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Jul 16 / King Kaufman

AP announces robot takeover of earnings reports, but no job cuts

An update on the robot takeover of commodity journalism—all those stories that anyone with basic skills can write.

The Associated Press announced recently that starting this month it’s going to use software to write stories about earnings reports. The good news is that the software, from a company called Automated Insights, can produce 4,400 such stories about U.S. companies per quarter, rather than the 300 the AP’s reporters can write in that time, according to AP managing editor Lou Ferrara.

The bad news? Well, that’s all speculative at this point. It’s reasonable and logical to worry that automation will either cause or be used as an excuse for job cuts. But for the moment, in the press release linked above, Ferrara says that the change will free up AP journalists to do the kind of work software can’t do:

We are going to use our brains and time in more enterprising ways during earnings season. Rather than spending a great deal of time focusing on the release of earnings and hammering out a quick story recapping each one, we are going to automate that process …

Instead, our journalists will focus on reporting and writing stories about what the numbers mean and what gets said in earnings calls on the day of the release, identifying trends and finding exclusive stories we can publish at the time of the earnings reports … This is about using technology to free journalists to do more journalism and less data processing, not about eliminating jobs.

We can argue all day about whether automated writing software will cost human journalists their jobs or free them up to do more creative, interesting, useful work. I admit to my own dystopian suspicions. But far more useful to think about is what you’ll do when all the commodity journalism is created by software, by robots, rather than by people thinking like robots, which is what AP journalists do when they write things like earnings-report stories. Or game recaps.

If you’re doing something that a machine could be taught to do—even a machine more sophisticated than the ones you know exist today—you should probably be thinking about what else you might do. That machine is probably coming.

More on the subject:

Algorithm-Generated Articles Don’t Foretell the End of Journalism by Joe Pinsker,

AP will use robots to write some business stories by Andrew Beaujon,

And three previous B/R Blog posts:

What will you write when computers write all the game stories? Sept. 15, 2011

Never mind Jeff Bezos: “Robots” almost took over the Washington Post! Aug. 21, 2013

Computers are gaining on writers, and that’s a good thing, Sept. 18, 2013

  • backell

    I can’t help but consider this in the context of your last entry. Could it be that this is a push towards writers gaining expertise in specific fields so that they can say things the robots can’t?

    I can’t help but wonder how far behind game recaps are, simply using box score stats.

    It’s probably counter-intuitive, but this might actually be good for journalism. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even re-discover investigatvie journalism!

    • King_Kaufman

      It should be good for journalism. Of course there will be organizations that will use this type of technology as a reason, or an excuse, to lay off some writers. Instead of paying writers to do time-consuming grunt work they can have the machines do it in seconds. Then they can take the profits and … put them in their pocket. But I suspect that strategy won’t lead to long-term success. Overall, the effect should be positive. We should see writers freed up from grunt work to do the kind of work only humans can do.

  • James Kotecki

    I’m the Media & PR Manager at Automated Insights. We’ve actually worked with Bleacher Report. In fact, our company got its start in sports.

    The reporters who have written corporate earnings stories have reacted very positively to the news that we’re automating that task. For example, Kevin Roose writing in New York Magazine: “Not only am I not scared of losing my job to a piece of software, I think the introduction of automated reporting is the best thing to happen to journalists in a long time.”

    • King_Kaufman

      Interesting, James. Thanks for posting.

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