Journalists with robot experience: "Not a threat!"

We recently received a question from two German researchers: Do journalists profit from the automated journalism or do they find themselves homeless a few years later? We 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. And that 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 Masters thesis in Investigative Journalism at the University of Gothenburg. She interviewed journalists to find out how attitudes towards news robots changed after they started working with or side by side with news robots. Already in 2017 it was clear that once they did, journalists attitude to 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 to interviews, field work and analyses.

 United Robots have delivered automated journalism to Swedish news groups since 2015. When we first started approaching newsrooms, there was often a sense of unease among editors and reporters, who perceived what we do as a potential threat to both journalism and journalists. Over the past 4–5 years, as publishers have embraced the technology, that situation has changed quite radically in this country.

 Today we 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. Some comments on key aspects as they see it:

Freeing up journalists’ time, not threatening jobs. “I don’t see news robot 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,” says Markus Isacson, sport 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, 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 sport 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.” 

Providing 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, we believe the talk of threat we so often hear will change into a focus on the opportunities. 

Robot journalism: The difference between scraping the internet vs using structured data

There’s an important discussion going on in our industry around the use of robots to produce journalism. Having worked in this field for several years now, we’ve heard sceptics question how it’s possible to build algorithms which create consistently reliable and correct articles. This concern is valid when the underlying data is collected by scraping the internet. But when you build your automated content on structured data sets, the risk of error is minimal.  

It’s easy to understand the disquiet in the debate about automated journalism, and the confusion at the root of it. As with all technology, it can be used for nefarious ends. With modern computer programming it’s possible to create an algorithm that will go out and scrape the internet for just the kind of data or content you’re looking for, subsequently writing stories to suit someone’s political purposes – for example.

But this technology can also be used for good. There are lots of serious news publishers – with journalistic principles at the core – who use automated journalism to strengthen their business, some of whom work with United Robots. The process they use is very different to what we described above.

First of all, there’s the data. In order to produce reliable, factual texts, you need to work from structured sets of quality data, such as land registry data or sports results, which are not only correct, but which will be consistently available over time. The subsequent automation workflow then includes careful analysis of the data, a verified language process and finally distribution on the right platform, to the right audience.

With United Robots’ technology, the algorithms are managed by man and machine in tandem. The journalists and editors we work with determine how an article should be constructed; that is should include e g a headline of a certain type and/or length, a stand-first to some specification, a number of facts, a summary at the end etc.

The structure of the texts and rules around what angles to look for can be defined in quite some detail by the newsroom. So for example, when we build articles about property sales, a property may be defined as a “mansion” if the house is X large and the land is minimum Y square meters or acres. Or if we generate sports texts, let’s say football, a “sensational” turn of events may be if XYZ happens. And a “crushing defeat” may only require being beaten by three goals in the top league, but by six in division 4. The work in the newsroom to determine what is what is an interesting process in itself, and forces editors and reporters to really think through the language and values they use.

Once the rules for the text structure and angles are established by man, machine takes over. And what machines – the robots – contribute is that they never make factual or logical errors. If a fact is in the data, it’s correct and may be included (and consequently, if it’s not in the data, it will not feature). In other words, we build text on insights gleaned from the data analysis alone, with the rule system set in line with the journalistic principles and style sheets of the newsroom in question.

From a business perspective, working from structured data sets consistently published over time – as opposed to scraping for data – means a guaranteed volume of articles will be regularly generated, without which you can’t build sustainable news products and services. And only with structured data can you ensure the quality and reliability necessary to maintain trust in your journalism.

 

It's official! We've signed a group wide agreement with Schibsted Media Group

From our press release:

Schibsted News Media and United Robots have signed an agreement about a new strategic collaboration which means United Robots will offer automated editorial content to all of Schibsted’s media houses in Sweden and Norway.

 Aftonbladet and United Robots have developed Aftonbladet’s acclaimed robot journalism together since late 2017, for coverage including Premier League football and real time traffic news.

 – Schibsted have defined areas where automated texts can create content in a way previously impossible. This includes existing areas of coverage, such as traffic and sports, as well as new areas. This will constitute a very useful complement to our journalists’ work, says Aftonbladet managing editor Lotta Folcker, who is responsible for Aftonbladet Labs in a Schibsted press release.

 – This enables increased engagement with our readers. The collaboration provides new opportunities to give readers fantastic service in a number of areas and we already see how robot journalism, as in the case with our traffic reports, has become a valued and natural part of our promise to the users, says Aftonbladet Publisher Lena K Samuelsson in the press release.

