Columbia Journalism School this month released a report called “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present” (download PDF here).
One passage discussed computer-driven news gathering. The report stated:
Self-evident as it is, journalists can be much more efficient than machines at obtaining and disseminating certain types of information. Access and “exclusivity” or “ownership” of a story is created through interviewing people. Making phone calls to the White House or the school board, showing up at meetings and being receptive to feedback, sharing views and expressing doubt all make news more of the “drama” that James Carey identified as central to the concept of a newspaper. These very personal and human activities mark journalism as a form of information performance rather than simply a dissemination of facts.
Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, provided a handy summary of the report here. He said people are better able to carry out journalism than machines or social media, writing:
The key advantages of human journalists: accountability, efficiency, originality, and — most intriguingly — charisma.
Of course, human journalists had better not rest on their laurels. A company called Narrative Science has developed algorithms capable of analyzing data and mimicking human writing. According to an article in Fast Company:
These Reporter-bots are perfect for the kinds of stories journalists don’t tell. Before the year is out, for example, Narrative Science will write between 1.5 and 2 million little league recaps, something no other publication has the resources or desire to do.
Good journalism isn’t about writing like a human. It’s about trust. And as trust in conventionally authoritative sources continues to erode, Narrative Science’s robots may be lying in wait to pick up the slack.