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Posted on July 14, 2017

Robots to write news for UK press association

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PA (the Press Association), the national news agency for the UK and Ireland, and Urbs Media, a start-up specialising in data-driven news, have received a grant worth €706,000 from Google to fund a new service which will create a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets.
 
The grant is one of the largest to date allocated from Google's Digital News Initiative (DNI) Innovation Fund - a €150m commitment from the company to stimulate and support innovation in digital journalism across Europe's news industry.
 
PA and Urbs Media have been offered the funds for RADAR - Reporters And Data And Robots - a new service which will create up to 30,000 localised stories each month from open data sets. RADAR is intended to meet the increasing demand for consistent, fact-based insights into local communities, for the benefit of established regional media outlets, as well as the growing sector of independent publishers, hyperlocal outlets and bloggers.
 
RADAR will see journalists identifying national open databases from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, and creating detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health and employment. Natural Language Generation (NLG) software will be applied to produce multiple versions of stories, to scale up the mass localisation of news content.
 
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PA and Urbs Media are developing an end-to-end workflow to generate this large volume of news for local publishers across the UK and Ireland. In addition to scaling up the core story writing process, the grant from Google will support the creation of database tools to collect and combine different data sets, with editorial intelligence guiding the automation process. The funds will also help develop capabilities to auto-generate graphics and video to add to text-based stories, as well as related pictures. PA's distribution platforms will also be enhanced to make sure that all local outlets can find and use the large volume of localised news stories.
 
In addition to supporting technical developments, the funding from Google will enable PA and Urbs Media to establish a team of five journalists to identify, template and edit data-driven stories.
 
Peter Clifton, Editor-in-Chief at PA, said: "This is a hugely exciting development for PA, and we believe our partnership with Urbs Media can be a genuine game-changer for media outlets across the UK and Ireland. At a time when many media outlets are experiencing commercial pressures, RADAR will provide the news ecosystem with a cost-effective way to provide incisive local stories, enabling audiences to hold democratic bodies to account. We have already provided an outline of our plans to some of our regional customers, and they have been universally positive. One described it as 'genius'! Ahead of PA's 150th anniversary next year, this collaboration with Urbs Media - supported by Google - is a fitting way to show our ongoing commitment to the media partners that the news agency was originally set up to support. Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but RADAR allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually. It is a fantastic step forward for PA."
 
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Alan Renwick, Chief Executive Officer of Urbs Media, said: "Urbs exists to harness the power of data and automation to supply important stories across local markets. PA is our perfect partner, with the scale, skills and platforms to develop our ideas. We're delighted that the Google DNI Innovation Fund has selected our joint RADAR project to boost local media and democracy."
 
RADAR is scheduled to launch in early 2018.
 
Source: the Press Association