When news meets tech: algorithms or human editors?
Circa, Blendle and News360 all strike a careful balance between media and technology in the work, and discussed the opportunities and challenges for news
For some organisations working in news, it can be easier to identify themselves as technology companies rather than news outlets.
At News360, a news aggregator app which serves up a personalised mix of stories based on readers' individual preferences, chief executive officer and co-founder Roman Karachinsky describes the service as "a search engine".
So which duties are taken over by technology? Speaking at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London yesterday, Karachinsky said News360 has editors, but "we just don't have humans".
Mobile-first media outlet Circa is both a news organisation and a technology company, said chief executive officer and co-founder Matt Galligan, also on the panel yesterday.
Circa reports a story as a series of key points – its so-called atomic elements – and users can choose to follow stories if they want to receive the latest updates.
"In our case the news that we produce would not be possible without the technology, but the technology would not be possible without the news that we produce," said Galligan.
At Circa, all stories are produced by staff and go "through a person" before publication, where the technology structures the articles into the characteristic units.
Since Circa started out in 2011, the use of algorithms to write articles at various news outlets has largely been limited to stories dealing with statistics, such as financial reports or sports scores.
Galligan pointed out that a computer wouldn't be able to understand empathy, however.
When reporting on a tragic story, a computer will focus on the most important element, which would often be information about the attacker rather than the "human cost" of the attack.
"For us it was a no-brainer," Galligan said. "It was 'yes of course we're going to use humans'... and I hate that I have to say the word humans but in the tech world you create that distinction, computers vs humans."
Pay-as-you-go news service Blendle, which aggregates stories and then allows users to pay for individual articles, is open to experiments to find the right balance between technology and staff.
"We've been trying so many things to get people to pay for content and I think it starts with just saying that you don't know and then start trying different stuff," founder Alexander Klöpping told delegates.
"At first we sent algorithmic newsletters to people, turned out that didn't work for us.
"Human curation works better for us so we started doing that. We have editors for that but that's not because we think that's the best way, it's just trying it out."
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