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Does The Rise Of Robot Journalism Mean The End Of Newsrooms?

AI companies such as Automated Insights, Narrative Science or Yseop are already developing and delivering such algorithms, chatbots, and …
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In a time where global newsrooms are becoming smaller due to enhanced technological advancement, robotics journalism has emerged as a threat to the fourth estate. Artificial Intelligence has introduced a new paradigm in present-day journalism and newsrooms across the globe are facing fears of staff cuts. Automated journalism has already made its way into newsrooms with automated news writing and distribution, without human supervision already a reality.

‘Jia Jia ‘was the first humanoid robot journalist created by developers from the University of Science and Technology in China’s Anhui province in April. She hit headlines when she reported for the country’s news agency Xinhua and conducted a live interview with an editor of a popular tech magazine.

More recently, an upgraded version of this robotic journalist Zhang Zhou was witnessed in Chinese News Channel. Their official news network claimed it to be the world’s first artificial intelligence news anchor.


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Innovations In Robotic Journalism

In robotic journalism, also called automated journalism or algorithmic journalism, news articles are generated by computer programs and AI software, rather than human reporters. Voice, tone, and style can also be customised depending on the desired output.

  • AI companies such as Automated Insights, Narrative Science or Yseop are already developing and delivering such algorithms, chatbots, and automated reporting systems to newsrooms around the globe. Hold your breath: these robots can produce a story in just a matter of a second.
  • The AP, for example, began publishing articles for earnings reports last year, using a software from Automated Insights. The Associated Press published a short financial news story: “Apple tops Street IQ forecasts”. The piece could be easily written by a human – but if someone reads it until the end, they would see that it was generated by Automated Insights or what we call a robotic journalist.
  • One of the projects bringing artificial intelligence to newsrooms is INJECT, an AI-based tool making it easier to find original angles to a story.
  • The Norwegian News Agency (NTB) started work on a project to generate automated football news coverage, which was launched in 2016. Together with experts in artificial intelligence, a group of journalists learned new skills whilst the robot was being “trained”, a decision crucial to the development of the algorithm.
  • Thomson Reuters is also already using machine learning algorithms to write their stories.
  • Google, on its side, has provided the British news agency Press Association with a $1 million grant to develop a computer program able to gather and write nearly 30,000 stories a month — a volume impossible to match manually.

Will AI Take Over Journalism Jobs Completely?

  • There are several benefits using a machine. For example, robots can act as an assistant, such as for writing up press releases, data-driven stories.
  • They are even able to conduct face-to-face interviews and but cannot ask follow-up questions, craft a colourful feature story and in-depth analysis, or shoot and edit a package for TV broadcast.
  • By automating routine stories and tasks, journalists can free up time for more challenging jobs such as covering events and investigative reporting.
  • It also paves the way for greater efficiency and cost-cutting measures for news organisations struggling to survive. Robot journalism is cheaper because large quantities of content can be produced at quicker speeds.
  • Apart from fears about even more job cuts in the media industry, there are obvious concerns about the credibility and quality of automated journalism and the use of algorithms.
  • AI cannot replace human skills such as creativity, humour, or critical thinking in the newsroom, which are all crucial aspects for the media professional.

Outlook

Although, to date, there are no reports on robotic journalism affecting the job prospects in the Asian market, as per Laurence Dierickx, journalist and a research, it has started showing its effects in European countries. Dierickx released a few figures on how many are expected to lose their jobs as a result of AI till now.

Other prospective studies also say that more journalists are likely to be affected (International Data Corporation 2016 and Ericsson 2017) but at the same time, these studies underline that jobs involving human interface will be preserved. According to Dierickx, there are a lot of contradictions, and no one can predict the future. But with automated journalism gaining ground in newsrooms, 2019 will prove to be a critical year for Journalism and Media.

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Alas, the Blockchain Won’t Save Journalism After All

Civil Media Company was introduced earlier this year as both a media platform and a network, to be owned and operated by journalists and …

The Solution

Civil’s representatives said they could help fix two crises that afflict the media: one of trust and another of financial sustainability. Both, they posited, were within the power of the blockchain to heal.

Financial sustainability first: Civil’s newsrooms (18 listed on its site so far) are welcome to use traditional business models (like subscriptions, paid for with dollars), and many, like the Colorado Sun, Block Club Chicago and Popula, an “alt-daily” with a worldly mind-set, have chosen to do so. But as citizens became convinced of Civil’s value as a publishing platform, they could opt in to the network by purchasing Civil tokens. These would buy them some control, making them, essentially, shareholders. They could “tip” journalists with tokens or portions of tokens, request stories or even suggest the creation of whole newsrooms dedicated to specific subjects. As the news organizations got stronger and stronger — ostensibly, with the input of citizen-shareholder-readers — others would purchase tokens, the value of the tokens would increase, and the entire community, journalists and readers alike, would prosper.

