Local newspapers and print journalism in general have seen their struggles in recent decades as declining revenue leads to cutbacks. Now Google wants to fill the growing gap in local coverage by funding a project which lets artificial intelligence take over some of the writing.
Google announced they’re granting the Press Association $806,000 (€706,000) to help build software that would write 30,000 local stories a month. The Press Association will partner with Urbs Media, a startup supplying open data stories to newsrooms, to work on a software project dubbed Radar (Reporters And Data And Robots).
To be clear, robots are not taking over the work of reporters. Journalists will pick stories to run and create templates covering a wide range of topics like crime and health. And the Radar tool will localize the story using large public datasets.
we need to be investing more heavily into high-quality journalism and journalists with the funds at hand.
The grant is just part of Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI), which aims to support innovation in European digital journalism. The hope with Radar is that it can supplement reporters’ work by scaling localized and regionalized news the paper may not be able to cover otherwise.
Over here in the U.S., various papers have for years used AI to write stories ranging from sports coverage to earthquake alerts. It’s been a promising and generally welcome advent. Afterall, if machines can take over the time-consuming grunt work involved in scouring through data or sourcing photos, then the journalist can spend more time on the craft of informative storytelling.
But the shift does come with some concerns. Even if newsrooms around the world assure us AI isn’t taking away any real reporting jobs, we still face the problem of shrinking staff sizes and the loss of local coverage. Without real reporters investing their time into keeping politicians accountable and investigating leads no other institution will, we could see important stories go untold.
Tim Dawson, President of the National Union of Journalists in the UK and Ireland, says “we need to be investing more heavily into high-quality journalism and journalists with the funds at hand.”
“The real problem in the media is too little bona fide reporting,” Dawson said, according to the Guardian. “I don’t believe that computer whizzbangery is going to replace that. 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.”