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Study: Automated journalism increases trading in financial markets

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In 2014, the Associated Press began using algorithms to write earnings reports covering publicly traded companies. These articles synthesize information from firms’ press releases, analyst reports and stock performance, and are widely disseminated by major news outlets within hours of publication.

“Through automation, we’re providing customers with 12 times the corporate earnings stories as before, including for a lot of very small companies that never received much attention,” said Lisa Gibbs, AP’s global business editor.

 

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Figure 1: AP Earnings Announcement Media Articles over Time. The figure above plots fraction of firms’ earnings announcements receiving an AP reporter-written and automated article, by quarter. The sample includes 4,292 firms and 57,467 earnings announcements.

This year, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Washington  evaluated the role of automated journalism in capital markets. The analysis conducted by professors Elizabeth Blankespoor and Ed deHaan, along with PhD student Christina Zhu, found compelling evidence that AP’s automated articles increase firms’ trading volume and liquidity.

“After the articles are published, we see an increase in trading volume that persists three to four days after the story comes out,” explained deHaan, an accounting professor at the University of Washington.

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Figure 2: Abnormal Volume by Days Relative to Earnings Announcement. The figure above plots the final sample firms’ abnormal trading volume for five days before and after the earnings announcement, separated by companies that began receiving coverage (“treatment” firms) and those that hadn’t (“non-treatment” firms). The sample includes 2,268 firms and 29,821 earnings announcements.

 

What is the role of the media industry when it comes to investing?

The media contribute to more informed and efficient financial markets by conducting analysis, uncovering corruption and holding executives accountable. Beyond that, news organizations relay facts from public accounting reports to the public through a vast distribution network.

This study found a positive effect between the public dissemination of objective information and market efficiency, a major discovery for the implications of automated journalism on capital markets.

“It’s an exciting first step in what is possible with automation technology,” Blankespoor said. “It’s not about displacing journalists from their jobs — it’s about providing coverage for firms that were not previously in the news.”

What was the study’s methodology?

The researchers focused on firms that did not have AP articles written about their earnings announcements from 2012 to 2014, before automated coverage started. Within that group, they separated and compared companies that began receiving reports and those that hadn’t.

Blankespoor said that when the researchers controlled for other factors, they found the change in abnormal trading volume and depth was more positive for firms that began receiving coverage than those that hadn’t, “suggesting that automated coverage increases firms’ trading and liquidity around their earnings announcements.”

Learn more Automated Journalism in this guide published by the Tow Center.

Francesco Marconi is the manager of strategy and corporate development at The Associated Press and an Innovation Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

Tweeting the election: Journalistic voice, bias, and “knowing where the line is”

Something unusual recently made the news: Business Insider reported that BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith sent a memo to staff, reminding them to refrain from bias on social media in their coverage leading up to the U.S. Presidential Election. The New York Times and Washington Post followed suit a few weeks later.

Why is this unusual? News media rarely publicly reflects on its own standards of production, let alone providing any degree of transparency into the managerial decision-making underlying the working practices of journalists. These memos, which came both from a digital native and legacy media organizations, tell us something about the current expectations, rules, and constraints that journalists are facing on Twitter.

As a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, I interviewed 26 political journalists who work for the top broadsheets and cable news channels in the US about the influences on and motivations behind their Twitter engagement, especially during election times. Twitter provides journalists with direct and unfiltered access to their audiences, unlike news pieces, where editors can rephrase or cut any indication of opinion or stance before it sees the light of day. To manage journalists’ social media engagement, the vast majority of news organizations have introduced guidelines and policies that outline preferred and punishable behavior (I’ve previously written about this here). Yet, this is often in vain, as Paul Farhi of the Washington Post outlined last week in a story that called out a number of political reporters for biased tweets about Trump.

Tweeting in the heat of the moment
The New Yorker recently argued that “most key elections have a key medium, and whoever wins this year’s frantic Presidential contest will owe that success partly to Twitter.” Although it may be difficult to quantify the platform’s actual influence on the electoral outcome, Twitter has become one of this election’s most popular social spaces for public and real-time analysis, commentary, and deliberation of two notoriously polarizing candidates. For example, the second Presidential debate on October 9 was the most tweeted ever:

Naturally, journalists are drawn to spaces where news events are unfolding. But it is one thing to use Twitter to keep tabs on the debate and “sort of do surveillance and monitor…what are people talking about right now” for story ideas and different reporting angles, as one journalist told me in my research. It is another thing to get actively involved; after all, not all (journalistic) Twitter engagement is created equal.