 United Robots is the leading provider of automated content specifically tailored for the news industry.

– We’re of course proud and happy to be able to develop automated content together with a significant partner such as Schibsted. This agreement means all their news titles in Sweden and Norway will have access to the services United Robots have already developed. It also means we’ll be able to co-develop completely new automated services long term with Schibsted, says United Robots CEO Sören Karlsson.

Three Swedish local media groups go all in on robot journalism

2018 has certainly been the year automated content – robot journalism – has had a real break-through in Swedish newsrooms. The majority of Swedish local media groups, as well as national giant Aftonbladet, daily publish automated editorial texts in collaboration with Swedish United Robots.

 As we head into 2019, three local groups are stepping it up a notch: Sweden’s largest local media group MittMedia, VK Media in Umeå, and NTM (including titles like Norrköpings Tidningar and Upsala Nya Tidning). The media groups have signed contracts for the entirety of United Robots’ services: sport write-ups and pre-match texts, property sales articles, texts about company registrations and bankruptcies and traffic and weather news.

 “The aim of this effort is provide current and future customers with an even better local news service. The robot articles will probably not individually drive lots of traffic, but through personalized sites which show the “right” articles to the “right” users, the robot will help us offer our customers more content relevant to them,” says NTM Editorial Director Nils Olauson.

 “We know our readers want more instant updates about traffic and weather, helping them in their everyday lives. We also know they want us to satisfy their curiosity about who’s bought their neighbour’s house, who has set up a new company or how the local football or ice hockey team has fared.”

 In addition to personalisation, automated content also allow newsrooms to focus more on advanced, valuable journalism. Nils Olauson: “By letting the robot manage the basics, we free up editorial resources, allowing our reporters to focus on finding the more elusive but truly essential stories which really engage people. In this way our drive into automation is also a drive to develop and improve journalism.”

 MittMedia Editorial Director Carl-Johan Bergman, concurs. “Automation is a clear win-win for us – to have technology help us create interesting content which we’ve previously lacked, and let us focus editorial resources on deep dive coverage when the final whistle blows, rather than just do a quick write-up. The text robot is not replacing our journalists, but rather it helps us prioritise correctly how we use our resources.”

 VK Media COO and Digital Director Marie-Louise Jarlenfors: "Thanks to United Robots’ robot solutions we can offer our readers more hyper-local content and coverage without having to commit more editorial resources. Instead, journalists can focus on producing more quality, local journalism and spend time on investigative journalism that makes a difference.”

“In the future we’d also like to give our readers a more personalised experience and we’ll then leverage the big quantity of hyper-local articles generated by the robots. We believe this will make us more relevant and give customers a better user experience.”

 More coming
“We’re thrilled to be entrusted to deliver all our services to these publishers,” says our CEO Sören Karlsson. “It’s proof automated content works. Artificial Intelligence and automation is happening across the board now.”

Automation allows publishers to considerably increase the volume of texts at a fraction of the time in terms of production and publication, compared to manual processes. United Robots’ solutions enable personalisation, super local content and brand new online businesses, including new sites and sections or entry into niche content markets.

 Today United Robots’ automated sports texts are published on most local media sites (and some printed papers) in Sweden. MittMedia, Gota Media, NTM, Norran in Skellefteå, Hall Media, the Stampen local titles in the west of the country, OTV, VK Media and Finnish HSS Media all subscribe to the services. For Schibsted title Aftonbladet, United Robots generate automated football texts as well as quick news bites on traffic and weather.

“In 2019 we’re looking forward to launching automated texts on new topics and in new languages,” says Sören Karlsson.

We're now "talking" directly to sports coaches!

We’re now launching a new service with our Sports Robot. United Robots’ unique system for automatic gathering of coaches’ comments, inserted into the automatic sports articles in realtime. United Robots’ Q&A Platform “interviews” the coach after the completed match and inserts the answer into the automatically generated text. Without any involvement from the newsroom!

Q&A-phone.png

Robot Journalism is officially the future

The 2019 edition of Schibsted’s much publicised yearly Future Report was published yesterday. We’re very happy to find robot journalism generally identified as a key trend for the future. And to find United Robots specifically featured, through our collaboration with Aftonbladet.

Aftonbladet has been working with us since spring this year in order to introduce automated content in their coverage of the Premier League, traffic and weather. In the Schibsted Future Report, Managing Editor Michael Poromaa describes Aftonbladet’s new use of robot journalism as “one of the biggest revolutions in the history of Schibsted.” Not only can the new technology produce unlimited numbers of articles every day, it also frees up editorial time, allowing reporters to focus on the big and important stories of the day, according to Poromaa.

