There’s an extra member in the newsroom at Sweden’s BBLAT, knocking out the stories that otherwise wouldn’t get written.
And readers are loving it: Helena Tell, editor-in-chief of Bärgslagsbladet Arboga Tidning – to give its full name – says some news categories wouldn’t meet KPIs but automated texts help the paper take a wider stance.
In an INMA blog, she tells how coverage of a number of local sports, traffic incidents, real estate sales and new company registrations is prepared by robots. At BBLAT, located about an hour west of Stockholm, Tell leads a staff of just four reporters, and with every hour counting, it’s making a huge difference.
“We have a KPI around the number of logged-in pageviews for an article,” she says, “but generally, our sports articles struggle to reach the level expected.
“Sports is a divider; some love it, some hate it. If we look at this KPI in isolation, we’d not write a single text about sports, but of course we all know the mix is key. And sports lovers would be furious if they didn’t get sports through their local paper.”
Automated match reports allow them to take a wider stance in reporter-produced sports coverage, find angles that appeal to a wider group of readers. “This means we hit our KPI and sports fans get the information they view as important, i.e. match reports at the final whistle blow.
“For a small newsroom, automation is necessary.
“We’re forever prioritising, and sometimes I feel all we ever do is choose not to cover things. We know where to deploy our resources in order to make our readers happy. And if we can use technology and automation to perform tasks as well as we reporters would, there’s no doubt that’s what we should do.”
At United Robots – a relatively near neighbour in Malmö – chief marketing officer Cecilia Campbell says small newsrooms have the most to gain from AI and automation. “Nowhere is maximising the impact of journalists’ work more critical than in small newsrooms, where every hour counts in the hard work to cover all the local stories readers expect,” she says.
Acceptance is part of a major shift in local media. “In February of last year, I wrote about how small newsrooms can benefit from this new tech, when a significant majority of media leaders had told a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey they thought AI would mainly benefit large publishers.
“In a recent news automation webinar, Aimee Rinehart, who heads up the Local News AI programme at the Associated Press in the US, pointed out that its 2022 report – based on interviews with a couple dozen local newsroom managers and a survey of 200 local media leaders – shows they are ‘confident that AI can take on repetitive tasks to free up time’.”
Campbell says the mindset of local publishers – at least in the US – is now one of embracing the opportunities the tech offers. Indeed, Rinehart pointed out it is local and very small newsrooms that can benefit the most from AI and automation.