If algorithms replace journalists, what will replace algorithms?

December 11, 2009

According to this fascinating debate on the future of journalism as digitalisation advances ever further, it looks as if the human-based selection of news and content – particularly online – could transform into something very much based on the reduction of human inputs and randomness, instead surpassed by technical selection and internet-assisted preferences.

I’ve long advocated traditional journalists embrace the digital challenges, stop moaning and start upskilling. To an extent, this is already happening with online Press, as their headlines (for example) are written with keywords attractive to Google news taking priority over emotive human choices. Interesting times indeed.

Part of the debate around the continued industrialisation of journalism – and, for me, the wider structurisation of content production and distribution – is actually concerned more with the shift of power amongst the publishers: look at the ongoing Murdoch vs Google debate in recent weeks.

Here we see an ageing, old-school media mogul firmly rooted in the past and intent on grasping hold of a slipping power struggle in which the audiences are pulling all the punches.

The power of Search and real-time audience requirements will probably be the demise of Murdoch in the end, but it’s the way in which journalists adapt (or not) which will see the final transformation of how content will be produced and delivered both online and offline. Content-producers not monitoring with extreme prejudice this evolution do so at their collective peril.

So, is content production and distribution going to be owned by the machines, or will human Hacks triumph?

If it comes down to the usual method, you flip the coin. I’m calling Heads on behalf of those who welcome digitalisation.

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2 Responses to “If algorithms replace journalists, what will replace algorithms?”

  1. I had an interesting talk with a software programmer a few weeks ago. He said that Google was working very hard and consistently on its search algorithms to minimise the effect that SEO has on search results.

    In effect, Google doesn’t like people working too hard to influence search, as it judges this to be spam. (The most guilty are internet marketers – but this has implications for the rush to drive SEO up the journalism agenda.)

    Google’s aim, he argued, is to more closely align its search algorithms with what people are actually searching for, and with the content that would most closely meet the searcher’s needs without artificially skewing the content to what the content producer thinks the user is after.

    As the great Andy Partridge once said, it’s a complicated game. But if there’s any truth in this, it could swing the pendulum the other way and focus content producers (writers, journalists etc) back on their core creative skills.

    • bristoleditor said

      Excellent points!

      I agree with you and Andy – anything which encourages content creators back to core skills enhances the offer – for them, for publishers, for audiences, for advertisers. The quality of the content is the holy grail. Shame it’s being forgotten.

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