Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Robot Journalism's Implicit Threats to Traditional Journalism

The article, Robot Journalism doesn't sound so scary, explores the vision of Narrative Science, a company that programs computers to utilize and employ algorithms for the purpose of taking on a human journalist's job, and claims that its algorithmic journalism will one day reel in the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. While it isn't scary at first thought, since the type of articles that the algorithm-based journalism produces are a set of unengaging and uninteresting facts(see example below), Narrative Science's co-founder Kristian Hammond has given journalists a reason to worry. Claiming that his robots will win the Pulitzer within the next five years, while stating that bots will write more than 90 percent of the news in 15 years, Hammond's vision of what journalism may become is a disconcerting one.

Hammond's robots take complex sets of data and turn them into news stories. While his seemingly ingenious concept algorithmically unscrambles complicated data to publish articles speedily and precisely, it sacrifices content of interest and critical analysis. Look below for an example of what these bots produce:

What to Expect:
Analysts are expecting earnings of 2 cents per share, exactly the same as a year ago.
The consensus estimate is down from three months ago when it was 6 cents, but is unchanged over the past month. For the fiscal year, analysts are projecting earnings of 65 cents per share
Analysts look for revenue to decrease 11.7% year-over-year to $500.3 million for the quarter,  after being $566.5 million a year ago. For the year, revenue is projected to roll in at $2.08 billion
Trends to Watch For:
For the last four quarters, the company has reported revenue decline. Revenue in fourth quarter of the last fiscal year was $643 million, a drop of 2.8% year-over-year. Revenue dropped 3.1% in the third quarter of the last fiscal year, fell 2.2% in second quarter of the last fiscal year and 3.6% in the first quarter of the last fiscal year.
If you've read the information above, you can determine that there is no real context, analysis, prose, puns or humorous use of register. Thus, the not very engaging text is not all that threatening to journalism right? Or is it? On one side, it can "offer an innovative and cost-effective solution that allows publishers to cover topics that can’t otherwise be covered due to operational or cost constraints,"(Source: We Transform Data into Stories and Insight) which allows human journalists to focus on producing interesting journalism while leaving the data to be monetized and understood precisely by machines. In this case, the growth of digital journalism can be aided in more ways than one. However, robotic journalism poses an ever-growing threat to the concept of traditional journalism by providing useful and easily accessible information to normal, citizen bloggers who can employ the data to create their own news stories, ultimately continuing to put print journalists out of work.

The concept of Narrative Science's robotic journalism strikes up an interesting, new perspective on the ongoing conflict between traditional print journalism and digital journalism. Whereas the endless mobile applications and social media outlets have given cause for concern towards the death of traditional journalism, robotic algorithms that process and organize sets of complex data bring a new concern; one that questions whether or not humans will even be involved in journalism, digital or traditional, for the years to come. On a brighter note, these machines are ultimately making human journalists step up their game. It is strengthening their convictions, something that machines simply do not possess.

1 comment:

  1. There's some nice writing here about a very relevant topic to our class. I particularly liked the line about " no real context, analysis, prose, puns or humorous use of register." I would encourage you not to be afraid to exercise writerly style in this class, since -- as Sam suggested -- this is particularly important in making soft news interesting. You do a nice job interweaving materials from the two sources, and I liked your humorous illustration as well.