If robots can do a journalist’s job – how long will it be before PRs get replaced by machines?

If robots can do a journalist’s job – how long will it be before PRs get replaced by machines?

Phil Szomszor

Phil Szomszor

If you’ve worked in PR or the media for a few years you’ll know that journalists are a dying breed. Every publication that I serve has seen its editorial teams slashed, due to falling advertising revenues and the media marketplace becoming more fragmented.

But there’s another growing threat to journalism: robot writers.

A company called Automated Insights has developed a piece of software called WordSmith that generates news stories on topics such as finance and sports, which are published on the likes of Yahoo!, Associated Press and other outlets.

I know what you’re thinking. Surely a machine can’t write as well as a human?

NPR Planet Money (one of my current fave podcasts) recently did an experiment, where it pitched its fastest journalist, Scott Horsley, against WordSmith.

Scott knocked his piece out in an impressive seven minutes. WordSmith took a blistering two minutes.

You might argue that Scott’s piece was superior – it was certainly more colourful – but it raises the question of whether humans are always needed, especially in today’s data and information-hungry media landscape.

WordSmith Experiment

The other question is whether the PR industry needs to be worried about software like WordSmith.

Think how ‘PRSmith’ could work.

>>PRSmith would scan the web for mentions of a particular brand according to sentiment (these things will get better in the future) and automatically reply.

>>PRSmith would recommend responses to emerging threats, price changes, negative reviews and competitor activity and distribute these across digital media channels. The software would learn which responses performed best over time, based on sentiment analysis and impact on sales.

[caption id="attachment_9454" align="alignright" width="300"]Robot Image - source Flickr Will we see the rise of robot PR consultants?[/caption]

>>PRSmith would distribute news to the right journalists (WordSmith or human), including the right information in the right format. PRSmith would never call a journalist up to ask if he/she/it had received the press release.

>>PRSmith could respond to journalists’ requests in nano-seconds – without lying, making errors or trying to evade the question.

Of course this is all slightly tongue in cheek. PRSmith doesn’t yet exist and even WordSmith focuses on areas that are more easily automated, likes stats-heavy sports and financial news. But the rise of automation in the workplace will affect every industry – I don’t see why PR and journalism should be any different.

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Discussion

  1. Automated word-smithing first came into the news with the work of Narrative Science who were helping companies in the financial industry to quickly get out (automated) news. As the technology gets better – particularly with the advance of deep learning – it is likely to affect most creative industries in some way soon.

    An interesting observation is that automated content also ends up being re-gurgitated by other machines to deliver content in news recommenders, facebook news feed and so on.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dinesh. The idea of automated word-smithing isn’t that new, although I confess I hadn’t heard of Narrative Science before, so thanks for pointing them out.

      Good point about the regurgitation of content. Some would argue there’s a fair bit of that going on manually already (and many publications take more and more pieces from the likes of PA and Reuters these days), but it could get more commonplace as the barriers to entry fall.

      Cheers
      Phil

    2. Firefly Communications
      Firefly Communications

      Thanks for your comment Dinesh. The idea of automated word-smithing isn’t that new, although I confess I hadn’t heard of Narrative Science before, so thanks for pointing them out.

      Good point about the regurgitation of content. Some would argue there’s a fair bit of that going on manually already (and many publications take more and more pieces from the likes of PA and Reuters these days), but it could get more commonplace as the barriers to entry fall.

      Cheers
      Phil

  2. Interesting piece, thanks for sharing, Phil!
    Yeah, it’s true, automation affected all spheres in our life, though I’m still thinking that “human factor” is rather important too. Some services offer “in half solution”: from one side they are automated (faster, easier, etc.), from another they are included human factor as well. I’m blogging at http://prnews.io/blog and I guess I’ll write about this issue in my next post.

    1. Thanks Anna. Do let us know by Twitter @Firefly_Comms when you publish your piece – we’re interested in what you think.

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