The newspaper, traditionally an early adopter of new technology, published the story on its website and in print on Monday. The “Robot reporter” automatically triggers a story reporting earthquake activity, taking on average three minutes for the story to appear online.
The system, created by journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke, uses algorithms to generate a story. It uses the US Geological Survey as its information source before placing the latest data into a pre-written template.
The LA Times now plans to use another algorithm system to report on crime stories, and other news gatherers are reportedly keen to try out further algorithm-based reporting methods, particularly for sports reporting.
This may sound exciting, but newspapers have seen computers steadily replace their staff over the years, from the lino-type compositor replaced by page make-up programmes, to photographers replaced by online digital libraries. Is the journalist, as we know him or her now under threat? Ken Schwencke doesn’t think so: “The generated story doesn’t replace the journalist” he argues, “but instead allows data to be gathered quickly. It saves people a lot of time and gets the information out there in usually as good a way as anyone else would.”
Mr Schwencke added that human editors have the final authority to decide which story needed greater attention.
So while a computer generated story can sketch out the bare bones of a story, it will be a long time before algorithms can rival the human generated written word. The journalists at the LA Times need not quake too much in their boots just yet.