When emotions like disbelief, outrage, or joy get the better of us, research has shown how people often take to social media to share what they are feeling. Usually, this doesn’t have serious consequences; unless you’re a hard news reporter and this behavior on Twitter goes against the professional ethos and integrity that the news industry has been so keen to uphold in the digital age. One reporter admitted that, in the heat of the moment, he sometimes needs to remind himself: “don’t do anything that you’ll regret in the morning.”

“A new crop of journalists”?
The 2016 presidential race has stirred up strong political sentiments all over the country, including the news industry, where some candidate endorsements have been unexpected or break long-standing traditions of party support. Donald Trump has picked his fair share of fights with media outlets, blacklisted some of them, and publically insulted countless reporters. Last week, USA Today reported a “massive rise” in hate speech on Twitter in relation to election coverage, much of which appears to be targeted at journalists.

When things get personal and nasty — and they have often enough during this election — news organizations provide little to no support for individual journalists in managing negative experiences and attacks on social platforms, as my research findings further indicate. Journalists are often left to their own devices. As Twitter can feel “casual,” and boundaries between professional and personal may blur, some reporters find it difficult to hold back — not necessarily so in order to dish out revenge, but to blow off steam or out of a protective instinct for one’s reputation and career. Amidst all of this, one reporter told me how he observed a new kind of journalist being forged on Twitter:

I’m still very wary about social media because… you’ve seen people get in so much trouble. You’re not going to catch me losing my job for saying something crazy. But a new crop of journalists feel more empowered to do that and are less concerned.

Another one described how being involved and outspoken cultivates a brand on Twitter, how this helps him look out for himself and optimize career prospects in an unstable labor market. He argued that “the more willing you are to put yourself out there as a journalist on Twitter, the better you will be at building up that loyal base of followers who will follow you regardless of where you are.”

The audience appreciates smart analysis, but they also like a good laugh
Journalists are competing for the audience’s attention everywhere, including a platform as saturated as Twitter. One strategy is to provide high quality content in an environment where not everything lives up to that standard, and trust that your audience will recognize and appreciate the difference. We’re unlikely to disagree with one journalist who told me “the more valuable tweets are those that put something in context.” But for some journalists, offering content in addition to (or even instead of) fact and smart analysis has become another avenue to garner attention and connect with (actual and potential) followers. After all, to use another reporter’s words, “there is a high premium on Twitter for snark and…humor.”

During my interviews, many journalists have repeatedly emphasized that they don’t want to “be perceived as robots who push out bits and pieces of information,” and instead “share glimpses of being a real person.” One journalist even admitted: “You know, we make fun of people who do boring tweets. I mean Twitter is supposed to be the repository of clever. “

While political journalism is one of the classic hard news genres, during this election it has had to grapple with a significant amount of soft news topics. For example, this year’s first presidential debate focused more on personality than any other in US history. Personal attributes, subjective experiences and character judgments move into the foreground of the public debate and even become the news story themselves. And these stories are the kind of content that not only disproportionately invite snark, wit, and humor, but, more often than not, they also do exceptionally well on Twitter in terms of generating engagement and traffic — not because of their news value, but because of their entertainment value (a phenomenon known as the news gap, where the information preferences of the media and the public diverge). While reporters may overstep the bounds of their professional code, news organizations often perceive the outcome as positive (or at least not harmful), so reporters on Twitter may get away with what was once a privilege reserved for opinion writers.

The spectrum of journalistic Twitter engagement has broadened
Overall, journalists’ engagement is significantly shaped by a) the nature of their employing news organization’s social media strategy, and b) how strictly it enforces a respective policy and sanctions misdemeanor and/or rewards desirable performance. One journalist explained:

Because the one thing you learn is that there is no one reporter bigger than [my news organization]. So you don’t bring any reproach to it. If you’re going to embarrass it, you know….You just don’t, because it will be there when you leave. And that’s what’s important. And it’s part of your journalistic integrity, don’t weigh in because you need people to read your story.

Another reporter said:

I’ve always been waiting for the day to come when an editor walks up to my desk and says, ‘You’ve been tweeting 50 times in a row about this stupid vine that someone posted. Get to work.’ But it never happens because it almost always is considered a positive when you’re on Twitter because [your news organization] gets a lot out of it. Twitter spreads their stories, [and] they know that you’re getting stories from it. They know that you’re waving the flag of the company on it. But the downside is….I mean everybody lives in terror of knowing that you’re one tweet away from everything going on. And a lot of people have gotten fired for tweeting something they shouldn’t have.

However, when an organizational social media strategy is more of a well-intentioned recommendation than a rule with an iron fist, journalists enjoy more leeway. Their Twitter engagement is notably shaped by journalistic role-perception, personal preferences and individually desired benefits (all of which can be of an organizational, professional or personal nature, of course). One reporter highlighted:

You know, I think everybody in my newsroom uses Twitter very differently. I haven’t seen a very uniform usage quite yet, whether that be in my own news organization or even how I see my competition using it. I still think that there’s a very individual aspect to how you use it.

