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Google funds 'robot journalism' project

News, 10 July 2017
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LONDON: Press Association, the national news agency for the UK and Ireland, has received a €706,000 grant from Google's Digital News Initiative (DNI) to develop an automated news service that will produce 30,000 stories a month.

PA said in a statement that it is working with Urbs Media, a start-up that specialises in data-driven news, to set up RADAR – Reporters And Data And Robots – which will use open data from official sources to automate news stories.

These will include government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, among others, with the aim of "creating detailed story templates across a range of topics".

Aimed at generating news stories for local media, the project backed by Google's DNI funds will also help develop capabilities to auto-generate graphics, pictures and video to add to content.

"This is a hugely exciting development for PA, and we believe our partnership with Urbs Media can be a genuine game-changer for media outlets across the UK and Ireland," said Peter Clifton, Press Association's Editor-in-Chief.

"At a time when many media outlets are experiencing commercial pressures, RADAR will provide the news ecosystem with a cost-effective way to provide incisive local stories, enabling audiences to hold democratic bodies to account," he added.

It is expected that the initiative will be rolled out early next year to coincide with PA’s 150th anniversary and, to allay concerns about its impact on human reporters, the company said Google's funds will also provide for a team of five journalists to identify, template and edit data-driven stories.

"Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but RADAR allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually," Clifton said.

However, some industry observers remained sceptical. Dr Neil Thurman, a lecturer in communications at City, University of London, told the BBC: "I find it difficult to see how automation is going to help provide additional coverage of local magistrates courts and crown courts.

"You can't really cover [local government] through automation because it's a lot about investigation, politics, personal relationships, who has said what to whom and so forth – it's difficult to get that information in data feed form."

And Tim Dawson, President of the National Union of Journalists, expressed concern about what RADAR could mean for jobs and quality journalism.

"The real problem in the media is too little bona fide reporting. I don't believe that computer whizzbangery is going to replace that," he told the Guardian.

"What I'm worried about in my capacity as president of the NUJ is something that ends up with third-rate stories which look as if they are something exciting, but are computer-generated so they [news organisations] can get rid of even more reporters."

Data sourced from Press Association, BBC, Guardian; additional content by WARC staff

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