Newsroom automation moves ahead of schedule in 2020

By Cecilia Campbell

United Robots

Malmö, Sweden

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As we near the end of an extraordinarily challenging year, the news industry is taking stock — “doing a retro, in tech development scrum speak.

From our Scandinavian newsroom automation horizon, the data and insights we’ve gathered are what we expected them to be — a year or two from now. A year ago, robot journalism was seen as something of a futuristic abstraction outside our region, but we’re now rolling out content automation projects with publishers across Europe and North America. And in Sweden, where 85% of local news sites now publish robot-written articles, newsroom automation has become a matter of real strategic importance for many.

“By automating routine reporting, we free up editorial time and resources to create more qualified journalism,” said Peter Sigfridsson, Gota Media's head of production development
“By automating routine reporting, we free up editorial time and resources to create more qualified journalism,” said Peter Sigfridsson, Gota Media's head of production development

In 2020, the global pandemic put additional pressure on an already-challenged news publishing industry. The demand for journalism was generally growing, but a lot of the revenue underpinning it disappeared. At the same time, the digital transformation went into overdrive. By year’s end, reporters are increasingly spread too thin to produce all the stories editors need and (often paying) readers expect.

When United Robots launched in Sweden back in 2016, we gained traction quite quickly, not least among local media groups. In the early days, the motivation was often a desire to test a new, cool technology.

Today, automation is no longer a nice-to-have feature, but rather a strategic choice by almost all our partner publishers. By December 2020, nearly all Swedish local media groups have deployed robots as newsroom resources — and many of them automate across most of our current content services such as sports, traffic, real estate sales, company registrations, and weather.

One group that has recently gone all in is Gota Media, a local media group with 16 subscription news sites in the southeast part of the country. Its case is typical of how publishers, in Scandinavia and increasingly beyond, think about newsroom automation. It’s about the value it gains in automating as much of the routine reporting as possible. In Gota Media’s case, this includes sports, traffic, real estate sales, and company registrations/bankruptcies.

Peter Sigfridsson, head of production development, said that for Gota Media, investing in newsroom automation is a strategic decision geared at driving value for its local journalism and for its paying subscribers.

“By automating routine reporting, we free up editorial time and resources to create more qualified journalism which adds value for our readers and supports our reader revenue business,” he said.

The volume and geographical granularity of the robot articles generated also means Gota Media can cover all communities across its geographies. “While we have razor-sharp focus on local content, we still have white spots on the reporting map. With automated texts we ensure readers in these areas too receive regular updates about local events,” Sigfridsson said.

Swedish EverySport Media Group (ESMG) is also set to publish match reports from all leagues of hockey, football, and floorball. For this company, it is also about being able to cover everything to drive engagement on a hyper-local level.

Said ESMG CEO Hannes Andersson, “The strategy is to offer comprehensive coverage. We believe publishing thousands of articles with a dozen or so views each generates value in a couple of ways. Firstly, it’s about reach, which is the foundation of our current business model. Local sports articles often go viral in small clusters, which means we reach big audiences at a hyper-local level. It’s also important for our brand to be seen to provide coverage of all leagues and divisions, including junior ones.”

As we head into 2021, we see a new purpose and drive among the news publishers with whom we collaborate on newsroom automation. They have found a fit at the intersection of journalism, audience, and business imperatives where robots deliver real value.

About Cecilia Campbell

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