​Automation: What have we done so far?

By Laura Imregi

In June 2014, AP started using automation technology to produce U.S. corporate earnings stories. Since then, there has been an ongoing focus on automation in the newsroom. AP Deputy Business Editor Brad Foss discussed the subject at News Xchange in Berlin last week.

In June 2014, we were wrestling with a considerable challenge – corporate earnings reports, while important, required considerable time of our staff to produce and possessed a limited shelf life. Feedback from customers also highlighted a demand for an increase in distinctive financial journalism, including more in-depth, analytical features.

In response, after much discussion, we started experimenting with automation software to write the basic stories. But there was one significant question: What would this new process mean for the teams who used to produce these articles?

AP Deputy Business Editor Brad Foss talks on a panel at News Xchange on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. Photo by Laura Imregi.

Now more than a year later, we’ve discovered that our journalists’ time has been freed up to focus more on beat reporting and source development because of the software, while as a company we have been able to significantly increase the number of earnings stories in our news report. We now produce more than 3,500 such articles per quarter and expect that number to grow to 4,500 by year’s end, up from 300 last year.

“Automation and technology in general are tools reporters need to do their jobs,” AP Deputy Business Editor Brad Foss said. “It’s not about replacing journalists. It’s about taking away data processing work so they can focus on deeper reporting, critical thinking and storytelling.”

As with any successful initiative, the potential exists to roll it out further. We are now using automated software to create stories on college sports we could not cover previously. We started in the spring with Division I baseball and added fantasy football-related content in the summer.

Automation technology also works with graphics. For example, we produce an interactive monthly U.S. labor market report that required manual updating each month but now updates itself, leaving humans free to do more contextual storytelling. We also developed code to sift through government reports for particular information such as crimes connected to financial professionals. In the past, this activity could take several hundred hours to put together, let alone keep it up to date. Automating the process provides time to offer different perspectives of a story and to carry out relevant interviews.

The most exciting aspect of automation, though, is where it goes in the future. It is safe to say that the earnings reports are simply a proof of concept, a building block to show what is really possible moving forward. We use software and technology in so many different ways to benefit our journalism, and this is no different.

Laura Imregi

Laura was the international communications manager for The Associated Press, focusing on generating compelling content and messaging for a variety of platforms to support AP’s strategic objectives.

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