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October 27, 2021updated 20 Oct 2022 11:27am

Automated journalism: Journalists say robots free up time for deeper reporting

By Cecilia Campbell

Is automated journalism taking reporters’ jobs? Chief marketing officer of Press Gazette commercial partner United Robots Cecilia Campbell explains why Swedish publishers have found nothing to fear from the latest newsroom technology. (Partner Content*)

Some time ago, I received a question from two German researchers: Do journalists profit from automated journalism or do they find themselves homeless a few years later?

I reflected that this focus on the potential threat of automated content to reporters’ jobs and the quality of journalism is all but gone in Scandinavia. And that this may have something to do with the fact that here, a majority of local media houses now use the technology every single day.

Four years ago – a lifetime in robot journalism terms – 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 these. Already in 2017 it was clear that once they did, journalists attitude to robot “colleagues” changed from neutral or 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 has delivered automated journalism to Swedish media groups since 2015. When we first started approaching newsrooms, there was more often than not 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 part of the world.

In Scandinavia, we now rarely meet journalists who view newsroom 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 robots 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.”

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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 Nerikes Allehanda 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.”


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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 in Umeå. “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 October 2021, Scandinavian – specifically Swedish and Norwegian – publishers use news robots a lot more extensively than the news publishing 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, I believe the talk we used to hear; of content automation as a threat, will shift to a focus on the opportunities and benefits that automating routine reporting can bring to newsrooms.

*This article was published in association with Press Gazette commercial partner United Robots

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