Quoted: on algorithms that write news stories

“The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting.”

Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, on the algorithm-generated story he “wrote” Monday after a magnitude 4.7 earthquake (which was later downgraded to 4.4). He told Slate the algorithm’s goal was to get the story out quickly and accurately, and that the article was then updated 71 times by real! live! humans and turned into to a more in-depth piece. The original article disclosed at the end that the information came from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service, and that “this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”

Is Schwenke correct that the rise of the news-writing algorithm won’t endanger the jobs of journalists? That’s what other creators of such programs say, that the bots actually free up reporters to do more stories that require a human touch. For example, Narrative Science cranks out sports articles and stories based on companies’ earnings reports. Kristian Hammond, the company’s CTO told Wired a couple of years ago he expected that in 15 years, 90 percent of news stories will be automatically generated.


Photo: The algorithm-written story about Monday’s earthquake in Los Angeles didn’t include details beyond the basics of time, place, magnitude and epicenter. Other details, such as context about nearby faults, and even hair-care products falling from the shelves of the Sherman Oaks Beauty Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., came later, reported by humans. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)


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  • Steve Hammill

    Writing jobs will be in short supply and I’d expect the reporting staff to be cut deeply. Of course, with electronic publishing, publishing costs are way down so perhaps more stories will be the path businesses take.