Why I let a robot journalist write news stories for my local readers

Andy Parkes from Newsquest South London and Sussex

Would you let content written by a robot on to your website or into your newspaper? An increasing number of newsrooms are, including titles in and around South London and Sussex run by Newsquest.

Google funding has made the Reporters and Data and Robots project possible, and Newsquest’s managing editor for the region, Andy Parkes, reveals what happened next:

In this technological world it was only a matter of time before computers started writing news stories.

Newsquest has been involved in a pilot project with Urbs Media and PA and has been publishing such stories for several months.

But, headlines aside, the stories aren’t really written by a machine, they’re still written by reporters with a keen eye for a story and the knowledge of how to produce them.

Where the technology is clever is that is allows the skilled reporter to produce a story from the data and then adapt that information to create a selection of different stories for hundreds of different newsdesks right across the country.

Gary Rogers from Urbs Media said: “We’re still developing the process and this is a working model, but the feedback we’re getting so far is excellent and it’s allowing us to adapt and develop the system.

“At the moment we are sending stories direct to newsrooms, but the plan is to create a system where any news editor can access whatever stories they require”.

The idea came from Natural Language Generation — using data to write words. The system has been used for a multitude of purposes but Gary’s vision was to use it to produce content on a large scale.

With funding from Google and a partnership with Press Association the project Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR) was launched. The dream is to produce a daily feed of localised data stories for publishers across the country.

Reporters still write the stories on a computer but the production process is entirely automated and the potential is there for a reporter to produce hundreds of stories every day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but as the trial has continued the stories have become more and more useful.

We receive a selection of different versions for each of our News Shopper titles: Bromley; Bexley; Greenwich; Lewisham; Dartford.

We’ve had everything from child protection, the gender pay gap at hospitals, cold weather payments to teenage pregnancy.

Sometimes we have adapted the stories and added further details and quotes but a few times now we’ve been able to run them just as they are.

On several occasions we’ve mashed the stories together from different editions/regions to give comparisons, but other times they’ve worked as stand alones.

If they can develop a good automated delivery service then I can see RADAR stories being used increasingly across the industry.

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