Automated Insights, a American technology company, recently announced that it is producing and publishing 3,000 earnings report articles per quarter for the Associated Press, all automatically generated from data. Narrative Science, another US software company, generates stories the same way, in finance, sports, web analytics and other domains.
Anywhere there is clean and well-structured data an algorithm can now write straight news stories that in some cases are indistinguishable from human-written ones. Often referred to as “robot journalism”, such technology offers new opportunities for cheaply creating content on a massive scale, personalizing that content to individuals, or just covering events more quickly than a human ever could.
Denmark’s media will remember 2014 for two events. The country’s very own hacking scandal and a documentary about a tabloid newspaper that showed just how difficult the change from the ‘paper’ journalism business model to the ‘online’ model is. It is a story that echoed across all Danish media. In 2015, the economic survival of many newspapers, as well as journalistic ethics, remain constant media challenges.
The hacking scandal erupted early last year, when a former reporter on the weekly tabloid magazine, Se & Hør, revealed that for many years the publication had paid a secret source, nick-named the ‘hush-hush-source’, who could ‘hack’ into the credit card transactions of Danish celebrities and politicians. Based on this information, the magazine published stories about where the celebrities were, for instance if they were on holiday, and preferably, who they were with. Read more
More than 450 new media platforms, publishing everything from news and sports to technology and arts, have launched in Spain since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, but only a small proportion of them are making a profit, according to a recent report.
Many of these start-ups were launched by experienced journalists who lost their jobs in the recession. Others were started by media graduates who failed to find a first job in the industry due to financial cuts, and so started their own projects.
The report into journalism in Spain: Second Research about Media launched by Journalists (1) by Asociacion de la Prensa de Madrid (APM), concludes that economic success, or even sustainability, remains an aim rather than a reality for most start-ups. The report, which is based on details provided by 120 of the 450 new platforms, found that most (nearly 60%) of the surveyed companies were barely surviving, earning between Euros 1 and 50,000. Only 13% of the start-ups surveyed earned more than Euros 100,000 in 2013. Read more
One of the main priorities of the newly-elected leftist SY.RIZ.A party in Greece is to reform the country’s media landscape. In particular, the SY.RIZ.A-led government plans to organise a public competitive auction, aimed at granting new TV channel frequencies in a ‘transparent’ way.
Several of SY.RIZA’s MPs have placed special emphasis on the term ‘transparency’ to demonstrate that their policies represent a break from the stigmatized past. As Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, has argued, “Athens has never allowed (TV) stations to compete fairly for channel frequencies or subjected them to basic regulations.”
So many media figures have lost their jobs recently that it seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, when a top journalist, such as Alan Rusbridger, Guardian newspaper editor-in-chief for 20 years, resigns on his own terms.
These days few journalists seem to have the luxury of organising their own departure. There has been a wave of high-profile sackings across the industry, and some of the most brilliant journalists have been forced to look for new work.
For example, Wolfgang Buchner, until recently editor-in-chief at Der Spiegel, left the company after only 18 months overseeing the integration of the news magazine’s print and digital operations. His proposed changes antagonised Der Spiegel’s print journalists who are also shareholders in the publication. His plans were better received by the magazine’s digital journalists, but they do not hold any financial interest in Der Spiegel.
When Gergő Sáling was abruptly dismissed from his job as editor-in-chief of Hungarian news portal, Origo.hu, last June, at least half of Origo’s newsroom resigned in protest. Many claimed Saling had been sacked for refusing to stop an investigation into a government official’s travel expenses. Now, six months later, Sáling and his former colleagues are planning to launch a non-profit centre for investigative journalism, Direkt36.
Sáling, together with András Pethő, former deputy editor at Origo, and Balázs Weyer, Origo’s co-founder, is starting Direkt36 in response to growing political and economic pressure on the media in Hungary. “We chose this model because traditional media companies have been made vulnerable by the leverage that the government exercises over them, both as a regulator and a major advertiser. As a non-profit organization, we will have greater freedom to conduct independent accountability reporting,” Sáling said.
“We plan stories that will dig deep into public procurements, the use of EU-funds, a systematic reality check of politicians’ wealth declarations, the rise and fall of big companies, portraits of influential public figures and the use of state power against defenceless groups of society,” he said.
In 2015 journalism will continue to be shaped by digital technology. Virtual reality could soon enable users to wear their news, or sense it via a headset. Simple news stories will be written by robots and curated by algorithm. Digital security will become more sophisticated, to protect journalists’ sources and, as we shift away from content ownership, the cloud will expand.
Last year, politics and the economy, as well as innovation, influenced the media. 2014 was the year when some journalists became social activists, most notably in Ukraine. Major publishing companies were forced to adapt to new digital trends: integrating newsrooms and moving production from print to online. In many places, particularly Eastern Europe, advertising revenues declined amid challenging economic conditions. It was a particularly dangerous year for journalists: 66 reporters were murdered in 2014, and 119 kidnapped – a 35% increase on the year before.
To mark the start of 2015, European Journalism Observatory (EJO) partners from across Europe present their own media highlights of the past 12 months, and predictions for the year ahead.