Breaking News in LA TIMES — written by a Robot

The Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper to publish a story about an earthquake on Monday – thanks to a robot writer…Journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke created an algorithm that automatically generates a short article when an earthquake occurs.

Mr Schwencke told Slate magazine that it took around three minutes for the story to appear online.

The LA Times is a pioneer in the technology which draws on trusted sources – such as the US Geological Survey – and places data into a pre-written template.

As well as the earthquake report, it also uses another algorithm to generate stories about crime in the city – with human editors deciding which ones need greater attention.

Other news organisations have experimented with algorithm-based reporting methods in other areas, particularly sports.

The generated story does not replace the journalist, Mr Schwencke argued, but instead allows available data to be quickly gathered and disseminated.

“It’s supplemental,” he told the magazine.

“It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would.

Maybe so. It’s as elemental as the sparse data served up by some wire services. At worst, probably not as useless as the crap offered up by so-called local TV. Which is generally the property of some amorphous conglomerate hundreds of miles away with no “local” ownership.

At its best, this could be as useful as an up-to-the-minute neighborhood weather report. Especially if there actually is a follow-up article written by a sentient being.

Thanks, Mike

3 thoughts on “Breaking News in LA TIMES — written by a Robot

  1. Algorithm says:

    March 2014: “How to Break News While You Sleep : LA Times Data Desk’s Ken Schwencke on smoke, mirrors, and madlibs”
    March 19, 2014: “How a California Earthquake Becomes the News: An Extremely Precise Timeline {and} An amazing feat of algorithmic journalism – and data gathering”

    • Daneel Olivaw says:

      Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says his decision to revoke the credentials of two ESPN writers who cover his team was driven partly by concern that automated game reports could eventually replace human-generated content.
      “The Associated Press, in a partnership with Automated Insights, produces automated stories on minor league baseball but does not use the technology for most of its sports coverage. The AP has at least one reporter at all games in the four major professional sports and most major college football and basketball games.
      ”Maybe I will be wrong but I see a direct path from the trends in coverage of games we are seeing over the last couple years to the automation of reporting on games and the curation of related content,” Cuban wrote in an email to the AP. ”This isn’t a knock on wire services or their reporters. They are valued and valuable in sports coverage.” […]
      ”While it may seem counterintuitive to ban someone from covering us as a way of stopping automation, it really was my only option,” Cuban said. ”As is evident by the AP partnership with Automated Insights, it’s not if but when.”

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