News Column

AP replaces reporters with automated system to produce company results

July 2, 2014

Roy Greenslade,

America's leading news agency, the Associated Press, has announced that most of its stories about the quarterly results for US companies will be produced in future through the use of automation technology.

Calling the move "a leap forward," AP's managing director, Lou Ferrara, explains:

"For many years, we have been spending a lot of time crunching numbers and rewriting information from companies to publish approximately 300 earnings reports each quarter.

We discovered that automation technology, from a company called Automated Insights, paired with data from Zacks Investment Research, would allow us to automate short stories 150 to 300 words about the earnings of companies in roughly the same time that it took our reporters."

It will therefore free journalists to spend more time on reporting and talking to their sources. At the same time, AP believes it will increase "by a factor of more than 10" the volume of earnings reports for its customers.

According to the AP statement, instead of providing the current 300 stories, accomplished manually, it will be able provide up to 4,400 automatically each quarter.

The agency stresses that it will continue to provide editorial coverage of company financial results "in more enterprising ways" than at present. Its reporters will "do more journalism and less data processing."

They 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".

It is also exploring whether it can automate earnings from companies outside the US, which potentially may include Britain.

How will the 'robots' replace human beings?

Here is Ferrara's explanation on how it will work when the system kicks in this month:

"Zacks maintains the data when the earnings reports are issued. Automated Insights has algorithms that ping that data and then in seconds output a story.

The structure for the earnings reports stories was crafted by AP with Automated Insights. All conform to AP style... The stories will be labelled as being produced automatically with material from Zacks.

As we begin using automation technology, we will check each automatically generated report and then publish to the AP wire. As we work out any problems, we hope to move to a model of more fully automating the reports and spot-checking the feed for quality control."

AP has been automating sports results for several years and is looking at extending its automated service in that sector too.

This kind of technological breakthrough has long been predicted, notably in a Nieman Journalism Lab report in November 2012, written by CW Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky.

Newsroom automation, they wrote, saves time and "dramatically reduces the need for editors to oversee every part of the process."

Sources:Associated Press/Nieman Lab

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Source: Guardian Web

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