Article-writing algorithms help news outlets and writers jump on stories faster and easier.
The Los Angeles Times was the first media outlet to report on Monday’s earthquake thanks to Quakebot, an algorithm programmed to write quick reports about earthquakes.
Developed by LA Times journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke, Quakebot extracts data about earthquakes registering above a certain level from the US Geological Survey and inputs the information into a template. The short report then goes into the media outlet’s content management system, where it gets picked up, reviewed and published by an editor.
When the quake happened last Monday, Schwencke found the initial report already waiting in the system and all he had to do was review and publish it. Schwencke told Slate that publishing the report about the earthquake took all of three minutes. After that first post, the report eventually went through several updates by human writers.
This news tidbit about Quakebot writing the first report about Monday’s event is the latest example in the growing trend of “Robo-journalism.”
The concept of article-writing bots or algorithms is nothing new. Quakebot was patterned after a similar report-writing algorithm that creates articles about homicides on the LA Times’ coverage area.
Companies like Narrative Science create software that takes information and turns them into short reports, mostly about sports events. Narrative Science has also developed algorithms that help companies create daily internal reports.
Understandably, the growing trend of robo-journalism has some people questioning whether bots would eventually take over the jobs of journalists, but opinion, including that of Schwencke, is starting to shift toward thinking that these bots are actually advantageous to writers and media outlets.
Schwencke states that the purpose of the Quakebot is to get the basic data out as quickly as possible to inform people and pave the way for more detailed and investigative questions. For him, bots help news outlets get on a story earlier and faster, as well as help writers work faster by providing them with the basic details they can use to write a more in-depth piece.
Schwencke also describes “robo-journalism” as supplemental or more of a support for writers. Bots or algorithms are limited to reporting the basic details while human writers can ask more questions and delve deeper into the story by going on-site or interviewing people.