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Robots: The New Journalists

July 15, 2014

“Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a ... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?”

From I, Robot

Who wouldn’t want to replace reporters with robots?  It’s understandable when you consider the advantages.

Robots are available when needed.  They don’t call in sick, don’t complain, don’t make annoying demands and they’ll even work on holidays.  Their work may be flawless, they always make deadlines and they’re 100% objective.  They don’t gossip, don’t waste time talking about sports and won’t try to unionize.  They don’t collect a paycheck and they don’t need health insurance.

Robots make great employees, because they’re not human.  So it’s not surprising that the Associated Press this month has begun using robots from Automated Insights to generate up to 4,400 quarterly earnings reports.

AP isn’t the first to use robowriters.  Forbes uses algorithms from Narrative Science to research and write brief stories about companies whose stocks are performing well, while The Los Angeles Times uses bots to publish stories about earthquakes and homicides.

Beware of Fake News

December 6, 2013

What do you get when you combine an advertisement with a news story? Those in the industry would say, “An advertorial.” Those who have spent money on advertorials, though, would say, “Not much.”

The advertorial is the illegitimate child of advertising and journalism. It represents the worst of both worlds, as it lacks the credibility of journalism and the effectiveness of advertising. It’s as tacky as an infomercial and generally as worthy of attention as yesterday’s weather forecast.

Rolling Stone’s Dilemma: Who’s Next?

August 12, 2013

“We got all the friends that money can buy
So we never have to be alone
And we keep gettin' richer but we can't get our picture
On the cover of the Rollin' Stone.”

                                 Shel Silverstein

It was never about taste.

To survive, Rolling Stone needs to sell magazines.  And by featuring pretty boy terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, Rolling Stone sold magazines.  In fact, news stand sales were double what they usually are.

Trying to boost sales seems like such a capitalist thing – counter-countercultural – but Rolling Stone lost its countercultural cred many years ago.

True, running a flattering photo of a terrorist on the cover was in poor taste.  But this is a publication that has run Boy George on its cover.  It’s not about taste.

Careercast Survey: Being A Garbage Collector Is Better Than Being A Reporter

May 3, 2013

As a former newspaper reporter, I’m thankful every day that I left print journalism and have been able to run my own business for more than 20 years.

I became even more thankful after reading that careercast.com ranked being a reporter as the worst job in the world.  Well, maybe not the worst.  The survey included only 200 jobs.  I didn’t see honey dipper or bomb squad specialist on the list.

My Life as a Ghost

March 12, 2013

When I made the transition from journalism to public relations, it was a revelation to find out I could be paid a lot more for putting someone’s name other than my own on the articles I wrote.

It’s a peculiar way to make a living.  Yet there are thousands of ghosts walking the halls of corporate America. 

PR Peeves #6, #7, #8 and #9: Why News Is Boring

February 15, 2013

I previously wrote that news may be becoming passé (see “No News Is Bad News”).  Media is not blameless.

These are challenging times for reporters, editors, producers, public relations practitioners and others in the news business.  Addressing the following “PR peeves” would help rejuvenate the news business:

PR Peeve #5: Poor Communication

January 3, 2012

Reporters, editors and public relations practitioners are all supposed to be communications professionals.  So why do we do such a poor job communicating?

Some reporters never bother to return calls or respond to e-mails.  Conversely, PR agencies hire fresh college grads and put them on the phone to spend their day calling and e-mailing reporters, which is why many give up responding to PR practitioners.