#5: How do you pitch a machine?


Automation is in the news – and in the newsrooms. The New York Times created a story that displayed differently depending on a reader’s location. The Washington Post tweeted about the Rio Olympics. ProPublica generated unique profiles for 52,000 schools. All with automation.

Automation tools even do what once only reporters could: write news.

How? Algorithms turn raw data into simple stories, mostly about sports or stocks since scores and prices are easier to compute. So Hewlett and Packard can’t yet replace Woodward and Bernstein.

However, technology is advancing. And with financial and competitive pressures, more newsrooms will eye automation.

Not everyone’s convinced. John Oliver lampooned Tribune Publishing, now called Tronc, in part for its bet on automation. Gannett, perhaps similarly unimpressed by that strategic direction, recently abandoned its purchase of Tronc.

No certainty, but still a trend.

Last year, NPR pitted man against machine. An experienced reporter produced a story about Denny’s quarterly results in seven minutes. An automated program finished in two, writing ably if less creatively. PR professionals, take note. Automation could be the future; it might even be the present.

What will this mean for PR professionals?

  • Expect more. With automation, The Associated Press can produce financial news on smaller companies. Sports too: down to Division III games. Good or bad, that could mean more coverage for smaller clients.
  • Algorithms aren’t perfect. Educate reporters and editors. Maybe the ‘news bot’ programmers too — their coding will shape the coverage. And if a story has an error about your client, talk to the editor. Yes, machines have editors.
  • Use automation. The New York Times uses automation to inform reporters if stories are picking up steam on Reddit. On behalf of our clients, we also need to use automation tools to improve how we track social and traditional media alike — to ensure we’re making the impact we seek. This means, on social media for example, not just tracking the quantity of interactions, but the quality of that engagement (positive or negative) too.
** This Post is part of our “Next Stop, 2026: 10 Communications Trends for the Next 10 years.” To read the full post – click here. **