OLD Media Moves

Automated reporting and business journalism

March 17, 2012

Posted by Chris Roush

By Alex Barinka

Business journalists may be racing against heartless competition as automated data-driven stories become more commonplace.

Robbie Allen, founder of Automated Insights, has developed computer programs to convert sports data into stories that mirror sports news articles including game previews, post-game stories and player-of-the-week stories.

The numbers-based data typical to sports news is similar to that in business news, specifically economic reports and companies’ financial information. Though that may not be the only content that could be automated by business news organizations.

Allen said that Automated Insights is working with either Bloomberg News or Reuters — he wouldn’t specify — in automating data news coverage that is not necessarily in finance.

“We can automate six to seven paragraphs relatively easily,” Allen said at a Society of American Business Editors and Writers‘ conference in Indianapolis.

The sports content that the company is currently producing can be altered to reflect a pseudo-voice of a writer ranging from styles that are “over-the-top like Dick Vitale” to straightforward game stories.

“The brand of content we produce is very quantitative in nature,” he said. “I think computers are perfect for that.”

Allen said that errors will occur in the stories if the data set is not correct, which could make automated business reporting more challenging than sports.

“It’s much harder in the finance space because of that element of manipulation,” he said.

If the numbers given by the company are misleading—whether through deferred expenses, one-time earnings gains or other similar items—then the automated article may not tell the complete story.

To combat that, Allen said that the data points used should be consistent across all companies.

While automated story writing may begin to permeate into business reporting, Allen doesn’t see it as a direct threat to journalists’ jobs.

“We’re not replacing anything,” he said. “We’re just adding to the conversation.”

Barinka is a UNC-Chapel Hill business journalism student attending the SABEW conference.

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