Trial of automated news service underway as RADAR makes its first editorial hires
RADAR – the automated news service set up by the PA (Press Association) and Urbs Media – has begun trialling data-driven content in conjunction with some of the UK and Ireland’s leading regional publishers.
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.RADAR (Reporters and Data and Robots) was set up to meet an increasing demand for fact-based insights into local communities by using Natural Language Generation (NLG) software to create up to 30,000 localised stories a month from open data sets.
The service received launch funding in July from Google’s Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund – a €150m commitment from the company to stimulate and support innovation in digital journalism across Europe’s news industry.
RADAR has at its heart a team of reporters finding interesting stories in open data sets, then writing these stories and crafting NLG templates to localise them for hundreds of markets. The project builds on this core to develop advanced database and distribution tools.
Gary Rogers, Editor-in-Chief at Urbs Media, said: “We believe these are the first automated local news stories published in established news brands anywhere in the world. We’re delighted to be up and running with a great user group who are already helping to steer our thinking on the topics and style of the stories we generate.”
A closed pilot began at the end of November, involving 35 regional titles from 14 publishing groups, including Archant, Independent News and Media, Iliffe Media, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Midland News Association and Trinity Mirror. Feedback from this initial set of brands is helping to shape the ongoing development of RADAR ahead of a six-month open trial next year, which will include hyperlocal publishers and broadcast outlets.
Tim Williams, Managing Editor at Archant, welcomed the new content: “RADAR is an exciting new service and a very welcome positive boost for Archant’s newsrooms, giving us access to data sets and information that are enabling us to share important stories with our readers.”
Multiple versions of four stories were distributed in the first week of copy testing. The first focussed on trends in birth registrations across the UK, specifically how many children were registered by married, cohabiting or single parents, based on figures from the Office of National Statistics.
This was followed by stories on cancelled operations across England extracted from NHS data, a breakdown on social mobility and life chances for disadvantaged children based on data from the government’s Social Mobility Commission and localised Department of Transport data on average A Road delays.
Stories have already appeared in 20 daily and weekly titles, both online and in print. As the pilot is gradually stepped up over the coming months, in parallel the RADAR team will be introducing new channels to distribute these large volumes of stories to local news outlets, including PA Explore, the new customer portal being developed by the PA. RADAR will then start to develop graphics and animated video to distribute with localised copy.
Pete Clifton, Editor-in-Chief at the PA, said: “I’m pleased to see our customers actively engaging with the content. Their feedback is providing us with valuable insights as we scale up production to reach our target of 30,000 stories each month for a much broader user base.”
RADAR will rely on a core editorial team of five to identify, write, template and edit the data-driven stories. Two reporters, Niamh McIntyre and Ralph Blackburn, have been recruited to join Rogers.
McIntyre joined RADAR from the data desk at The Guardian, which she joined in June 2017 as a Google News Lab fellow. She has also worked for the PA on the agency’s election coverage and for The Independent as a freelance writer.
Blackburn was formerly Chief Reporter at Archant, writing for the Ilford Recorder, Romford Recorder and Wanstead & Woodford Recorder since February 2015.