No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s ( and woman’s)..
Okay, I may have stolen and politically corrected that first paragraph from the War of the Worlds but it seems that here in the 21st century we are not just aware of such intelligences - but creating more to do our jobs for us (stopping short of actually employing Martians).
Three or four years after a I wrote my first column on robot journalism it seems the predictions have all come true and journalism is being regularly produced by not so much robots with swivelling head and hands but algorithms.
These initiatives, designed to take the legwork out at data-gathering rather than produce nuanced articles of journalistic excellence, has become very real - and much like the Luddites of 19th century Lancashire (see, history) here in the newsroom we don’t quite know what to make of these advances.
Instead of smashing everything in sight (it won’t work with a computer programme) we are embracing something that inevitably by definition could replace us -because secretly we know it never will.
There may be less of us journalists as money leaches out of the industry in favour of the dictator duopoly of Facebook and Google but as the fake news industry grows people want media to trust - and at the end of the day local media is working to be that albeit in straightened circumstances and without the advantage of licence fee funding.
Adding robots to the war of the words may seem crazy but we’ll take all the help we can get.
Of course, the irony is the use of ‘robots creates more work for us human journalists as algorithms plunder data that we would never be able to spot if we sifted through agendas and reports for a month of Sundays.
Once you have the numbers and basis of the facts, there is much work to be done to make this information applicable to real people and to extract the implications for real lives.
This is what journalists have done for centuries - there’s just more of it and fewer of us.