Despite the limitations of automation in journalism, publishers believe it has the potential to reduce costs, increase the speed of some reporting, and serve the audience with more personalised content, a new report has found.

The paper, 'When reporters get hands-on with robo-writing', found that journalists believe automated news software that relies on single, isolated data streams produces one-dimensional stories lacking in the context a human could provide.

By interviewing ten journalists, editors, and executives with experience in robot journalism from CNN, BBC, Thomson Reuters, Trinity Mirror, and News UK, professor Neil Thurman of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and City, University of London, found that the need to template automated stories in advance is a drawback.

Indeed, one BBC journalist noted “how limiting writing everything in advance is – you can’t get a reaction to those numbers, you can’t explain or interrogate them, because you wrote it all before the numbers came out”.

The increased volume of news resulting from automation may make it more difficult to navigate a world already saturated with informationProfessor Neil Thurman, lead researcher

However, new technology is to be rolled out more widely as news organisations continue to suffer from a shrinking advertising base and competition from social media, where publishers look for ways to improve speed and accuracy, along with ways to cover more stories.

For example, Thomson Reuters is currently working on a project to report on US sports with robo-journalism, developing a tool for sports such as the US NBA basketball league, where slideshow-style videos can be created automatically from photos with a narration “extracted” from an “automated three-paragraph story”.

However, the report highlighted concerns among some journalists about the impact automated news could have on objective reporting, believing that robot journalists could produce such a high volume of stories on certain topics that they could influence the news agenda.

"We believe robo-journalism will be used more often to produce simple factual reports, increase the speed with which they are published, and to cover topics currently below the threshold of reportability,” said Thurman.

“However, the increased volume of news resulting from automation may make it more difficult to navigate a world already saturated with information, and actually increase the need for the very human skills that good journalists embody such as news judgement, curiosity, and skepticism."

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