What becomes of journalists in our disruptive age of disintermediation, where technology is undermining the very viability of our industrial knowledge working class? Read on.
It’s been another dreadful week for the newspaper industry: yet more layoffs at Associated Press; general mockery of Rupert Murdoch as he tries to build a paywall around the Times of London content; an ex-KGB officer buying the once-vital and now struggling London Independent; and fewer and fewer pundits now believing that the imminent iMiracle of the iPad will save the industry.
Meanwhile, the numbers are in for 2009, and they are truly awful. According to numbers released earlier this week by the Newspaper Association of America, advertising revenue was down by more than $10 billion, or 27.2 percent, from 2008, itself the worst year for newspapers since the Great Depression. Between 2005 and 2009, newspaper revenue has fallen by over 44 percent, dropping from almost $50 billion in 2005 to under $28 billion in 2009.
The consequence of this revenue crisis, of course, is more and more layoffs of journalists. Every dollar not collected from advertisers is one fewer dollar which can be paid to reporters. It’s not surprising, therefore, that 2009 was also a truly miserable year to be a journalist, with tens of thousands of professionals losing their jobs at newspapers and magazines.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to the economic crisis of newspapers and journalists -- and it’s not ChatRoulette. Just as Google has made humans redundant in the creation of information through its artificial algorithm, there might be upside to the redundancy of the human being in the collection and reporting of news.
Welcome the robot journalist.
Yes, a Tokyo University-based research team at the university’s Intelligent Systems Informatics Lab (ISI) has made a great “breakthrough” in the development of a robotic journalist.
And this robot is pretty smart. In contrast to most bloggers (those lazy opinionators never leave their computer terminals), this virtual Woodward and Bernstein can, according to the appropriately named SingularityHub.com, “explore its surroundings, take pictures, interview people, perform internet searches and publish online.”
No, this isn’t an April Fools joke (although I wish it were). While the singularity crowd is now arguing over why people need robot journalism in the Google era, I can only mourn the passing of the human-being journalist and wonder if we are sleepwalking into a brave new world of artificial reporters and even more artificial news.
I wonder what comes with robot journalism. The obvious answer is robot readers -- machines that have replaced human beings as the consumers of news.
On reflection, however, I wonder if that hasn’t already happened -- what with the increasing popularity of Fox “News” and the taking over of local newspapers by the PR industry.
It’s a bad joke, this death of the newspaper and the rise of the robot journalist.
So on this April Fools Day, spare a thought for the old print newspaper and the human reporter. In ten years' time, not only will this piece have been written by a robot, but it will probably be read by one, too.
— Andrew Keen, Silicon Valley author, broadcaster, and entrepreneur, can be reached on Twitter at