My research findings suggest that the spectrum of journalistic Twitter engagement has broadened. The keen observer of journalists’ profiles might have spotted similar journalistic roles during this Presidential election: those who appear to belong to a “new crop” of tech-savvy, outspoken journalists who take some risks to own the Twitter culture; those who are cautious, risk-averse and see themselves as a reporters “with traditional values trying to use modern tools;” and many in between, who are still trying to figure out the “weird balance,” as one reporter put it, between the opportunities and risks of having a direct link to the audience on Twitter, and “knowing where the line is” between the two. With the election only days away, media attention is at its peak and reporting stakes are high — for all journalists on Twitter.


Svenja Ottovordemgentschenfelde is a PhD researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. She works on the ‘Beyond 140 characters’ project and her writing has been published on the Tow Center Blog, LSE’s POLIS blog, and in Journalism. Find her on Twitter @sgentschenfeld.

Image: I. J. Clark.

Jeb Bush as a Noodle: The Seed of “American Affair”

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By Jennie Kamin | @VajennieMonolog

Many news cycles ago, back when over a dozen Republican candidates were vying to save the party, I was working in entertainment and applying to journalism school with the dream of doing something media-related to impact the election: something sophisticated, like a cartoon depicting Jeb Bush as a noodle. That was the seed of The American Affair.

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Becoming Uganda’s Chief Data Complainer

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By Lydia Namubiru | @namlyd

Before I left Uganda to start my master’s at the Columbia Journalism School in August 2015, I had been teaching data skills to working journalists in the East African nation. We had trained 78 in the 18 months before my departure for New York.

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Audiences for Journalism: Perception and Reality

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Image: Tara Hunt/flickr


The audiences for journalism are increasingly fluid. Whether by search or social media, every story can now find its own readership, beyond that of its parent publication. But while journalists now have more ways than ever to interact with their readers, it’s still hard for them to know exactly who their stories are reaching.

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Tow Takeaways: How Should Journalism Cover Terrorism?

Photo: Nicki Softness/Tow Center

Photo: Nicki Softness/Tow Center

By Nicki A. Softness | @nickisoftness

With a 24-hour news cycle, journalists face incredible pressure to report quickly, and ideally, first. This speed can result in dangerous and inaccurate rhetoric and information. As molders of public opinion, journalists have to pay particularly careful attention to how they cover terror attacks, and understand how their rhetoric can create a fearful or Islamophobic society.  

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Call for Research Proposals: Deadline Nov. 15

In January 2015, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School was awarded $3 million in new funding from the Knight Foundation to support rigorous research into emerging technology and trends impacting the news industry.

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Tow Takeaways: Honest Journalism + Compromised Environments

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Good journalism in the U.S. is fueled by emails, voicemails, FOIA requests and First Amendment arguments. But these are luxuries that many countries do not afford their journalists. Last week, the Tow Center and CJS Global welcomed J-School students and alumni who have managed to work around such limitations—and the threats that accompany them—to produce reporting that is founded on integrity and facts.

Here are five takeaways from the panel:

There tends to be a blurred line between journalism and politics: Journalists in the room hailing from across the world pointed to examples of the marriage between politics and the press. For example, some said it was not uncommon for former diplomats or political leaders to take over major editorial roles—and vice versa, when journalists would go on to embrace titles in government.

The U.S. has it good: One journalist in the room noted that as controversy-ridden as the 2016 election has been, the country is fortunate to have an environment that allows for difficult questions and hard-hitting investigative reporting.

Self-censorship is as big a threat as censorship: Threats, even implicit ones, are built into the system. They leave journalists worrying about their every move and sometimes going so far as to prompt them to leave the country. Some communities, such as women journalists and reporters who have pledged to protect sources, are more vulnerable to these threats.

Social media is both a force of good and bad for journalists: Some reporters in the room pointed to examples of social media as a way to better hold the government accountable, while others experienced it as a way to be publicly shamed for their reporting.

There is no one solution: These stories can be disheartening and there is no right answer or all-knowing savior. However, there are ways to balance good reporting with personal safety. For example, one journalist noted having to resort to making dozens of phone calls to corroborate data after a government agency refused to take calls.

Notes on Designing This American Life’s “Shortcut”

The internet is rife with tools to clip, remix, and gif visual content: we make reaction gifs of our favorite TV shows, screenshot articles to highlight compelling ideas, and have gif buttons built into many of our social and work networks.

Sharing audio, however, is a tougher nut to crack.

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What is voice-enabled journalism?

As we start communicating with smart devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, how will this technology impact news audiences? How will news consumers be able to use voice commands to access stories on demand?

 

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