Setting up an ‘ultra-fast editor’, automated newsrooms or news coverage that is supported by algorithms and artificial intelligence are some of the possibilities offered by AI pilot projects currently being developed in the journalistic field. Although they raise many questions and are still in an experimental phase, the technological future is already knocking at the doors of the most important newsrooms on the planet.
One of the closest examples is what Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) will carry out with the municipal elections of May 28th. On this occasion, the pilot contemplates “the automatic writing of news from a technological tool that interprets and transforms the electoral results and converts them into news without human intervention”, point out from the University of Seville (USA) the authors of an article on this initiative, published in Latino Journal of Social Communication.
According to the US work, the automatic generation or writing of news is envisaged in small towns in so-called empty Spain based on a technological tool that interprets and transforms electoral results and converts them into news without human intervention. They intend to provide informative coverage of what happens in the nearly five thousand Spanish municipalities whose population does not exceed one thousand inhabitants.
AI is called upon to perform those repetitive tasks that journalists currently perform, with greater speed, less economic investment and eliminating the bias of human error.
Luisa Aramburu, researcher in the United States
“AI is called upon to perform those repetitive tasks that journalists currently perform, with greater speed, lower economic investment and eliminating the bias of human error. Naturally, the information professional is being directed to these tasks of investigation or deepening in themes of greater added value”, Luisa Aramburu, researcher at the University of Seville, told SINC.
If this were the future approach, information workers could devote more time to research and in-depth journalism. “It will give information professionals more possibilities to develop their skills in producing more in-depth journalistic texts. The journalist will be able to dedicate himself to research, analysis and interpretation. A much more difficult task and one that the machine, for the time being, is unable to perform”, points out the North American researcher.
In 2014, Christer Clerwall from the University of Karlstad (Sweden) conducted a study inspired by an article published in Wired, which measured whether readers were able to identify the authors of texts produced by software or by journalists. The conclusion was that they did not distinguish between them, but described the former as descriptive and boring, although objective and credible, and the ones written by humans as coherent, clear and readable.
“AI is a disruptive phenomenon that encompasses all sectors of society and in journalism it is opening up a new horizon of possibilities. Journalistic work routines are being transformed, giving rise to new ways of creating and distributing information,” says Aramburu.
The researcher argues that, in order to prepare the news, it will be essential, in addition to faster dissemination, to expand coverage —due to the degree of personalization that can be achieved— and bring events of interest closer to each specific audience.
Symbiosis between journalist and AI is absolutely necessary to create the best synergies in information work
Luisa Aramburu, researcher in the United States
“A journalist without AI will produce less news, will need more time and resources, will be subject to a greater degree of uncertainty and will not be able to achieve the level of personalization of events alone. However, without any journalist to supervise it, it would be a very powerful production system, not oriented to the sensitivity of different audiences and even dangerous. Therefore, the symbiosis between journalist and AI is absolutely necessary to create optimal synergies in information work”, says the author.
Real-time information for Spain emptied
The inhabitants of emptied Spain have difficulty accessing services and elements considered elementary in today’s society, including local information and news. AI offers an opportunity to reverse this situation. In the case of journalism, it becomes easier to be present in their localities and be useful to them in terms of information about what is happening in their immediate environment.
The Spanish start-up Narrativa Inteligencia Artificial will be in charge of carrying out the automated coverage project for RTVE. This company has already worked on the production of automated news for Agencia EFE, El Confidencial, Sport, El Periódico, El Independiente, 20 Minutos, El Heraldo, La Información and MediaPro.
Its work will consist of the automatic generation of news with the results of elections in municipalities, in real time, generated from electoral data provided by official sources. “A robot writing political news for an empty Spain” is how they define it.
A robot writing political news for empty Spain
In this way, they will cover around five thousand municipalities and will involve a total of seven professionals, including technicians and journalists, from the public entity, plus five technicians from the technology company.
A long process with different tests
It was a thirty-month development process with different stages: the first had to do with the conceptual design of the news; the second, with the elaboration of the structure of the product, and the third stage, with implications in the style that the texts will present. As local coverage is scarce or non-existent in this regional area, for Aramburu it is “very valuable information for anyone who may feel forgotten by journalism”.
The system can offer two services: news that is published automatically and a type of content based on a basic data model, which the journalist can easily complement and edit.
For the first test, they had the collaboration of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, the Ministry of the Interior and Minsait (for the database) in the elections for the 2021 Assembly, held on May 4. It started at 8 pm and the first news was published half an hour later, until 12:39 pm the following day. In total, around 2,600 news items were generated with 77 batches of files available.
The idea is not only that the user of a municipality receives the news of the municipal elections in his municipality quickly, but also that he can have access to an image, a photo, graphics and that he can also hear it
“The idea is not only that the user of a city receives the news of the municipal elections in his city quickly, but also that he can have access to an image, a photo, graphics and that he can also hear through the voice of a of our newscasters in that city”, explained Pere Vila i Fumás, Director of Technology, Innovation and Systems at RTVE in Aramburu, during the preparation of this study.
AI intervenes from identifying topics of journalistic interest, compiling content, tracking between its own and third-party databases, automated news creation, transcriptions from voice to text, from text to infographics or to video, or to generation of automated written texts.
“Journalistic routines are going to change both in their form and in their elaboration, we have to assimilate them into the profession and adopt them in a natural way for the benefit of the audiences, the media and the journalists themselves”, stresses the specialist, who considers it essential the elaboration of a code of ethics that regulates the use of AI in journalism, “is not only necessary but essential”, he concludes.
Although, according to the authors of this research, the possibility of robots replacing humans in this sector is still far away, it will be necessary to closely monitor how journalism as we know it evolves and transforms.
“Artificial intelligence in RTVE at the service of an empty Spain. Informative coverage project with automated writing for the 2023 municipal elections”. Latino Journal of Social Communication (2023).