Everybody seems to be lacking time in what we call the New Economy. In the past few years there has been a wave of innovation in order to address this. There are now more productivity tools and apps on the market than ever before. We have tools to help us stay focused better, improve our channels of communication with friends and co-workers, create projects easier, take better notes, keep your notes better organized, or how to identify distractions in your life so you can cut them out. All these tools are meant to save you time out of your busy day to do the things you love. Still, nobody seems to be finding that time.
In addition to a lack of time, we need to deal with the massive amounts of information that we are presented with on a daily basis. We spoke about this here (The Hutch Report). There are thousands and thousands of articles being produced and published every minute and there is just not enough time in the day to read them all, along with all our other activities. In order to filter out all the noise we skimm through the headlines hoping to gain an understanding of the big picture. The Skimm, (https://www.theskimm.com) does just that by providing editorial contents and headlines targeted to women. Authors and publishers know this so it is imperative that they create the perfect headline that will catch the reader’s eye, also known as click bait, and hopefully tweak their attention enough to where they read the full article.
When I began getting interested in the financial markets I used to spend a lot of time reading all kinds of newspaper articles. I rarely missed the Wall Street Journal’s daily overview of the previous day’s market action. As time went on I started to notice that there was one headline that would pop up extremely often, “The Dow ends lower on profit taking.” I didn’t understand the meaning of the headline. How would the writer of the article even know that this was profit taking? When I took losses on my investments, headlines such as that began to get me annoyed. I thought to myself, “Doesn’t the Dow ever end lower because investors have been forced to take losses?”
I paid more attention to the wording of these headlines and as I did I started to see more and more contradictions. I found it curious that no matter what the financial markets did, all these newspaper journalists seemed to have an understanding as to why it was, and managed to encapsulate that in a pithy headline. I began to question the validity of the information I was consuming.
One day by chance I met someone who was working for the Dow Jones Newswire. I jumped at the opportunity to gain more insight as to how these journalists managed to analyze the day’s activities on the financial markets and identify the catalyst for their movement in such a short amount of time.
The representative from Dow Jones Newswire told me that the markets were constantly changing so it was far more convenient to have the computers generate the headlines. I learned that they have a database of headlines that are related to any general world news events that may be happening during the day. This could be anything from a company takeover, to gold going up, to gold going down, to oil going up, or to the rumblings of war in the Middle East. For example, if the market drops off the open and oil has gone up, the morning headlines may read, “Dow falls on higher oil prices”. During the day, however, it is not uncommon to have the market reverse and end the day up. The headlines would then read, “Dow rises on higher oil prices.” These are the contradictions that I recognised that began to show up daily.
This was a revelation because I now understood that the headlines I was reading were actually completely arbitrary and computer generated. In my mind, this reduced their “news” value to essentially zero because it was not providing me with the big picture overview I wanted.
From the time of my discovery that the Dow Jones Newswire was using a headline generator, the amount of content being produced has gone up exponentially. The ability to make sense of it by way of new technologies such as artificial intelligence has in turn become much more sophisticated. A North Carolina-based startup named, Automated Insights, founded in 2007 and backed by the Associated Press, Samsung and Steve Case built technology to automatically take raw data and translate it into narratives that look like they’ve been written by a human. It uses a technology called Wordsmith to generate stories. Typically, Automated Insights works with large customers to create the templates that the Wordsmith software fills in. The company claimed it was producing hundreds of millions of pieces of content for customers that included Yahoo and Microsoft.
Wibbitz is an AI-driven production software that USA Today has used to create short videos. It can condense news articles into a script, string together a selection of images or video footage, and even add narration with a synthesised newscaster voice.
The large media companies are using all options to become more efficient and more profitable. So now, not only are headlines computer generated but we are moving into an age where complete articles will be written by computers.
As explained in his book “The End of Big”, Nicco Mele explains that it is not all doom and gloom for the future of journalism and journalists. Much of the fact finding mission is now going direct by way of user generated media. The proliferation of blogs and other small grassroots news and opinion Web sites are undercutting the current economic model of news by fragmenting audiences. A segment of the market, such as, The Skimm, is making an effort to “Humanise” headlines and provide the reader with as much information as possible in an efficient manner.
The big challenge facing us now is that as these computer algorithms get more sophisticated, it is getting more and more difficult to identify what is computer generated and what is human generated. If your goal is to be more productive and save time by glancing over headlines in order to understand the big picture, you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage as these headlines may not be providing you the complete picture. Your best bet is to carefully choose your information sources, and that includes companies that propose to summarize the daily news for you, such as Bit·of·News. But beware! Bit·of·News is powered by PyTeaser, a news summary algorithm that ranks sentences in a news article according to how relevant they are. The top 5 sentences are used to form a “summary”.
In the end, you may find yourself reading a computer generated summary of a computer generated headline that has been constructed from a computer generated article. Although, for the moment as far as I know, the one thing that is not yet computer generated is the actual event being written about!