Journalists have had a tough time over the last twenty years and it’s about to get tougher.
The Associated Press today announced they will automate most of their business reporting. AP’s Business News Managing Editor, Lou Ferrara explained in a company blog how the service will pull information out of company announcements and format them into standard news reports.
instead of providing 300 stories manually, we can provide up to 4,400 automatically for companies throughout the United States each quarter
This isn’t the first time robots have replaced journalists, three years ago National Public Radio reported how algorighms were replacing sports reporters.
Ferrara admits AP has already automated much of its sports reporting;
Interestingly, we already have been automating a good chunk of AP’s sports agate report for several years. Data comes from STATS, the sports statistics company, and is automated and formatted into our systems for distribution. A majority of our agate is produced this way.
Reporting sports or financial results makes sense for computer programs; the reciting of facts within a flowing narrative is something basic – Manchester United led Arsenal 2-0 at half time, Exxon Mobil stock was up twenty cents in morning trading and the Japanese Yen was down three points at this afternoon’s close don’t take a super computer to write.
Cynics would say rewriting press releases, something many journalists are accused of doing, could be better done by a machine and increasingly this is exactly what happens.
The automation of commodity reporting isn’t just a threat to journeyman journalists though; any job, trade or profession that is based on regurgitating information already stored on a database can be processed the same way.
For lawyers, accountants and armies of form processing public servants the computers are already threatening jobs – like journalists things are about to get much worse in those fields.
It could well be that it’s managers who are the most vulnerable of all; when computers can monitor the workplace and prepare executive reports then there’s little reason for many middle management positions.
This is part of the reason why the middle classes are in trouble and the political forces this unleashes shouldn’t be underestimated.