Three reasons why you shouldn’t feel threatened by robot journalism

What do journalists at the GEN Summit think of automated journalism; are robots friends or foes?

With the Associated Press, New York Times and Forbes already using it, robot journalism is on the march. According to the market research institute Gartner by 2018 some 20 per cent of journalism content will be produced by machines. This development triggers mixed emotions within the industry: while some journalists are pleased to get rid of repetitive tasks, others fear for their jobs. Nevertheless, experts at GEN insist, robot journalism is no threat at all. Here’s why:

1. Robots are “stupid piece of code”

According to Claude de Loupy, CEO of Syllabs, robots are not a form of super intelligence but rather dumb. They are “just a stupid piece of code” and cannot replace the journalist’s work, he says. “We all know what journalism is about” and robots cannot fulfil those tasks. Although they might do amazing things on personalised articles for special target groups and updating fact-based text — like football games and financial reports — they cannot replace journalistic competencies.

2. Robots should not replace, but support

Robot journalism is not intended to steal your job instead it is intended to make your job more fun again, as the panel put it. It could, for instance, write the biographical part of your story, while you’re working on the in depth-research. Apart from doing the annoying work, as Laurence Dierickx, journalist and developer, stated here, they can also attract new audiences. Due to their pace and the fact that they work based on data, they can personalise content and will have the resources to even cover the smallest football matches. So they might even prove to be more accurate.

3. Robots need humans

Last but not least: Robots are simple software, which need to be configured by people. That means that they will only do what they are told to do. You create them, you make them.

The panel on robot journalism at the GEN Summit in Vienna.

Though all this sounds very promising, there are a few ethical considerations that have to be taken into account as well. One of the main questions might be responsibility. Who takes the rap if the robot makes a bad mistake. According to Claude de Loupy it legally is the editor, as he or she makes final decisions about what to publish. As always new innovations offer lots of possibilities but — and this definitely should be taken into account — one shouldn’t get caught up in the hype. They need to be treated with caution as well, in order to make greatest use of them.

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The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011. It ceased its activities in November 2019 due to lack of sustainable finances.

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Karina Auer

Karina Auer

reporting for the Global Editors Network from this year’s GEN Summit

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