Posted by Sydney Price
If I didn’t write this post, would you still read it? If this post wasn’t written by a human being at all, would you still read it? In the last month, CNN and the Huffington Post, among others, reported that major news outlets are using software algorithms to “write” stories that require a lot of data.
The L.A. Times uses a program called Quakebot to update online readers about earthquakes within minutes of their occurrence. The robot even has its own Twitter page with up-to-date reports.
The Associated Press also uses robot-fueled journalism to release dispatches about sports, finance and other number-heavy topics. Some of these news releases are not seen by human eyes before hitting the website.
Use of these programs has sparked concerns in the journalism world about accuracy and unsurprisingly, the fear of being replaced by machines.
An editor at AP who oversaw the integration of their program, Philana Patterson, is supportive of the software because it saves human reporters the time spent crunching numbers in an effort to make sense of information.
“One of the things we really wanted reporters to be able to do was when earnings came out to not have to focus on the initial numbers. That’s the goal, to write smarter pieces and more interesting stories,” said Patterson in an interview for The Verge.
After reading one of AP’s robot-produced stories, I felt that sounded pretty choppy and formulaic. However, I agree with Patterson’s point in that finding and making sense of relevant statistics can be very tedious and time-consuming. Though robot journalism seems to work well for numbers, I don’t see it being useful for feature length pieces that require personality and voice. How far do you think robot journalism should go?