AI in journalism
03 August 2017

How AI will impact journalism and PR

A few weeks ago it was reported that Google had embarked on a project whereby it will be funding local UK news reporting. The international technology giant gave £622,000 to the Press Association (PA) news agency to spend on its “Reporters and Data and Robots” (Radar) project, which will see computers generating 30,000 AI-written local stories per month.

The news was met with some scepticism across the board as to whether it was a good idea. On one hand, the use of AI by news outlets is not a new phenomenon (PA’s Automated Insights has been around since 2014), and in an age where fake news plagues our webpages, should we be welcoming an increasingly factual and impartial method of news generation?

Conversely, can we rely on robots to supply news that is interesting to read as well as accurate? There is also the added danger of algorithms being manipulated, resulting in incorrect reporting.

There are pros and cons, but one thing is obvious, the way that news is written is evolving. So which industry is most at risk? Is it the journalist, the public relations consultant or the client themselves?

The most obvious answer would be the journalist, particularly when considering that their role is defined as ‘a person who writes for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or prepares news to be broadcast’. As people increasingly prefer to read shorter articles, but a higher number of them, the requirement for insightful human commentary is lessening – people just want the facts and as quickly as possible. Today, outlets are in a rush to be the first to cover that breaking news piece – technology such as AI facilitates this. It may get to the stage where human journalists merely become editors, having to check the work of their artificial colleagues before publication.

Even in the current news climate, for example a new hire, we already see some online outlets only publishing the press release anyway, so in some cases the need for a journalist is obsolete. Instead, we need to take more of a pragmatic view that journalists should focus on more complicated and impactful news stories. By integrating the use of AI into journalism perhaps we will free up their time to do what they do best: conducting research and coming up with new interesting angles. This is something which a robot is currently unable to do. This is particularly important for local news outlets that are being forced to close as a result of falling readership. In the same way that other industries are having to adapt to the impact of AI, journalism must embrace new technology and adjust to a new way of working.

In terms of PR, there are two ways in which we will feel the effects of robotic journalists in the near future. Firstly, in an industry heavily measured on targets, including the amount of coverage generated from press releases, if every single release gets published, it is going to become even more challenging to demonstrate our value in a quantifiable way. Secondly, communications experts are often required to generate new ideas for coverage. Not all news is based on an event, a new hire, an acquisition etc. and part of the value that communications firms bring is their creativity and thought leadership. Fortunately, existing AI technology cannot recreate either of these. There will be an even greater requirement to generate creative and quality content as journalists move back to the mantra of quality, not quantity.

It is less clear how AI in news creation will impact businesses. However, one consideration is that organisations will have to stick more to the facts, and news will not be able to be disguised by complicated messaging and industry jargon. In turn, it could have a big effect on the coverage sentiment for less transparent organisations.

Overall, if the term ‘at risk’ is taken to mean that an individual’s traditional business role will change, then the fact is that everyone is at risk. How we operate on a day-to-day basis is set for an upheaval. Instead of resisting, we should view the introduction of the robot journalist as an opportunity for news to become better in quality, providing readers with access to breaking news as soon as it happens.