At the same time, Civil representatives said, the much-lamented if near-perennial and also possibly invented problem of trust in journalism would be solved by the blockchain technology’s inherent function as a database.

Vivian Schiller, a former president and chief executive at NPR and head of news at Twitter, is now the chief executive of the Civil Media Foundation, the organization in charge of “upholding the principles of the network.” She wrote, in a blog post, that Civil websites would have an icon in their upper right hand corner that would function as a journalistic equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”

“We have a plug-in that allows you to sign your work,” said Mathew Iles, the chief executive of the Civil Media Company, which is separate but related to the foundation. “This is important: We’re going to be able to show citizens that you in fact did write it.”

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Here’s How Civil’s Newsrooms Are Affected by Its Failed ICO

Civil concluded its first initial coin offering (ICO) this week, and it was an abject failure. The company hoped to raise at least $8 million by selling 34 …
Civil's experiment with blockchain in news just hit a big speed bump.

Civil’s experiment with blockchain in news just hit a big speed bump. Kaitlyn Flannagan for Observer

When the newsroom network Civil launched in April, it seemed like a new frontier in journalism. Every post on a Civil site would be permanently archived and recorded on the Ethereum blockchain so the text couldn’t be deleted by a bad actor (or a billionaire with a grudge like Peter Thiel). The company even drew up a constitution laying out this vision.

Sadly, in practice it turns out journalism and cryptocurrency don’t mix. Civil concluded its first initial coin offering (ICO) this week, and it was an abject failure. The company hoped to raise at least $8 million by selling 34 million CVL tokens. Instead, it raised only $1.4 million from just 1,012 buyers. Civil will provide refunds to all token buyers by October 29.

Rather than shutting down entirely or going off into the sunset, Civil is choosing to regroup. “We are 100 percent going forward, despite a setback,” CEO Vivian Schiller wrote on Twitter.

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The company plans to launch three new features: a blockchain publishing plugin for WordPress, a community governance tool called the Civil Registry and a tool for non-blockchain developers to build apps on Civil.

Founder Matthew Iles said in a blog post that the company is also planning a “much simpler” token sale. That’s good news, because the original token purchase process had 44 steps, which included passing two tests about cryptocurrency and providing copies of a passport and driver’s license.

ConsenSys, a blockchain venture studio that invested $5 million in Civil last fall, will purchase $3.5 million worth of the new tokens. That money will be given to the Civil Foundation, a nonprofit funding grants to the newsrooms in Civil’s network.

Now, about those newsrooms: Media companies like the Associated Press and Forbes, which already had strategic partnerships with Civil, said those relationships would continue despite the failed token sale. (Civil also tried to collaborate with outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, to no avail.)

Those publications would obviously be fine whether or not they worked with Civil. The more vulnerable group was the “First Fleet,” 18 independent news sites that took a leap of faith and joined Civil’s network. Each of these outlets is small—the total employee count for all 18 is roughly 125 people. The good news is they get to keep doing what they’re doing.

“Newsroom grants were never intended to come from proceeds from the token sale, so they’re unaffected by this,” Civil co-founder and communications lead Matt Coolidge told Observer. “All ‘First Fleet’ newsrooms on Civil will continue to receive their grant funding per the terms of the original agreement.”

Indeed, many of the newsrooms on the platform had plans for alternative funding and sustainability that went beyond the token sale. Most of those funding sources aren’t public, but they’ll help the outlets stay on their feet.

“We are all obviously rooting for the success of the Civil token system, but were never planning on financially relying on it,” Felipe De La Hoz, a former Observer intern and reporter for the Civil newsroom Documented (which focuses on New York City’s immigrant community) tweeted.

Maria Bustillos, editor of Civil newsroom Popula (an alt-weekly), added that Civil’s plan “sounds crazy, might work (and) will be fun to try.”

“Popula plans to operate as a 100 percent ad-free, reader supported publication, and Civil’s generous grant has given us a runway to make that happen, but we’ll need to stand on our own two feet eventually,” Bustillos told Observer. “We’re feeling hopeful that the new planned token sale will go well.”

Here’s How Civil’s Newsrooms Are Affected by Its Failed ICO

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