When the Job You Once Thought Was Important Is Turned Over to a Robot

robot-ccAt my first journalism job, in UPI’s Minneapolis bureau, I read news stories written for the newspaper wire and rewrote them, filing 20 minutes of broadcast news copy every hour for radio and television stations in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It seemed interesting work after a mind-numbing year of law school. And as UPI bureau chief Clyde Donaldson said that first day, “This news is important to a lot of people,” adding, “Whatever you do don’t f— up the livestock report.”

As I wrote the broadcast copy—short sentences, keep it simple—and read it aloud to myself I could envision scores of radio deejays and television anchors reciting the words to many thousands of people.
It turned out that rewriting news stories for the broadcast wire was good training for journalism—how to write with a lot of short words and short sentences that are easy to read and speak. When I became a newspaper editor and then a magazine editor, I continued to do a lot of changing of long, complicated sentences into something shorter and easier to read.

Now what I learned to do at that first UPI job is being turned over to robots by the Associated Press, UPI’s once-hated competitor. “The AP wants to use machine learning to automate turning print stories into broadcast ones. The experiment is part of a larger effort by the news agency to incorporate automation into its journalism.”

Work that once provided a learning experience and paycheck for young journalists will be done by automated machine learning.
First the writers, then the editors?

The editing robots are already at work. The website nybookeditors.com offers 11 editing tools, saying: “For most writers, editing is a chore. . . .Here’s a great solution: an automatic editing tool. This type of tool proofreads your writing, checking for grammar, spelling, and a host of other errors. While your text editor will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor.”

It does add this good advice: “Remember that no automatic editing tool can ever take the place of a human—well, at least not until the rise of Artificial Intelligence. While we wait for robots to roam the earth, you’ll still need a professional human who understands the natural flow of language and storytelling. Use these tools to help you initially edit your work before sending it off to be polished by a professional.”
Journalism’s future as automated machine learning takes over? Will the Facebooks, Googles, and Verizons of the world watch robots do most of journalism’s writing, editing, and design? They’ll still need accountants to count the money but a lot of ad directors and publishers also might be looking for work.


  1. Ervin S. Duggan says

    No robot could EVER replace Jack Limpert.

  2. I wish you had edited FBI Director Comey’s letter about the emails found on the Weiner-Abedin computer. Was the letter itself a good idea? I can see both sides. But with shorter, even bullet-point type sentences, it could have done a much better and clearer job, and perhaps would have enabled less political exploitation by all sides. Just badly written.

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