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Charles on… anything that comes along

Friday 25 August 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 1:26 pm

Computers that write news: imagine the paper of the future.. written by Google

At the Johnson King blog, Andrew Chatterton writes:

The recent news of a US business information outfit replacing some of the tasks done by its journalists with computers will undoubtedly send shock waves across newsrooms throughout the country. Financial journalists are first in the ‘firing line’ as new software can turn around an earnings story within 0.3 seconds of a company making its results public!

This will surely be a threat to all journalists, not just financial hacks. As software intelligence increases, it’s feasible that any type of press release could be turned into an article before you can say ‘copy and paste’.

Indeed could we see chief executives briefing some sophisticated software and a laptop over lunch at Claridges? Newsrooms filled only with PCs and one techy to see to the needs of these next generation journalists? Or maybe even software that has the ability to scan blogs and automatically turn them into news stories? One for Charles Arthur to ponder on perhaps…

Well, having been passed the baton.. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, and that I did at the talk to Fullrun recently. It’s already trivial to imagine a computer-generated newspaper. Get Google News, capture the most common headlines, create a summary story from the stories that appear most often, categorised by politics/sport/science/technology/medicine/celebrities/wouldyoubelieveit!/heartwarming/reviews.

You could even generate different versions by twiddling the knobs - more celebs, less politics gives you the downmarket version, and so on. Then print it.

To be honest, the first time I saw Metro (the daily morning freesheet in London, though also in other UK cities, having come here like the Vikings from Scandinavia), I thought it was computer-generated, or at least computer-chosen. That was a couple of years ago; since then it’s got a little more personality, but not so much you’d spot it. And I think it would be tough to say what its political stance was, though its parentage (Associated Newspaper, ergo a sibling of the Daily Mail) does show up from time to time - such as today’s splash (front-page lead), headlined “Shoplifters to be spared jail”, which is factually incorrect as it’s reporting a recommendation that shoplifters not be sent to jail.

Two things, though. Obviously, you don’t want the Google Newspaper to be on the web. Else it would index itself, which would lead to recursion. Second, if it was successful, it would have no journalists, yet rely on journalism. A paradox, of sorts, though the existence of the Press Association means that such things as local papers with national reporting has solved that one for decades.

The Google Newspaper: is it evitable?

One Response to “Computers that write news: imagine the paper of the future.. written by Google”

  1. Small Paul Says:

    If anyone can evit it, Charlie boy, it’s you for sure.

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