New Age Newsroom Trends: Can Robots Replace Human Journalists?

New Age Newsroom Trends: Can Robots Replace Human Journalists?

The rising trend to automate journalism has created a stir among the advocates of traditional media. The main concern is, can robots create content that would be equally interesting and powerful as the content generated by humans? The following news excerpt from the Associated Press about Alcoa Inc. (AA) answers the question. The news report began:

“Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts’ expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.”

The content is generated by a piece of software- a robot, designed and created by Automated Insights, a company based in Durham, North Carolina. It may not be an artful piece of literature, but it’s definitely informative and that’s what people want in a news report. The traditional media journalists are concerned that content-authoring software that is driven by algorithms might someday replace the human journalist.

In today’s world, robo-journalists are employed by many publishers, including The New York Times, Forbes and the LA Times. Robots have a natural aptitude for data, so they are mostly placed on sports and business desks. Experiments are made into investigative journalism and breaking news segment. Copy editors are there to help these ‘digital junior reporters’ and if required,‘re-programme’ them. Robo-reporters are like junior human reporters only; they learn from and draw on a back catalogue of powerful writing. They use sharper memories and analytical techniques.

Importance of robo-journalism- how effective is it?

Robo- journalism has come up a long way. Now, it is hard for people to differentiate between the articles written by humans and content created by machines. One of the toughest work is to get the robot journalists verbalize what they’ve learned. The lessons are turned into algorithms once they have been verbalized. Now, the robots can search through wire stories, online press releases and data sets, gathering information to write content. The content created is often put on the wire directly. In the initial stages of using robo-journalists, the Associated Press used to check everything that the machines created. Currently, most of the information is put on the wire directly.
Learning, assimilation and implementation capacity of robot journalists

The machines can learn and translate languages. They can compare a story, covered by different people to learn about alternative phrases, different approaches, narratives, tones and styles. They can absorb captions under several pictures, which enable them to describe a new picture. Machines have powerful memories, they can fast check the data sets to verify facts. Robo-journalists can verify facts faster than machines. The Los Angeles Times uses robo-journalism to give updates on earthquakes because analysis of geological data survey is done faster by machines than by humans. Machines can give a story, a touch of personalization by producing multiple versions.

Interests and Concerns

The advertising units would be benefited from robo-journalism. The machines can write personalized copies for the advertisers. The quality of the content has improved greatly. The recent experiments show that people cannot distinguish between content written by humans and machine-generated content. Robo-journalism has its own limitations. Robots are restricted to sports, business, investigative, and breaking news segment. Robots cannot write on technical topics from the scratch. But it is expected that they’ll improve with time.

Large-scale business houses have rendered machine-generated content on their websites, particularly product specifications, which are directly generated from the database. It’s time that B2B marketers take full advantage of robo journalists. They must learn to use machine generated content, otherwise they have to spend more money on the campaigns. Although, people are still skeptical about computer generated content (many believe that automation software can create errors), robo journalists would become an integral part of journalism in the upcoming years.

Impact of Ad Blocking in B2B Marketing

Impact of Ad Blocking in B2B Marketing

Surfing without interruption- that’s the latest fad! No wonder that the web’s two most popular extensions and open source content filters, such as AdBlock and Adblock Plus have gained so much popularity. Since 2011, Adblock Plus has roped in over 200 million downloads. Most web browsers are using easy-to-install ad blocking plug-ins such as AdBlock and AdBlock Plus just to avoid the hindrance caused by pop-ups and auto-play video ads that tend to divert their attention from the main page. Ad blockers are easy to install, they make browsing smooth and seamless; they make the web page cleaner and prevent advertisers from tracking the user activity online. Some of the ad blocking software are so effective that even Google and Facebook, the two greatest advertising giants are unable to get past them.

Ad Blocking- The Debate Continues

Whether ad blocking should become an important part of the web browsing or not is still a debatable proposition. Of course, its impact on B2B marketing cannot be overlooked. While debating on content piracy, many believe that exposure to an ad is the only fee that users pay for making use of free content. On the other hand, the companies that create ad blocking software and ‘privacy activists’ are in favor of ad blocking because advertising companies use the ads to track user interest and activities online.

Ad blocking definitely has a negative impact on B2B marketing. What happens is, these software prevent the websites from generating ad revenues, which is often their main source of income. Most often, placing ads next to the web page content helps the various websites recover the cost of creating content. Advertisers sometimes pay a minimum amount each time an ad is shown to a visitor. By installing ad blockers, you basically cut off this source of revenue. According to a recent survey, publishers in the U.S. lose more than 9% of ad revenue as a result of ad blocking.  Due to this ad blocking trend, many websites are on the verge of incurring huge losses.

