Major Florida Paper to Use Robot News Reports, Coverage Expected to Greatly Improve

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Is journalism resorting to the fast-food kiosk response to higher wages by using robot reporters?

On November 1, the top story at the Miami Herald was one touting a recent home sale. A mansion in the Brickell area of Miami — located on the mainland overlooking Biscayne Bay, near the Port of Miami — sold for over $2 million. It was a rather un-newsworthy feature, and not one that was especially long, or even compelling. The piece was barely a paragraph long, describing the basic measurements of the home, followed by a list of comparables in its surrounding location.

So what drew the readers to this banal listing? The first indicator is in the headline; a Miami newspaper listing for a property sold in Dade County felt the need to include the clarifying words “Florida Home…” The next detail was that it seems people became aware of something new, arriving on the landing page to read the writer — or, more specifically, the non-writer. It has been recently revealed that the Miami Herald has begun using a robot to file these real estate announcements. 

At the bottom of the piece is this segment that is nearly as long as the feature itself. 

This article was generated by the Miami Herald Bot, artificial intelligence software that analyzes structured information from prominent real estate data providers and applies it to templates created by journalists in the newsroom. We are experimenting with this and other new ways of providing more useful content to our readers and subscribers. You can report errors or bugs to [email protected].

This is appearing to be a little bit more than an experiment. To date, the Miami Herald Bot is closing in on one hundred postings. Now, not all of them are fully cogent, as you might suspect. One entry had to later be corrected after it went to press with this clunky syntax: “On August 26, 2021, a seller moved into a spacious 1997 property on the 1600 block of Brickell Avenue in Miami-Dade County sold.” In another such posting, it declared an address to be in the Brickell section of town, when in fact the address was well west of the area.

It is safe to assume then, they do not have robot editors.

This type of artificial intelligence at newspapers is not new. Many outlets have been employing some form of this tech for a while, using the programs for breaking news, or compilation work. The New York Times covered some of this not long ago, and it estimated that at Bloomberg News, up to one-third of their reports used some type of AI technology, focusing mostly on corporate earnings reports. The Associated Press has been using AI for coverage nationwide of minor league baseball games.

AP/Reuters Feed Library

What makes this all the more curious is that the Miami Herald has been especially brazen over the past few years in being contrarian with Governor Ron DeSantis. There have been a number of questionable if not outright embarrassing reports concerning the governor, a public figure the paper makes no secret in opposing, sometimes in laughably knee-jerk fashion. Currently, the paper is on a quest to demonize DeSantis over his use of the term “jab”, in place of vaccines. By all means, bring on the automatons. 

Considering the human element needed to inject emotional controversy like that, maybe a robot battalion of writers is what the paper needs. Of course, that all depends on the level of bias of the journalists used to initially program the AI. Some staffers were used to input the original language that the bot uses for its pithy real estate dispatches. That puts a new twist on the always humiliating task of training your replacement ahead of a layoff.