Pros and cons of robot journalism
Last week we were talking about the robot journalism and its impact on the future of the online press. Let me first describe what a robot journalist can achieve for online press. Then we will show that while robot journalism may provide tremendous advantages to online media, it has its own flaws. Let’s review 4 advantages and 4 drawbacks of robot journalism in the online press industry.
4 advantages to the robot journalism:
- Combine speed and efficiency:
If I were to cite only one advantage of robot journalism, I would indisputably pick that one. Effectively, robot redaction provides a unique opportunity to be both efficient and fast. Typically a robot can take care of many things at a high speed: From technology monitoring to writing and large-scale dissemination. Obviously robots outperform humans there. For instance, the Heliograf robot, the Washington Post robot managed to come up with more than 850 articles, including 500 articles that generated more than 500,000 clicks during the political elections in the United States.
- Limit errors in articles:
In addition to being fast and efficient, the robot journalism can limit errors in published articles. While the articles generated automatically by robots are eventually reviewed and corrected by journalists (real ones this time), clearly errors are much less frequent. Actually, as we mentioned in the article ‘Will robot journalism impact the future of online press’ the robot journalism is able to collect data from many different sources in less time than it takes to say it. So, despite its inability to deeply analyze the data, using a robot to write about factual news, such as sporting events, weather forecast, political results, for instance, where only raw figures matter can turn out to be extremely useful and efficient.
- Let journalists concentrate on more complex topics:
Precisely because robot journalism can efficiently address factual news, it alleviates journalists to take care of such articles, leaving them with more time to write more complex ones containing deeper analysis of the information. Typically, such articles are reserved for subscribers who pay a subscription. Therefore journalists can focus on producing articles of important value to the readers and at the same time to improve the journalistic reputation of online media.
- Enable a more flexible time and team management:
Again, the main advantage of robot redaction is to save time for journalists to write and share content. This advantage opens immediately the door to another one: contributing to release the pressure on journalists typically during largest events. As well-being at work is becoming a major concern in the professional and personal context, relieving stress is an important factor to consider. This can help the journalists and increase their engagement for the media brand and thus decreasing turnover. As mentioned before, the time saved by robots allows journalists to be focused on topics of high value for both the readers and the brand. Clearly this could lead journalists to feel more ‘useful’.
4 drawbacks to robot journalism:
There is no free lunch: While robot journalism may bring some advantages to online media, there are some pitfalls to it.
- The risk of fake news proliferation:
Today fake news regularly makes it to the front page of the press. Fake news are usually written and disseminated by media (specialist in the field) with suspicious motives. This phenomenon has become a priority for the GAFA where such fake news turn viral. Nevertheless, such fake news can also be written and shared by robots journalists. This is a risk not to underestimate given that a recent study of ‘Digital News Report’ showed that 58% of readers are worried about fake news. While there are only a few examples of robots journalists sharing fake news online, there are some striking ones. The latest event of the kind is when the Quakebot robot (specialized and designed to prevent earthquakes) accidentally announced an earthquake reporting several deaths when the earthquake was in fact 92 years old.While the cause of the mistake seems to be human, a human action caused the replacement of the date of the 1925 event by 2025, the robot failed to spot it and started disseminated the news. Here, the robot did not generate the mistake but took it for granted and largely broadcast the information. This event shows that the robot journalism requires human reviewing to avoid such unfortunate issue. Let’s face it, robots can read and aggregate data from many sources but there are still unable to detect certain flaws that a journalist would immediately.
A software glitch turned an update of the magnitude of 1925 Santa Barbara quake M6.8 into a 2025 quake. New method for predicting quakes? https://t.co/vVmB13jn9N
— Dr. Lucy Jones (@DrLucyJones) 22 juin 2017
- Writing dehumanization:
A robot is still unable to write exactly like a journalist and could miss some elements of context that would be clearly and quickly perceived by the human brain. Typically, a robot might not be able to convey sadness or the joy in a text as well as any other literary style as a journalist would do. As we have already mentioned, in the article, ‘Will robot journalism impact the future of online press?’ the journalism robot is great to write content on factual elements, but is much less effective when it comes to conveying emotions (at least for now).
- Loss of editorial identity:
The dehumanization of writing is likely to have a direct impact on the editorial identity of online media. Effectively the automatic nature of the writing style of robots lead to steretyped articles, i.e. robots always write the same way. Robots are clearly still not able to dynamically adopt a new style for specific events as journalists would do. The capabilities and technical constraints of these AIs are common to all media wishing to implement these new means of automation. In the long run, this could lead to losing the editorial identity of a media.
- Lack of news tools acceptability:
Clearly, journalists have been challenged the development of the Web and more generally the digitalization of their professional world. While most of them have digested this transition, they may still suffer from some consequences.
While some clearly see a unique opportunity in the Web, others still perceive online media as a threat. Robot journalists should not be any exception. The fear often caused by new automation tools is associated to the fear of employees, journalists here, to eventually be replaced by a robot. Indeed, the journalist robot is able to do the same thing, but more quickly. This is as understandable as probably inaccurate. As we saw, the journalism robot is not yet able to replace a journalist, but can definitely simplify its life. Journalists will eventually have to deal with the changes in their profession by progressively becoming themselves the main users of these tools.
Robot journalism is a trendy topic. The ability to write and publish articles in a glimpse can turn out to be a real asset for the media. Now what about customization? These robots are now great tools for mass distribution of editorial content, but beyond this, isn’t the key to success be in personalization? To put an end to the bulimia phenomenon of the information and the pressure of marketing constantly exerted on the readers, the personalization of your communications is key to maintain a balanced and healthy relationship with your readers. If you are looking for a fast, efficient way with a quickly measurable return on investment, I invite you to start personalizing your newsletters. Should you want to know more before starting, take a look at the results Ouest-France and Publihebdos have obtained in a few months after personalizing their newsletters.