Is 2022 the year robot journalism goes mainstream?
Big Data For News Publishers | 01 February 2022
It’s early January and the annual “Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions” report from Reuters Institute lands on the news industry’s virtual desks. Like previous years, the 2022 iteration — based on a survey of 246 media leaders across 52 countries — conveys a snapshot of an industry in constant change.
From my point of view, this year marked a milestone. AI in the newsroom has been discussed in the past few editions, but for the first time, the 2022 report mentions robot journalism specifically. This aligns with what we’re seeing: Over the past 12 months, awareness of content automation as a newsroom tool has shot up. So let me provide a January 2022 snapshot from our corner of the journalism business.
It’s clear from the Reuters report that AI in the newsrooms is seen as a key feature of the editorial business across the industry. More than 80% of respondents think it will be important or somewhat important for uses like generating automated recommendations and automated tagging, transcription, and assisted subbing.
For the very first time, the survey listed robot journalism as a possible use of AI in the newsroom. As many as 40% of media leaders think it’s either important or somewhat important this year.
From niche to mainstream
For us, there was a clear tipping point in mid-2021, when interest in our automated content services took off. It coincided with our Dutch publisher partner NDC sharing how they were going to publish automated reports from all 60,000 local football games this season — a story I suspect sparked the imagination of a few local media editors.
Since then, content automation has been a topic at most industry events, including INMA’s Product & Data for Media Summit in October, where Danny Sanchez from Gannett recommended local newsrooms start experimenting. Gannett did a project with us back in the day, and the company is now building out automation capabilities internally.
Local newsrooms took this advice to heart. Since the summer, we have started discussions with a dozen media groups in the United States alone, a handful of which are already pilot projects. Several more are running or underway in the United Kingdom and Latin America.
From tech to strategy
United Robots has provided content automation services for news publishers for the past five years. Our home country of Sweden was the first market, and in each new market the pattern has been the same: Publishers are curious about this new technology, and some are keen to test it out. Until recently, it was normally someone in tech who was tasked with setting up a pilot, with little objective beyond giving it a go.
Our CCO Thomas Sundgren started noticing a difference from mid-2021: “In the last six months or so, more and more of the conversations we’re having with publishers in markets like the U.S. and the UK have a strategic starting point and are driven by more senior management,” Sundgren said. “They already know about the tech, they’ve done their research, and they want to talk about how it can make a real difference. It’s taken some years, but this is exactly the point we’ve been trying to help the publishing world get to.”
Local media prove the value
Whether in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, or North America, we see that automated content most clearly drives value in local media.
For McClatchy in the United States, the automated real estate articles add value to the overall journalistic offer and relevance to local readers. For Brunswick News in Canada, the thinking is that covering junior hockey leagues will help drive subscription sales. For NDC in the Netherlands, being able to cover all 60,000 local football games this season provides an attractive top-of-funnel draw and retention tool in local communities. For Gota Media in Sweden, automated articles about sports, real estate, company registrations, and traffic help cover news deserts in their regions.
By early 2022, publishers have proven how automated content drives impact, and we’ve proven the technology works. We expect this to be the year robot journalism really becomes an accepted, if not yet adopted, feature in newsrooms internationally.
To quote the Reuters report, it’s “where many of the most future-focused publishers are spending their time.”