McClatchy is trying an automated journalism product out of Sweden.
United Robots

The Sacramento Bee publishes automated top ten lists of the most expensive homes in each neighborhood. (Photo: Submitted)

The U.S. newspaper company is doing a real estate pilot with Malmo-based company United Robots. The project delivers automated news and lists about home sales in Sacramento County, California, through McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee.
 
The BBC (see link), Associated Press (see link) and Bloomberg  (see link) are among companies using or experimenting with automation.
Content-as-a-service provider United Robots has offerings in four areas: sports, real estate, business and daily notices.
 
United Robots delivers to major news publishers in Sweden and has a growing presence in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. The company also made deals recently in Colombia and Guatemala.
 
In July, the company announced a boost from Investment AB Spiltan amounting to 1.5 million euros that will “allow us to significantly accelerate expansion across international markets, as demand for automated journalism gathers pace,” says a company press release.
 
It all started in 2015 as a sports-related project at Mittmedia, a local media group in Sweden (since bought out).  
 
Coach Q&A
 
“Let our robot interview team coaches,” says United Robots’ website, touting a Q&A function the company has in the pipeline for 2022. After writing a post-game article, a robot texts questions relevant to that game to team coaches who’ve been on-boarded before the season. The coaches' quotes are automatically put into the articles published on news publishers’ sites. 
 
The Q&A function brings a human voice into the coverage, says Cecilia Campbell, chief marketing officer for United Robots. The function was launched in Sweden in 2018.
 
Pilot
 
In the McClatchy pilot, the content is delivered automatically to McClatchy end points, including sites, apps and the CMS. 
 
“Timely and accurate real estate information is in high demand in this tight housing market, and this agreement will enable us to deliver that information to Sacramento Bee readers at a time when they need it most,” said Cynthia DuBose, McClatchy managing editor, audience engagement, in a United Robots press release.
 
Campbell says directing the content to the right end user is key, as it is with much content these days. “We’ve noticed that the people who get the most out of it are able to almost personalize the delivery,” she says.
 
United Robots’ product is based on data science, AI and NLG (natural language generation). In a “robust” process, says Campbell, United Robots’ language team works with editors to train the robots on style and other particulars of the client. The material goes straight to client sites, without manual involvement.
 
Campbell says that the automation does routine work for a newsroom. 
"You really need to maximize the use you get out of your journalists and doing the kind of reporting that a robot can do is probably not maximizing the use of your journalists. The routine reporting, if you can automate that, then your staff can do much more useful, quality stories,” she says. Campbell says the company hasn’t had clients who wanted to engage with United Robots to save costs in the newsroom.
 
“Several of the clients that we work with, two or three, they've increased the number of journalists since they did this, because it's boosting their offering local in local journalism in particular and because they can report on a lot more stories.”
 
Change in thinking
 
Campbell says United Robots has seen a shift in thinking recently, where strategic decision-makers rather than digital experimenters are prime movers.
 
With “a lot of new clients that come in now, it's a completely different conversation than we had two years ago or even one year ago where it used to be, ‘Ooh, it would be cool, maybe we could do this, we could test it. We could see what we could do.’ Now it's much more answering a direct need of, 'We really need to build out our local journalism or local coverage. What can we do?’”
 
The cost varies from market to market, says Campbell.