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How artificial intelligence is invading the news room

Computers have been an increasingly important part of our lives for years, so perhaps it should be no surprise that with the rise in artificial intelligence they are now set to take over our news rooms.

The former universities minister David Willetts warned recently that robots could take over the newsroom after the Associated Press news agency started using technology to automatically generate financial reports, dispensing with the need for reporters. Earlier this year the Washington Post also published an article about an earthquake that was automatically generated within minutes using an algorithm. So is the journalist about to be replaced by the journo-bot?

After all, how would you be able to tell if this article was written by a robot? Would a bland writing style and lack of irony or personality give it away?

The PR industry relies upon a free and powerful press for our work to have real value and should champion the cause of journalists. However, in recent years we have seen a contraction in the number of journalists in many media outlets, to the point that we have seen our press releases regurgitated word-for-word in some cases. So what effect would a rise in automated stories have on the reputation and authority of the media?

Commentators have argued that far from causing the death of the journalist, automation could be a liberating force, as great journalism will always rely on humans. Computers would be left to do the basic reports, leaving humans more time to investigate and dig into more complex and nuanced stories.

So let’s not fear the rise of the machine, but celebrate the added time it will give writers to investigate stories that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day. It is when the PR-bot is released that we really need to be worried…

Readers to shape local news

Many local newspaper publishers are looking to see more of their content generated by readers as they plan their strategies for the future.

Ian Mean, the new editor of the Western Daily Press, has indicated that readers will become more involved in content generation.

He said: “We intend to harness the ideas and writing power of those readers to help to create content which will make the newspaper and its website a must read every day”.

Other publishers are taking a similar approach, but it remains to be seen exactly how reader-generated content will be sourced and controlled.

Critics will argue that the move will create a legal minefield for newspapers, but others may see it as an opportunity for better community engagement.

Is quality journalism at threat or can the skills and knowledge of journalists and readers be combined to create a better overall product?

We’ll be watching this one closely as publishers start putting their strategies into practice – a greater emphasis on reader-generated content could open up new opportunities for public relations experts in setting the news agenda.

The 2013 challenge

2012 gave PR agencies a wealth of news stories to build coverage around. Jubilee-timed sponsored events were followed by Olympic-inspired gold post boxes.

At the same time, imaginative digital Dickensian content was created and shared for the 200th anniversary of the writer’s birth.

Assuming the world doesn’t end on December 21, as predicted by the Mayans, which key events and anniversaries are forecast for 2013?

Well, not many.

So in 2013, a crucial PR challenge will be to create great narratives for clients, in order to engage the media and wider audiences, and which, perhaps, don’t rely on milestone media events.

This means so-called ‘empty 13’ could be great for getting right to the heart of a client’s beliefs about what they do and where they would like to go. It is an opportunity to generate and sell-in really creative approaches with journalists.

PR agencies will also need to continue to develop their abilities to work across platforms, integrating digital and social media into campaigns and further helping clients be ready for constant engagement with their audiences.

The increasing appetite for engagement, enabled by the evolution of personal devices, generates fantastic opportunities to build loyalty. However, the savvy audience does not just want to be sold a narrative. It wants to help write it. PR agencies need to become nimble enough to create genuinely interactive content for end users and influencers whilst continuing to plan ahead for long lead publications, broadcast and speaking opportunities.

Social sharing to influence Google results

Last month Google announced a change in the way they evaluate web content which means that social media sharing is now at the heart of search engine optimisation.

The updated search algorithm, code named Penguin, sees social shares (for example likes, comments, tweets, and not surprisingly ‘+1’s) as more valuable than inbound weblinks.

Historically, Google decided the position of a web page within search results by looking for keywords within the page content and, more importantly, who has linked to it.

In fact, there is a whole industry based on search engine optimisation, with companies employing experts to use different methods of ‘gaming’ the system to keep their websites in prominent position on search results pages.

Google is now trying to clamp down on these companies and their new system places much more emphasis on social media engagement as a tool for improving SEO.

So what does this mean for businesses? It is more important than ever to ensure you have a thriving and active social media community who will be willing to share your content on a regular basis.

TV to be Made in Bristol

A new television channel dedicated to Bristol will be launched next year.

Made in Bristol will broadcast to 330,000 households on freeview, and is a collaboration between Made Television Ltd and Bristol based news agency South West News Service (SNWS).

