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Sun 21 Apr 2019 12:07 PM

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Robots and automation to help reporters do their jobs, says Google

Google executives believe that technology can help journalists sort through data and focus more on in-depth reporting

Robots and automation to help reporters do their jobs, says Google
Google News Initiative announced plans to launch an “innovation challenge” aimed at finding ways to engage readers and increase revenue in the Middle East and Africa.

Technology and innovation in journalism will allow reporters in the region to focus more on in-depth coverage as more time-consuming tasks become automated, according to Google executives.

Last week, Google News Initiative announced plans to launch an “innovation challenge” aimed at finding ways to engage readers and increase revenue in the Middle East and Africa.

The programme, which is open to anyone employed in the news ecosystem, will see winning projects be awarded 70 percent of the necessary funding, which Google will cap at $150,000.

Projects will also be considered that seek to find ways to diversify revenue streams, such as through loyalty or subscription programmes.

Speaking to local reporters, Madhav Chinnappa, a former Associated Press journalist who now serves as the director of news ecosystem development at Google, acknowledged that the use of technology in newsrooms is a cause for concern for many journalists who fear their own jobs are at risk.

“That’s an obvious fear. [Reporters should] step back and ask how technology aids journalism,” he said. “The idea is to use technology to do some of the heavy lifting in areas that you might not be able to do, such as analyse big data cells from things such as the National Health Service.”

As an example, Chinnappa pointed to the UK Press Association’s ‘Radar’ project that received $794,000 from Google’s Digital News Initiative in 2017.

The project – which stands for ‘Reporters and Data and Robots’ – uses artificial intelligence to scale up the volume of local stories and allow journalists to identify stories that require more in-depth, human reporting.

Ludovic Blecher, the head of Google news initiative innovation, said that technology can “give time to journalists to go and really do their job.”

In another example, from Belgian business newspaper, L’Echo, technology is being used to automatically generate personalised newsletters.

“They are using automation in order to do part of the work that is super repetitive and super time consuming in order to give journalists the opportunity to add value to everything,” he said.

“When they have very specific aggregated data, [the system] can write specific snippets automatically, but the journalists on top of that can create value through interviews and more in-depth stories,” Blecher added.

In March, Google announced that it would allocate $30 million over the next two years to launch five editions of the challenge programme covering North America, the Middle East and Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Asia Pacific.

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