August 22, 2006 3:48 PM PDT

Thomson Financial: Who needs human reporters?

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Robo-reporters have answered Thomson Financial's need to churn out lightening-quick earnings stories.

Computers are writing some business stories for Thomson, a business-information provider, according to a company representative. Against a backdrop where consumers of financial news are always clamoring for speedy information to help them with stock deals, and corporations the world over are fixed on automation, Thomson says that computer scribes can spit out an earnings story in 0.3 seconds after the results have been made public.

Most human reporters can't create a blank Microsoft Word document that fast.

To determine how a company fared in a quarter, the computer takes the current financial figures and automatically compares them with the data of previous years. Moreover, computers make far fewer mistakes than humans, Thompson told the Financial Times.

What's unclear is how a PC will stand up to accusations of a liberal bias.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described what Thomson's automated reporting system can produce.

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7 comments

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Please find an example, so we can read it
This story almost made me think of The Onion.

Please find an example of the robo-written story and link to it, so
we can see for ourselves.
Posted by pencoyd (82 comments )
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Probably just a template
They would probably read as just the basics from a standard script, like "On [Tuesday], [CompanyName] reported its earnings for the [quarter] ended [August 21, 2006]. Revenue [increased/decreased] to [http://$1.02 billion|http://$1.02 billion] from [$965 million] in the previous-year period, earnings [rose/fell] to [$153 million] compared to [$167 million] in the previous-year period, and earnings per share..." or whatever. The data can be grabbed from XML versions of the reports provided by EDGAROnline.
Posted by fredmenace (159 comments )
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Its a no brainer
This isn't new technology - I developed a cruder version of this autmoted article generation back in the 90's using Microsoft Access (read here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Lc6oOeI7erEsTH0SCX1wXf89Lg--?p=37" target="_newWindow">http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Lc6oOeI7erEsTH0SCX1wXf89Lg--?p=37</a>). Its likely taken this long to institute because news organizations had healthy profit margins back then. This type of "database" publishing will only get more sophisticated -- it could have easly been another example in Business Week's "Math Will Rock Your World" article from last year (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_04/b3968001.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_04/b3968001.htm</a>). It could also be considered an upstream extension of Google's automated editor or news aggregation system.
Posted by jawandapuck (2 comments )
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Indeed
I am also not particularly impressed. This are old programming techniques. I wrote something similar for a very different environment in the early 90's for DHL. It was not only producing a report from mere figures, it was reading other reports in order to produce the report.
Posted by Bart B. Van Bockstaele (12 comments )
Link Flag
Indeed
I am also not particularly impressed. These are old programming techniques. I wrote something similar for a very different environment in the early 90's for DHL. It was not only producing a report from mere figures, it was reading other reports in order to produce the report.
Posted by Bart B. Van Bockstaele (12 comments )
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Do numbers tell the whole story?
No Caveats.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
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It's a reality.
What must be considered is that many journalists do write as
robots themselves so, for that, a computer is best skilled.

Whenever there is a need for a profile, or for "telling the whole
story", or for a more complex analysis you will need humans to
write. Now, for simply day-by-day mechanical reports of up's
and down's, where the text looks like extracted from a template
anyway, a computer can certainly do a better job.

What journalists can do to protect their jobs is to do exactly
what they are supposed to, telling a story, interpreting the data,
seeing between the lines and beyond the numbers.

Marcos Figueira
CEO, <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://FlashToGo.com" target="_newWindow">http://FlashToGo.com</a>
Posted by flashtogo (9 comments )
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