Robots can do more than produce company reports. Data they produce can fuel investigative journalism and help provide the time to write it.
That’s the message from Norwegian publisher Bergens Tidende, which has earned three nominations in INMA’s Global Media Awards for applications it has created based on United Robots’ business bot.
Project lead Jan Stian Vold says local business had been an underreported segment at BT, as reporters focussed on investigative journalism. Automating coverage of company annual reports, has enabled it to boost business coverage across all industries, and provided leads for other stories.
Vold says the bot “imitates the whole spectrum of journalism” and is is hyperlocal as well as niche. “You can read about the corner shop or a favourite restaurant, but it also sheds light on entire local industries, providing readers with new insights of things like profitability,” he says in a profile provided by the Swedish developer.
BT started mid-2021 with automated coverage of Bergen companies with turnover of more than 300,000 Euros (A$454,000) – using a higher threshold for companies in the wider Vestlandet region – turning publicly-available annual reports into summaries of revenue and profits. It also presents information about the number of employees, the chief executive’s salary, and dividends.
“This content is a massive success with subscribers and has frequently topped the most read lists since launch,” Vold says. “That’s really unheard of when it comes to automated content. Seventy of the articles have been read by more than 10,000 subscribers.”
One story about a traditional roadhouse reached 40,000 views.
The service is visited by about 10,000 of BT’s 65,000 active digital subscribers daily, and generated two million in the first six months of its use.
Vold says that with “unavoidable” changes and staff reductions lead to reduced content diversity, but automated journalism has proved to be a remedy. “More than that, it can provide subscribers with a completely unique new depth," he said.
During the pandemic, BT could continuously document how companies in vulnerable industries were doing, and even uncovered some large and previously-unreported “large cash cows”.
The facility also builds up a database which can lead to more investigative journalism, one example being a “massive” piece on women’s representation in local top management. “The journalistic value will increase over the years, as the aggregated data becomes even more deep and accurate, and this in turn will increase the value for the subscribers,” he says.
Pictured (top): BT's business home page, and (above) robot-produced charts and project lead Jan Stian Vold