Our CEO Sören Karlsson was at a media conference in Trondheim when he found out about the inclusion in the Future Report – from Svenska Dagbladet acting publisher Anna Careborg, who talked about Schibsted’s work with United Robots on stage. According to Sören, the collaboration with Aftonbladet (and the article in the report) cements the role of robot journalism in future business development at media houses:

“Featuring in the Schibsted Future Report is like a quality seal of approval for us of course. Our collaboration with Aftonbladet, where we’re developing a Breaking Bot for weather and traffic, and enabling comprehensive coverage of the Premier League, is a real acknowledgement at a national level. The speed of developments in robot journalism since we launched three years ago has exceeded all our expectations. Automated editorial content has now had its real break-through.”

Our Sportrobot just got a major up-grade

We’ve just implemented one of the biggest journalistic changes we’ve done since we launched our Sportrobot. As of now, it’s able to not just write on one main angle (and goal scorers, table and next match), it can also cover a side angle. The latter will follow directly after the main angle. In this way, texts become longer, more dynamic and more like what a reporter would write.

The robot could e g write about one of the teams moving into leading position in the lead as well as the opposition losing their seventh consecutive match.

Here’s an example of that:

 Now we’re working to make the texts even better!

klackspark.com – editor and robot collaborates

Östgöta Media have launched their new football site klackspark.com, which goes to show what a local media company can achieve by combining traditional local journalism and robot journalism – about football in this instance.

At klackspark.com robot texts from United Robots’ Sportrobot will be mixed with manually written articles about football in Östergötland. The Sportrobot will deliver automatically written summaries of all matches played in Östergötland, while Östgöta Medias journalists will focus on the bigger matches, news events, web tv and columns. The result is comprehensive coverage of Östergötland football.

As our Sportrobot will also begin writing about icehockey, floor ball and bandy this autumn, there’s plenty of scope for local media houses to create something similar about these sports.

United Robot congratulates start-up of the year in Skåne!

Yesterday 8till5:s competitition Start-up of the Year in Skåne

was concluded at Internetworlds Webbdagarna in Malmö. Home security company Sensative won, ahead of digital medical service Min Doktor and earphone producers Earin. Worthy final line-up and worthy winners – United Robots, fifth in the competition, say congratulations!

This is the article about United Robots in 8till5.

Increase your social media presence with United Robots automated sports articles

With our Sportrobot local sports results can become social talking points at e g Facebook. That’s what we’ve discovered as we’ve increased the number of football texts at MittMedia’s Norrland sites.

It’s no surprise, really: a result in a table listing is “dead” and impossible to share in social media, as it’s not an article and not in context. Our Sportrobot transforms match data into an editorial text, easy to read and digest, and perfect for sharing in social media or be sent through messaging apps.

Example of how an automated text from United Robot’s Sportsrobot, published at  allehanda.se , generates social interaction on Facebook.

Example of how an automated text from United Robot’s Sportsrobot, published at allehanda.se, generates social interaction on Facebook.

We’re up and running! Our Sportrobot is busy writing up sports

The football season is getting underway which means our Sport robot has started producing match summaries for local news sites. This is what such an article looks like at Arbetarbladet.se All series are not running yet, so we’re not quite at full production at this point.

United Robots Sport robot will deliver summaries after every played match in the league system for all sites in the MittMedia group. This spring we’ll also start writing texts for Östgöta Media (corren.sent.semvt.se and vt.se) as well as unt.se.

In total that means tens of thousands of texts during 2016.

During spring the summary articles will be complemented by pre-match texts – the Sportrobot will write one for every match to be played. The pre-match texts will include analyses of the team’s form and we’ll talk about the table and how teams have fared in earlier meets.

As an added service, the Sportrobot will alert newsrooms to when a result, or other event during a match, deviates enough from what’s expected. This allows sports editors to look carefully at that match and potentially extend the automated summary, e g by making phone interviews. We call this function Alerts. It helps the newsroom follow up on the right matches!

After summer we’ll step it up another notch. By then we’ll have taught the Sportrobot to write about hockey, floor ball and bandy.

United Robots formalises agreement with Everysport

United Robots has signed a contract with Everysport Media Group for long-term access to the sport data on which the automated sports articles our Sport robot produces are based. The service will be rolled out across all sites in the MittMedia media group as well as NTM sites Corren.se, NT.se, UNT.se, mvt.se and vt.se.

Dagens Media writes about it here.

Everysport Media Group is listed at AktieTorget.