journalist, but a robot reporter?

Robot reporters are computers trained to write news stories based on algorithms.

With the speed of today’s news cycle, media organizations have looked to “automated journalism” for help to be able to successfully compete in the digital market.

“Automation is transforming every industry, but journalism especially, and a great example is what’s called the algorithmic editorial product,” says Jesse Hirsh, an internet strategist and researcher.

jesse-hirsh-robot-reportersThe news stories robot reporters generate are mostly sports updates, company earnings previews, and other short articles that are mostly based on facts.

Hirsh says this type of automated news is essential in the present news environment. He says robot reporters can “think at lightning speed” – something human journalists simply can’t do.

Robot reporters generate content that are better performed by machines. It’s not hard to imagine a journalist gladly handing over the responsibility of looking at charts and statistics to an algorithm.

But exactly how much responsibility do we give robot reporters? And to what extent do we hand over our chance to critically look at data beyond the numbers?

Robot reporters might just be drumming up sports news right now. But is there a chance algorithms will soon start writing more than just stories based on numbers?

And perhaps the most important question addressing robot reporters is: Can algorithms eventually capture the creativity of a human mind?

Computers replacing human editors

Automated news is not only about robot reporters. These algorithms are also tasked to scan social media networks and other websites to determine what topics most people are interested in.

They act like digital assignment editors, “…using speed and software logic to determine what stories should be assigned to real human beings,” Hirsh says

The result is a compilation of story ideas solely based on how popular it was on Facebook or if it was a trending topic on Twitter. This creates a sort of filter bubble in the news environment, where the only stories being covered are the ones sure to draw traffic to the news site.

Is this, then, a reversal of the journalistic goal to tell untold stories?

Check out our video on newsmakers, for more on automated journalism.


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