Is the future of news reporting writing machines?

In a curious statement last month at the State of Financial Journalism hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Amanda Lang, best known as one part of the Lang and O’Leary Exchange on CBC, wondered if perhaps with the Internet and all the information out there in newspapers if there was really a need for the sports reporting section or the daily financial report.

Lang wondered right because Steve Lohr of the New York Times reported last month that computer generated articles are gaining traction

For an ailing newspaper industry that could mean paying less journalists.

Lohr calls them “writing machines”, and quotes a former Google executive David Rosenblatt and investor in what is known as Narrative Science: “The media business may be the Petri dish for this technology, while the real payoff proves to be in the analysis and reporting of corporate and government data.”

Just last week, Techvibes featued Vuru, which does two hours of stock analysis in 0.2 seconds.

The Senior Business Editor Mike Eppel of 680 News said that in recent years that the sheer complexity of it all had dramatically increased at the same State of Financial Journalism event last month. 

While it’s interesting how technology has perhaps changed the elixir for straight black and white reporters, successful journalism holds true to former media baron Conrad Black’s thoughts back in 1995 in his new best-selling book A Matter of Principle: “My contention was that with the new technology we could deliver our newspaper content in any format- online, via telephones, or on flexible screens unrolled from pockets. People would pay for newspapers they liked, with individual writers who engaged them and news and features carefully edited and imaginatively presented”. 

Writing machines or not, remember that computers aren’t very creative- and until that day comes, which innovators have immensely struggled with fortunately, there will always need to be a human element when it comes to reporting for publications to be popular otherwise we’d bore ourselves to death reading through it all, right?

Nevertheless, Black did say this too about 1995 when he finally wrestled control of Southam: “The official Southam line, as in so much of the newspaper industry, was that now technologies were a grave threat to newspapers and that the challenge for the industry was “managing decline”, as if our task were the dismemberment of the British Empire”.

Indeed, technology would become the great undoing of newspapers with the rapid declines in circulation as Black had predicted ten years before the entire newspaper industry realized it, and perhaps not more so for Black’s long-time rival, Rupert Murdoch, who faces dozens of charges in the infamous phone hacking scandal after defaming Black for years. When has Murdoch ever left any stone unturned or any enemy unquashed?

Murdoch’s actions and the 2008 financial crisis which was largely unforseen due to what Lang further retreated in saying last month that it was possibly a great financial public relations effort that has even prompted the Canadian Journalism Foundation to discuss at large on October 20th whether or not journalism needs to be regulated.

The discussion comes at a time when very left-leaning nations like France have banned news reporters from advertising their Twitter account on television, and their french-speaking sister Quebec has called for journalistic certification, just as the Internet has allowed for a more equal share of voice. 

Unfortunately, it also speaks volumes about why news writing machines would be somewhat favoured by the general public.