Robots help Swedish publishers reach target markets at scale

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Lessons from early adopters of AI and natural language generation in a new report show how publishers are saving time and reaching markets they hadn't previously had time for.

The white paper published by Swedish specialist United Robots leans heavily on the experience of local news publisher Mittmedia.

Using structured data sets, robots are producing content in seconds, with the claim that "if it's in the data, it's in the story; if it isn't, it's not".

At Aftonbladet in Stockholm, a robot generates an article immediately, as a flash flood impacts road traffic, and reporters and photographers are sent out to "do the human angles and cover the story on the ground".

Other clients use robots for comprehensive coverage of local sport, to cover property sales and new business registrations, and to make sure no traffic incident goes unreported.

"By including robot texts in their personalisation algorithms, they are able to deliver the most relevant stories to their readers, driving up engagement," reaching targeted audiences which are more valuable to advertisers.

United Robots says it has worked with "almost all" Sweden's news publishers since 2015.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language generation (NLG) are used to automatically produce publishable news texts from large data sets, including sports, property sales, breaking traffic news, weather, the stock market and local business registrations, with robots currently writing in Swedish, English, Norwegian, Finnish, German and Dutch.

Despite pressure on newsrooms increasing, robots have been able to help Mittmedia increase its coverage of sports and property, after discovering that demand for stories on house sales outstripped newsroom capacity to deliver them. It reports that putting a robot to work enables volume to be increased from two articles a month to 480 a week.

At Bärgslagsbladet in Sweden, a Q&A service in the sports robot technology is used to query the post-match article, and automatically send match-relevant text questions to team coaches, and automatically insert replies into match reports.

Editor-in-chief Helena Tell (pictured) says the system has been a huge asset for a small local title with no dedicated sport reporters and limited staffing. "We get match reports immediately after the final whistle, which are comparable in quality to a story over phone by a reporter.

"The clubs and fans get the attention and the information they hunger for, and the newsroom can instead spend our time chasing 'real' stories."

Aftonbladet is launching a number of local sites around the country using the robot technology, while another group, Östgöta Media launched a football vertical called Klackspark.com, promising to cover all football matches in the region, down to Division 6. During the 2019 season, Klackspark's 850,000 robot-generated stories a month drew 1.2 million page views, 450,000 of them by logged-in users.

On the property front, Mittmedia said an article about a the sale of a big or expensive house or a particularly interesting new company registration could generate 2000-4000 logged-in page views.

Measure that in terms of the time it would take a human reporter, and the approach is at least deserving of further investigation.

Peter Coleman

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