Google has given the Press Association (PA) news wire €706,000 (£622,000) for a project that will see robots churn out 30,000 stories for local media outlets every month.
The grant is coming from Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI) fund, which is investing €150 million (£132 million) over a three-year period to “stimulate and support innovation in digital journalism across Europe’s news industry.”
Launching next year, the PA project is dubbed “Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR)”. It will be run in conjunction with a news startup called Urbs Media.
The robot reporters will draw on open data sets on the internet and use natural Language Generation (NLG) software to produce their copy, PA said.
The data sets – to be identified and recorded by a new team of five human journalists – will come from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, PA said, adding that they will provide detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health, and employment.
Pete Clifton, editor-in-chief at PA, said in a statement: “At a time when many media outlets are experiencing commercial pressures, RADAR will provide the news ecosystem with a cost-effective way to provide incisive local stories, enabling audiences to hold democratic bodies to account.”
Clifton believes the project will benefit reputable news organisations, independent publishers, and local bloggers.
He added: “Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but RADAR allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”
However, Neil Thurman, a lecturer in communication at City, University of London, has his reservations about the project.
“I find it difficult to see how automation is going to help provide additional coverage of local magistrates’ courts and crown courts,” he told the BBC.
“You can’t really cover [local government] through automation because it’s a lot about investigation, politics, personal relationships, who has said what to whom and so forth – it’s difficult to get that information in data feed form.”