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Will automation introduce a new breed of journalists?

With the increasing convergence of storytelling and technology, journalists will have to become fluent in skills that previously were only held by programmers and engineers.

 AP/Luis Soto

The ongoing digital disruption impacting the economics of the news business, is inspiring journalists to find new ways to rethink productivity and innovation, the two primary factors of long-term growth. With limited resources and shrinking budgets, it is critical that news organizations maximize the time reporters have to practice journalism and break news. Not only that, but reporters need to work smarter, not harder.

Automation technology can be one of the new tools to help journalists achieve that mindset. A recent example is that of The Associated Press using smart algorithms to automatically create earnings stories for companies throughout the United States each quarter.

Lou Ferrara, AP’s managing editor overseeing business news, explains, “This is about using technology to free journalists to do more journalism and less data processing, not about eliminating jobs.”

Andreas Graefe, a fellow at the Tow Center, says, “Automated and human journalism may complement each other, and the ability to automate routine tasks may offer opportunities to improve journalistic quality.”

Today, we are going through an “Information Revolution.” Developments in fields such as machine learning and artificial intelligence enable the automation of many functions — even journalism — that previously were impossible for machines to perform. Modern journalists will have to be more than excellent storytellers; they will also have to become fluent in technology, programming and data analysis.

Graefe added, “Algorithms will analyze data, find interesting stories and provide a first draft, which journalists would then enrich with more in-depth analyses, interviews with key people and behind-the-scene reporting.”

The new scenario opens up possibilities for sweeping change in how newsrooms deploy their resources and how reporters do their work. As new technologies change knowledge work, it will be important for news media professionals to understand what role smart machines will play in the future of journalism.

Tow projects such as “The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism” and “Algorithmic Accountability” aim precisely at advancing the understanding the impact of technology in journalism.

Andreas Graefe is currently writing a Guide to Automated Journalism. It will be published on November 12, 2015.