Google to fund computer-generated news for UK local newspapers

The Digital News Initiative is offering The Press Association $805,000 (£622,000) to develop an automated news-generating initiative for regional newspapers in the UK.

The funding will go towards the development of the Reporters And Data And Robots (Radar) software, which will be developed in association with a UK-based news start-up, Urbs Media. Radar will analyse information from public databases (such as from government agencies or local law enforcement) to write stories, using Natural Language Generation. This converts data into readable prose.

The software could generate upwards of 30,000 news stories a month, as well as accompanying graphics, video and pictures.

Already, The Associated Press in the US uses artificial intelligence (AI) to fill gaps in financially-strained newsrooms, particularly to cover financial and low-profile sports stories. Many stories about quarterly financial earnings require tedious data comparison and sharing, but no human insight, making them ideal targets for automation.

These AI-generated stories are marked with the tagline: “This story was generated by Automated Insights”.

The Radar-generated stories, however, will be more ‘human’ than those already generated by AI, covering subjects such as crime, and will require some understanding of local social and political contexts.

In a news release, Peter Clifton, editor-in-chief at the Press Association, referred to the policy as a “genuine game-changer” which could allow many stories to be covered which may not otherwise receive attention, as local print media faces possible extinction.

Regional news providers are struggling with shrinking budgets and falling print sales all across the sector. Automation has been suggested as a means of producing content despite these pressures.

The grant will allow for five journalists to be hired to identify datasets, and to edit the copy; computer-generated language still lacks appropriate style. These journalists will be particularly important in fact-checking to prevent a computer-assisted growth in fake or misleading news.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” Clifton wrote, “but Radar allows us to harness [AI] to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”

Google’s Digital News Initiative is intended to promote digital innovation in journalism in Europe with investments of over $170m (£132m). Previous projects include automated fact checking, and generating 360° virtual reality (VR) news content with Euronews.

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