New WAN-IFRA report explores the potential of automated news

WAN-IFRA report on automating news content


Newsrooms are increasingly warming up to the possibilities of automating news content, but a number of challenges still surround the actual implementation and deployment of this growing development, according to a WAN-IFRA report.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) partnered with the University of Helsinki and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland to produce this latest report called News automation: The rewards, risks and realities of ‘machine journalism’.

News media companies face ever-growing commercial pressure to extract higher margins from dwindling resources and that is a key driver for news automation, powered by machine learning and AI. The report focuses on a specific part of news automation: the automated generation of news texts based on structured data.

The report features five examples of how news automation has been implemented in newsrooms around the world: MittMedia and United Robots (Sweden), RADAR (UK), The Washington Post (US), Valtteri (Finland), and Xinhua and Caixin (China).

While these cases and others around the world demonstrate some of the possibilities for publishers to exploit news automation, researchers have found that there is still much development to be done – also from the publishers’ side, to continue to experiment.

“Five years ago, there were many bold predictions about how automated journalism will develop,” says Andreas Graefe, Endowed Sky Research professor at Macromedia University, in the report. ‘From claims that 90% of news will be automated to Pulitzer prizes for automated content. In reality, not much has changed. Progress is steady but slow.’

Here are a few takeaways from the report, which can be downloaded by WAN-IFRA members.

Right now, one of the main goals of automated content is to save journalistic effort, especially on repetitive tasks, while increasing output. The good news is that so far, news automation has not replaced humans, and looks set to work alongside humans in the newsroom. News automation provides media companies with an opportunity to expand their businesses outside traditional news.

The future of automation lies in decomposition, or deconstruction, of the fundamental principles of journalism. That means breaking down journalistic work into the actual information artefacts and micro processes to analyze what can be automated and what are inherently human tasks.

Publishers considering implementing news automation systems have a lot of judgment calls to make. The biggest decision is whether the system should be bought from a service provider or created and modified in-house. Automated journalism transforms structured data into news articles, and the quality of the output is highly dependent on the quality of the data that is fed into it. Automatically generated texts beyond the most basic templating systems are often still prone to error. NLG systems are still quite unsophisticated and their extendability outside texts on sports, real estate or finance is limited by several factors.

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2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

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Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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