I recently received a question from two German researchers: Do journalists profit from automated journalism or do they find themselves homeless a few years later?
I reflected that this focus on the potential threat of automated content to reporters’ jobs and the quality of journalism is all but gone in Sweden. This may have something to do with the fact that here almost all local media houses now use the technology every single day.
Two years ago, Hanna Tuulonen looked into this topic for her master’s thesis on investigative journalism at the University of Gothenburg. She interviewed journalists to find out how attitudes toward news robots changed after they started working with or side-by-side with news robots. Even in 2017, it was clear that once they were somehow working with these automated features, journalists’ attitude toward news robots changed from neutral and negative to positive.
The reason? The robots take care of the repetitive tasks, allowing reporters to shift their focus toward interviews, field work, and analysis.
United Robots has delivered automated journalism to Swedish news groups since 2015. When we first started approaching newsrooms, editors and reporters often felt a sense of unease. They perceived what we do as a potential threat to both journalism and journalists. Over the past four to five years, as publishers have embraced the technology, that situation has changed quite radically in this country.
Today I rarely meet journalists who view news robots as a threat. We’ve talked to a few reporters who work with our technology about its impact in the newsroom and on what’s published.
These are some of the comments they’ve made on the key aspects of this technology.
Robot journalism frees up journalists’ time and doesn’t threaten jobs.
“I don’t see news robots as a threat to journalism. Right now, they give journalists time to develop better journalism. It allows us to spend more time doing what we’re best at and less time doing basic reporting,” said Markus Isacson, sports reporter at VK in Umeå. “I don’t think robot journalism is a threat to our jobs. Of course, there may be people who think journalists will be replaced by ‘cheaper’ robots, but I doubt that publishers who go down that route will have a bright future.”
Jennifer Engström, a journalist at Mittmedia in Sundsvall, also sees benefits in terms of letting her and her colleagues focus on qualified tasks: “If we can save time, effort, and money by having a robot doing ‘simple’ journalism, that’s worth a lot more than having a reporter spend evenings/weekends calling in match results. This means we’ll live longer as a media company — and I’ll keep my job longer.”
According to sports reporter David Hellsing at Mittmedia in Örebro, the robot simply doesn’t do what he as a journalist does: “I work closely covering one of the big sports teams in our city. The robot will never get that close.”
Robot journalism provides more local content.
The robots allow local media houses to provide more local content, according to journalists Anna Sundelin and Mattias Åkerlund at VK’s Affärsliv 24. “We currently don’t have the resources to pay journalists to cover division 5 football matches or traffic news from villages and towns all around the county — but that is content robots can deliver.”
As of June 2019, Swedish publishers use news robots a lot more extensively than the industry in other markets. As a result, journalists are familiar with the technology and its benefits in the newsroom. With news media in countries beyond Scandinavia now increasingly deploying robot journalism, I believe the talk of threat we so often hear will change into a focus on the opportunities.