The launch is part of the second phase of a regional TV roll-out that is taking place across the country.

£25m is being spent across the country to develop local TV infrastructure, with a further £5m to be spent annually on local content, all of which will be funded by the BBC licence fee.

Developers of the channel claim that it will showcase all aspects of Bristol life through news bulletins, local sports, a 30 minute news programme and a daily magazine show.

Regional television has been trialed in the past, but in a city as colourful and exciting as Bristol we hope this time that it will be a success.

A picture says a thousand words

Social media has seen a dramatic change in 2012, with image-led social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram revolutionising the market and creating ‘the year of the visual’.

With ever more advanced mobile phone cameras and smartphone sales reaching critical mass, people are increasingly using images to document and share their lives.

This trend for image-led social engagement, together with the launch of Google+ last year and its emphasis on larger images, has led established social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to focus more on visual content and adapt their features to suit.

It has also given rise to new and fast-growing services such as ‘social curation’ platform – Pinterest and app-cum-social network, Instagram.

There are obvious benefits to using visual content as a marketing tool, especially for sectors that naturally lend themselves to visual media such as design, food and fashion. But Pinterest also allows links to be embedded within content. Combine this with the viral potential of social likes, comments and shares, and suddenly the possibility of super-charging SEO and driving e-commerce is huge.

Savvy brands have been quick to recognise this and many (such as Whole Foods) have already launched massively successful viral campaigns.

The trend for visual social media is set to continue for the time being, which means brands should focus on prioritising visual content when developing a social – and wider marketing -strategy.

Raft of changes in local media scene

The last few weeks have seen a series of changes in the West’s media. Bristol’s daily newspaper has been re-branded ‘The Post’ and there is no longer a Saturday edition.

The Northcliffe group has also decided that listings magazine Venue will be published online only. Listings and reviews will continue to feature in Friday’s Post, along with the local edition of the Metro and the Bristol Observer. Folio continues as a free, monthly lifestyle magazine.

Monthly magazine South West Business has been replaced by Agenda, distributed free inside the Western Daily Press to its 30,000 circulation. The website www.southwestbusiness.co.uk is featuring business stories from across the region again.

But as some media contract, others expand. The Bristol Magazine publisher has launched a new monthly lifestyle glossy covering the West and award-winning news and features website Bristol 24-7 has just been re-designed.

Top Tips for 2012

A new report on the State of the Media by Vocus paints an interesting picture of how media outlets are continuing to struggle but are using the web to evolve.

Website versions of newspapers are continuing to grow – with MailOnline replacing the New York Times as the world’s most read online paper – and new platforms are beginning to change the way we consume our media.

Whilst TV stations are increasingly sharing news resources, radio audiences continued to rise throughout 2011.

So how does this all affect your media strategy for 2012: Our top tips are:

•    Get to know journalists on Twitter but don’t pitch through social media – 80% prefer contact through email
•    Make it easy for the media – shrinking newrooms mean that journalists are more hard-pressed than ever
•    Content is king – they want pictures and video as well as carefully-crafted words

And finally…buy an i-pad and get used to the content you need to create for this platform as tablet-based media consumption is firmly on the rise.

For the full report, click here.

BBC to axe nearly 2,000 jobs

The BBC have announced that they will be cutting up to 2,000 jobs as it looks to save £670 million a year.

Local radio will be amongst the worst affected and will see 280 job losses as the BBC attempts to contend with a license fee freeze which is expected to run until 2017.

Resources are expected to be pumped into each station’s breakfast and drivetime shows, with non-peak programming to be shared with neighbouring services. This will mean that an average BBC local radio station with 40 or so staff will have to make about a quarter of them redundant.

This announcement follows the news in January that the BBC will be cutting their online budget by 25%, including the decision that local sites will no longer publish feature content.

At a time when local newspapers are under relentless pressure and many local commercial radio stations are becoming more regional in scope, it will be interesting to see what impact these cuts have on the BBC’s 7.25 million local radio listeners in England.

Guardian News & Media to become digital facing organisation

The seismic shift in media business models continues apace with the recent announcement from Guardian News and Media that it plans to become a digital-first organisation.

Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger revealed plans to push operations at The Guardian “beyond the newspaper, shifting focus, effort and investment towards digital, because that is our future”.

The development from traditional to multi-media is a trend that is sure to continue, and it will be interesting to see whether other media players follow suit.

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