News  |    |  October 1, 2019

An ethical checklist for robot journalism

News article by Tom Kent.
Published in Medium.


It’s routine now for news organizations to use artificial intelligence to write news. Robots are regularly transforming data into stories, and stories into multimedia presentations.

As more organizations start deploying AI, we need to keep a focus on the ethics and quality of robot newswriting. What accuracy and transparency problems do robotic systems create? What bad scenarios do we need to worry about?

Most robot newswriting so far has been for fairly formulaic situations: company earnings reports, stock market summaries, earthquake alerts and youth sports stories.

The Associated Press is the U.S. leader in using robot newswriting, generating sports and business stories that appear in thousands of publications. RADAR, a joint venture between data journalism startup Urbs Media and PA Media Group, produces 2,000 automated stories for UK publishers each week. Swedish local news publisher MittMedia produces a robot-written story on every local house sale — catnip to those who follow real estate.

As they move into robotics, news companies should ask some serious ethical questions. Here’s my checklist of what to consider regarding 1) the robot stories themselves, 2) issues of news judgment and transparency, and 3) pitfalls to be alert to. [ . . . ]

About the Author

Tom Kent. Former standards Editor, Associated Press. Columbia University instructor.