Impact of Ad Blocking on B2B Marketers

B2B marketers will be hard hit due to ad blocking. The reason is, many websites that aren’t subsidized by television or print ads, are likely to close down due to diminishing online ad revenues. The consumers would also suffer because websites that were earlier dependent on ads are more likely to charge from the users for viewing content in order to withstand the hard competition. The latest trend in ad technology has focused on solving the needs of advertisers and publishers.

For years, the purpose behind the innovations in ad technology was to solve the needs of publishers and advertisers. In today’s world, data-driven personalization focusses on transforming ad generation into a service that would help users get relevant and well-timed information. Unlike television and print, the web offers the users the space to make choices. It is high time that consumers understand the impact of ad blocking on the publishing industry. Although ad blocking is less widely used in B2B as most larger companies control what software can be installed on PCs , nevertheless it is likely to remain and will decrease the number of people who can be reached through conventional online advertising.

Currently, the number of users in the B2B industry who are in favor of ad blocking technology is still uncertain. Some advertising companies sign deals with ad blocking companies to allow their ads to appear on the website. This means that the ads will appear irrespective of the content and quality. Also, when ad blocking companies allow the ads to appear on a website and people view these ads, they prevent publishers from earning the money by effectively transferring the revenue from the publisher to the ad blocking company. This will have a negative impact on the publishers who will find it hard to earn the revenue required for paying the journalists to get high quality content for their websites.

Basically, the B2B publishers need to educate the users about the consequences of using ad blockers and leave it to them to make an informed choice.

Should AP use robots to write stories… or are earnings reports really that boring?

Should AP use robots to write stories… or are earnings reports really that boring?

I was interested to see that the Associated Press (AP) plan to use software to write stories about earnings reports. This sounds a bit like the massive disruption to the way we do PR that has been promised by those who believe that you should be able to replace a PR pro with a bit of code fairly easily.

But is this really going to change much? It does mean that the AP will cover earnings reports from 4,400 companies in the USA, rather than 300. And let’s be honest, most earning reports are boring and formulaic. In fact I sometimes think that even my software skills should be good enough to write a bot to create some of the less creative earnings releases that are issued!

Furthermore there is no suggestion that the software will actually understand what it is writing. AP Managing Editor Lou Ferrara wrote in a Q&A about the move, “our journalists will focus on reporting and writing stories about what the numbers mean and what gets said in earnings calls on the day of the release, identifying trends and finding exclusive stories we can publish at the time of the earnings reports.” So the robots aren’t taking over yet: in fact they don’t even know what the numbers mean!

This news, however, doesn’t mean that there will be no impact for PR professionals. Once an organisation such as the AP starts to use software to generate volume of content, it won’t be long before everyone is churning out tens of automatically-generated pages of content every day (in fact you’d probably be surprised at how many companies have some kind of automated content generation on their websites). Whilst this content isn’t going to be particularly insightful or high-quality, there is going to be a lot of it. Can we ensure that the high-quality content can still be found? (Google, we’re looking at you for help, here!)

I think the limited ambitions of this move will mean that it is very likely to be successful, but it’s just not clear what success will look like. For many companies, outsourcing blog or other content to low-cost writers, including those based in low-cost economies is now standard practice, and it works. Will these writers now see their careers threatened by even lower-cost software algorithms?

It will take some time for us to understand the full impact of this move, and the inevitable increase in adoption of automated content generation that will follow. Whilst making more information available is invariably a good thing, let’s hope that we don’t forget that quality will almost always beat quantity when it comes to making an impact on our audiences.

Is content marketing really all about product placement?

Trinity Mirror has launched a website funded entirely by native advertising. I’m not sure this is a revolution in journalism; it feels more like an experiment to me.

Whilst many people are looking to native advertising as a way to monetise online news more effectively than surrounding stories with blingy banners, I think the reality is that no one is quite sure what native advertising will look like in five years’ time. The old-school advertorial is probably too blunt an instrument for consumer titles (although I think it will have a place in B2B), and Trinity Mirror’s vision seems to be closer to product placement than anything else. Sue Douglas, head of Sunday brands at Trinity Mirror, said:

“This isn’t advertorial at all; it’s about collecting and curating the stories that you want on your site, and then within a story is some kind of serendipitous news element that lends itself to a product or some other priority that you know a business you have a relationship with has and you can utilise that.

