robot reporters impact media relations

Image source: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Computer programs, so-called robot reporters, write more news articles than ever, a trend that could substantially impact public relations.

Roughly a third of the content published by Bloomberg News uses some form of automated technology, produced with the company Cyborg. The Associated Press has used artificial intelligence (AI) software to write stories on company earnings and minor league sports for years. The Washington Post has its Heliograf tool. Reuters has its Lynx Insights tool. AI produces more than 3,000 posts a week, mostly weather-related news, for Patch, a nationwide news organization devoted to local news.

The AI programs typically produce number-driven articles that involved structured data, such as earnings reports and sports results. But its applications appear to be expanding.

More than Finance and Sports Reports

Forbes has an AI tool named “Bertie” that suggests topics, headlines for contributors and even writes first drafts of articles. Forbes credits Bertie for helping double its number of loyal visitors — people who visit more than once per month.

In the UK, the automated news agency Radar — Reporters and Data and Robots — churns out thousands of stories a month for hundreds of publications, according to the Financial Times. Some often make the front page. Unlike most other software programs, Radar covers general interest stories.

A human journalist writes a story “template” with wording for different scenarios, such as a large increase or decrease or modest change, for a given activity. The software populates the article with statistics on education, health care or other topic that are relevant to a publication’s local area.

Advocates of machine-created or machine-assisted articles say they free reporters from rote number crunching and allow more time for high-quality journalism, such as soliciting opinions and performing investigative reporting. AI can also help financially struggling media companies, they say.

A Tougher Road for PR?

Some public relations professionals look on the spread of robo-reporters with concern. PR pros already face a shrinking number of journalists to pitch. With robo-reporters cranking out content and replacing breathing journalists, contacting a staff reporter or contributor has become even more challenging and will likely get even worse.

Media relations teams may soon need to optimize pitches and materials for bots writing articles, predicts Meredith L. Eaton, director, North America, at Red Lorry Yellow Lory Communications.  That could soon entail sending content in database form, so it can be fed into algorithms.

Ultimately though, PR pros will need to lessen their focus on media relations and adopt more integrated strategies — including more content, digital, paid and social tactics. “Despite the stiff competition, and number of contributors outweighing full-time journalists, PR practitioners are going to have to make it work. And that comes down to relationships,” Eaton says.

Other PR pros warn that the importance of earned media has declined and will continue to fall, while paid, shared and owned media rise in importance. PR must adapt to inevitable trends.

“PR pros who are laser-focused on earned media are digging their own grave,” writes Wendy Marx, owner of Marx Communications. “Start today (if you’re not already doing so) to widen your lens to encompass paid, owned and shared media.”

Bottom Line: Software programs churn out more news articles than ever and are expanding beyond formula-based reports. The trend may make media relations even more challenging if robot-reporters replace human media contacts. PR pros may need to transition from calling reporters to submitting databases to algorithms and place a greater emphasis on owned, paid and shared media.