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Friendly robots: How journalists can use bots in the newsroom

By Dariya Tsyrenzhapova

The definition of bots is murky, but expectations for the use of artificial intelligence tools in news organizations is on the rise. Bots, like automated personal assistants, can collect information, execute actions, generate content and even emulate humans, said Tiff Fehr, an interactives editor at The New York Times.

Fehr moderated a 2017 CAR Conference panel on bots with John Keefe of Quartz, Ken Schwencke of ProPublica and Simon Rogers of Google.

How can journalists interact with their audiences using bots? How can they use them to improve their reporting? One example panelists pointed to was The New York Times’ Politics Chatbot that provides automated updates with the latest election poll numbers, along with news updates via Facebook Messenger.

Quartz recently launched a Bot Studio, with the support of the Knight Foundation. It’s an experimental project, intended to build automated tools for journalists and applications for voice and messaging interfaces.

Bots can help you watch RSS feeds, keep an eye on court cases and even see things before everyone else, Keefe said. “That kind of tool is completely amazing,” he added, “especially if you can come up with stuff that nobody else is watching or thinking.”

Panelists said that bots can be our digital assistants and robot friends. They are programmed to automate journalists’ routine tasks and to deliver efficient, timely responses to journalists’ queries.

But is there a way to have them interact in an unprompted way, on their own?

“We are not there yet,” Keefe said, laughing. “And I am not sure if we want to be there.”

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