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June 20, 2018updated 02 Mar 2023 9:18am

Press Association trial of ‘robot-written’ story service now open to every local title in UK

By Charlotte Tobitt

Every local and regional newsroom in the UK can now make use of the Press Association’s “robot-generated” stories.

Four new data reporters have recently joined the Reporters And Data And Robots (Radar) automated news service, set up by PA and Urbs Media, which sees stories jointly produced by journalists and artificial intelligence.

A closed pilot began at the end of November, involving 35 regional titles from 14 publishing groups.

A three-month open trial has now begun, in which the more than 1,000 regional titles in the UK can sign up to Radar’s new website to receive localised data-driven stories.

The trial will run until the end of August and feedback will help shape the future development of the service.

Gary Rogers, editor-in-chief of Radar, said: “The launch of our distribution website is a big step forward for Radar. It means that we can expand beyond the titles in our pilot phase and provide strong local news stories to any title across the UK.

“The site is easy to use, and we hope that publishers will find it a valuable asset in helping to serve their local readers.”

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PA has said it wants Radar to produce tens of thousands of localised stories from data sets every month once it is fully launched.

The new website went live with around 4,000 localised versions of a dozen stories sourced by its reporters, spanning stalking offences, vacant homes, pupil absences from schools, and opioid prescriptions.

Radar’s open trial partners already include large publishing regional groups Archant, Johnston Press, Newsquest and Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), as well as independents like Baylis Media and hyperlocals like On the Wight.

Reach, which also has its own data journalism unit, has been running a trial of Radar at a small number of its local titles since Christmas. It has now extended the trial to all of its regional newsrooms.

Reach digital innovations editor Paul Gallagher said: “It is very interesting to see how the content has developed and also to see how journalists respond to the idea of using copy generated by AI, or ‘robot’.

“Developing data journalism has been a key part of our strategy at Reach and we are trialling the Radar service to see if it will provide a new way of finding stories that are important to our audiences.”

Over the summer, Radar’s staff journalists will identify, write and template an average of 15 stories every week from national datasets.

Around 250 versions of each story will be generated, resulting in a weekly output of almost 4,000 localised stories.

PA announced its first two editorial hires for the team in December.

It has now expanded with the addition of Joseph Hook from Newsquest daily Swindon Advertiser, Harriet Clugston from Reach weeklies Hertfordshire Mercury and Herts & Essex Observer, Miguel Rodriguez from Spanish newspaper La Opinion de A Coruña, and NCTJ trainee Izzy Kirk.

Pete Clifton, editor-in-chief at PA, said, “Radar is driven by human journalistic talent and I am delighted to see more reporters joining the team and acquiring additional skills as we develop this exciting new way of scaling up our local story production.”

PA said Radar, which uses bespoke technology based around Natural Language Generation software to automatically write stories, was set up to “meet an increasing demand for fact-based news for local communities”.

It received a €700,000 grant last year from Google’s Digital News Initiative, designed to support innovation in digital journalism across Europe.

Picture: Pixabay

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