“You might be doing a story about appalling weather, and so right down at the bottom you can have a link for Hunter’s wellies, providing people with the means to buy a relevant product if they want to.”

Whilst this approach sounds nice – highly relevant content about a brand in a story that would have been written anyway, it does make me wonder how this type of advertising might be sold. If publishers are truely going to just write news stories, it will be impossible to accurately predict the advertising opportunities and potential impressions for any one brand. Will this uncertainty lead to new, innovative sales models or will the challenge of selling opportunities at short notice result in publishers telling journalists to ensure they write about topics that provide the best advertising opportunities?

Something tells me we are a long way from the optimistic future predicted by Sue Douglas…

Will publishers start to block 3rd party cookies?

Interesting article in the Guardian, which claims that publishers are losing control of online advertising to the large digital advertising networks. As the networks can aggregate the behaviour of a user over many different sites, the knowledge publishers have of their readers might be less valuable because they only know what readers do on their sites. Will publishers start to block 3rd party cookies from the advertising networks that use their sites? And what will the advertising networks do to respond?

Is social media all faked?

It’s not unusual to hear complaints of companies engineering their social media presence, and I’ve blogged about some of the offers I’ve received to bolster my twitter account with fake followers. And some analysts are trying to quantify the trend: Gartner has suggested that 10 to 15 percent of social media reviews will be faked in the next couple of years.

But there is some good news: this social spam might start to disappear because it simply doesn’t work. The LA Times has an interesting article that claims film studios are losing interest in Facebook campaigns that ask people to “like” a film, because the approach simply doesn’t show a good return on the cost of the campaign. Perhaps everyone is wising-up to what is actually going on, and won’t be fooled by likes that are obtained with bribery. Whilst we’re a long way from all marketers dropping the shadier side of social media, hopefully we’ll see more and more people focusing on genuine social recommendations rather than using fakes to make the numbers in their marketing reports look good.

The future is bright for digital magazines?

Is the future bright for digital magazines. Russ Grandinetti, vice president for Kindle content for Amazon, obviously thought so when he spoke to the Association of Magazine media. He highlighted the fact that there is greater opportunity for monetisation because subscribers are more likely to convert when they take a trial of a digital title than when they try a print title. However he did have some words of comfort to the publishers who are still hanging on to the distribution of information on dead trees:

“Print is so good, that this is going to be a nice, long, slow transition.”

Perhaps print is that good. But long-term the cost of print distribution, the convenience of tablets and the accountability of digital media is going to mean we all have to change!

Is B2B publishing struggling to move online

There’s an interestin Sector analysis of B2B Publishing in Media Week. As I work in technology, it’s easy to forget we’re in an online bubble, and many other B2B verticals are struggling to move from print to online. To see that on average digital makes up only 23% of B2B publishers’ revenue is surprising as so many of the titles I work with have more then 50% – or even 100% – of their revenues from digital.
Perhaps the reason is that some industries are just too comfortable. There are too many people who have been “working in marketing in this industry for years” who just don’t get it. Not everyone has the same prejudices about media as 60-year-old males! Both publishers and marketers need to recognise that digital is critical, and continuing to do the same thing they’ve always done simply won’t continue working. The article sums it up very well:

As consumer publications gingerly convert to the new world it wouldn’t be unfair to say that up until now the business-to-business (B2B) publishing sector has had a public image problem, tagged as relative heathens struggling with the direction of their own offerings whether to embrace these new delivery platforms to the detriment of still lucrative print revenues.

10,000 Twitter Followers for just £99

I recently received an offer by email of “10,000 Twitter Followers for just £99”. Oh dear! The company also offers spam followers on Google+, fake Facebook likes and imaginary YouTube views.
You’ve got to assume that the company behind this is making money, and at £99, that means that they have a lot of people buying 10,000 spam followers. But how can anyone fall for this: whilst seeing a large number of followers presumably massages some peoples’ egos, surely the realisation that you have 10,000 people ignoring you must eventually hit home.
Offers like this show the problems of poor objectives, particularly in the social media space. Whilst it’s possible to “cheat” on many marketing metrics, social media seems to be particularly vulnerable to poor quality metrics. Marketing managers need to think carefully about the objectives they set: just one relevant and engaged follower would be so much better than the 10,000 that you’d get from this offer!