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Ear to the Ground

Robo-News Bot Reports Earthquake Story for L.A. Times

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Posted on Mar 19, 2014

  Note: Robot image displayed for fanciful purposes only. Shutterstock

For those who’ve been wondering if at least some of the news currently dispensed by the MSM (mainstream media) isn’t churned up and plopped out of a machine somewhere in the dark reaches of Rupert Murdoch’s basement, wonder no more.

Right, so it’s not quite like that. However, tech-savvy journalist Ken Schwencke has outfitted the Los Angeles Times with an article-generating algorithm designed to produce accurate, quick reports about earthquake activity in the region, as well as about other easily quantifiable, template-ready topics.

In fact, Schwencke’s creation composed a story about Monday morning’s 4.4-magnitude temblor in Southern California in a slick three minutes or so, according to (presumably) corporeal reporters at the BBC:

“Robo-journalism” is increasingly being used in newsrooms worldwide.

The LA Times is a pioneer in the technology which draws on trusted sources - such as the US Geological Survey - and places data into a pre-written template.

As well as the earthquake report, it also uses another algorithm to generate stories about crime in the city - with human editors deciding which ones need greater attention.

But before everybody gets all, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Schwencke points out that human intervention is still built into the process of selecting computer-spawned stories, and his invention isn’t intended to edge out carbon-based news professionals.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson, who is currently not a robot

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