Perhaps the lowliest job at American newspapers – the one nearly every cub reporter has done at some point – is writing obituaries.
Using information provided by the funeral homes, reporters plug in names, dates and a few biographical details into a strict format. As newbies quickly learn, accuracy is key – you don’t want to spell a survivor’s name wrong or input the wrong time for the ceremony. (You’ll definitely be hearing about it if you do!) And though the job is a bit repetitive, it’s a great way to school young reporters on the importance of punctuation, grammar and getting things right the first time.
But what if a computer could do this work instead?
This fascinating article by the Neiman Foundation explores the growing use of automation in the newsroom to do tasks that can just as easily be done by algorithms. The example in the story is financial earnings reports, those rote articles describing a company’s quarterly gains and losses. Instead of being handled by Associated Press business reporters, a program called Wordsmith now does the job, freeing up its human colleagues to do work that requires a higher level of thinking.
“Let’s have a computer do what a computer’s good at, and let’s have a human do what a human’s good at,” says the AP’s News Automation Editor Justin Myers in the piece.
It’s an interesting idea, especially since media organizations have access to such huge amounts of data these days. Automation can be used to gather and analyze data; increase engagement and personalize content for users. It can be put to work growing revenues, through such tools as programmatic advertising; and, perhaps best of all, take the grind out of the daily beat.
With easier access to archived content, ready-crunched numbers and other necessary tools, reporters and producers can focus instead on quality and creativity – which we know are especially important in today’s competitive media industry.
The Internet of Things promises even more growth in this field. Wearables, devices and beacons generate and transmit data, and some have the capacity to display content personalized for the user, location and situation. Imagine walking into the cold and flu aisle of your local pharmacy and receiving a video clip about “7 over-the-counter remedies for the common cold” on your Apple Watch. Or getting a special offer for the hot new restaurant you just walked into – along with the restaurant critic’s review.
The possibilities are endless and so very cool. But to realize that future, many media companies need to bring some big brains and big technology to the table. The people, processes and programs in place at many organizations just aren’t made for this changing, automated world.
So, what’s the first step?
Perhaps we start by freeing up those cub reporters from obit duty and see what they can really do!
What would you like to see automated in your company? What tangible benefits would this generate and what would you do with this freed-up time?
As always, I welcome your input on how to approach changes and challenges in media. If you think I’ve misread a situation or trend, let me know. If you have a new way of thinking about the topics we discuss, pass it on. I want to engage with all of you in this space as together we make sense of today’s media industry.
Scott Dryburgh joined CSC in 2015 as the Industry Lead for Media with responsibility for UK projects in broadcast, publishing, advertising and entertainment. Prior to joining CSC, he worked across a broad range of clients and was responsible for transforming multi-faceted businesses using a creative and entrepreneurial approach.