Editorial Resources

5 Ways Automation is Benefiting Digital Publishers

By Stephanie Ho | Apr 18, 2017


If you’ve always wanted an assistant to make your everyday tasks at work easier, consider the ways automation has already been helping digital publishers. The recent influx of automated journalism can be largely attributed to The Associated Press, who began experimenting with then-fledgling startup Automated Insights to automate the creation of news content back in 2013. Since then, reputable journalists from the ICIJ to the Olympic games have been using smart machines to gather, analyze, and distribute news stories. Even the AP’s latest report, which covers how automation is benefiting publishers as of late, was written in “collaboration among two humans and multiple artificial intelligence systems.”

Here are five ways that automated technologies are working hand-in-hand with publishers to make their jobs easier, and their work even better:

1. Productive division of labor

Automated software doesn’t mind whether a task is intellectually stimulating. Its goal is to get the job done. There have been multiple instances within newsrooms where earnings, weather, and sports reports have fallen under the responsibility of an automated system, such as the way the A.P. has used Automated Insights to produce a steady stream of accurate reports on Minor League Baseball. According to the AP’s report mentioned above, “using algorithms to produce automated earnings reports has freed up 20% of journalists’ time, allowing those reporters to engage in more complex and qualitative work.” Similarly, the powerful technology behind Wibbitz’s automated platform makes it possible for anyone in a publisher’s newsroom to create and distribute video. This way, journalists can tell each story in an engaging and visual way without any video production experience, and video producers can dedicate their time to creating more investigative, emotion-driven, long-form videos.

2. Speed and accuracy

Because humans aren’t computers, crunching large data sets can take us a whole lot of time (and energy). Automated systems can not only do so at a much faster rate, but also with greater accuracy. ProPublica worked with Narrative Science to generate  52,000 data-based “human-readable narratives” at once. Instead of sitting a human in front of an endless Excel data set, ProPublica had Narrative Science’s technology parse and summarize its data. Of course, this entire process was overseen by Narrative Science’s human scientists – much like an editor might work with a reporter. Except this time, they weren’t working with one story, but with 52,000. Without a robot assistant, reporting (and editing) at this speed would have simply been impossible.

3. Scale and capacity

Automation not only helps digital publishers break news stories faster than is humanly possible, but also allows them to scale these stories across the distributed and crowded landscape. In August 2016, Xiaomingbot produced up to 58 stories about the summer Olympic games for a Chinese publication. Xiaomingbot, while perhaps not producing the most colorful stories, achieves the basic need by providing details about wins, athletes, and the day’s competitions. The scale of coverage required for a sporting event like the Olympics is an ideal situation for the use of bots like Xiaomingbot – audiences can know what happened, as soon as it happened, as if they were there to see it themselves.

4. A more complex understanding of metrics

Echobox takes a publisher’s stories and automatically inputs them into their custom algorithm. The system then scans those stories and produces a score that shows how likely a story is to do well on the Internet. Based on this score, the Echobox platform presents publishers with a publishing schedule that suggests when articles should be published for optimum performance. As the Echobox Team explains on Medium, “A typical person can take perhaps a couple of different variables into consideration when trying to predict the performance for a social media post. However, for a machine the number of variables can be nearly infinite.” With automated platforms like Echobox, editorial decisions within a digital newsroom can be made with trustworthy, data-fed insights – that in turn, help publishers better understand how their content is being perceived.

5. Data visualizations made accessible

Graphiq, which offers a library of 10 billion interactive visualizations for journalists to integrate into stories, uses AI to quickly read and summarize data into beautiful visuals. Graphiq’s automated software is being used by publishers like Aol and Time to turn huge data sets into visualizations that their readers can understand. These interactive infographics are updated in real-time, whenever the data sets that they are linked to are updated. In today’s visual-driven media landscape, publishers must always find new ways to tell their stories, to engage and interact with their audiences. With the help of powerful tools like Graphiq and Wibbitz, publishers can do so without taking up any valuable time or resources from their own team.

Stephanie Ho