LA Times uses ‘robot’ to post breaking news about earthquake

18 Mar 2014

The LA Times was the first newspaper to publish news of an earthquake in the region, thanks to an algorithm designed to write short articles after an earthquake occurs.

The code was written by a journalist and programmer, Ken Schwencke, in a bid to have important information about the quake out to the general public as soon as possible.

The relatively small earthquake, measured at 2.7 on the Richter Scale, was posted on to the LA Times’ website within three minutes of the event occurring.

All the data that was wired from the US Geological Survey was put into the program and put into the article template.

At the end of the article, the digital author is acknowledged with a paragraph stating: “This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”

The growth of ‘robo-journalism’ is expected to continue for the foreseeable future as news outlets compete with one another to be the first breakers of news.

Speaking to Slate magazine, Schwenke, as a journalist himself, doesn’t see his algorithm and others like it as replacing the traditional journalist.

“The way we use it, it’s supplemental. It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting.”

Robot journalists image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic