Computers, Humans and Journalism

January 6th, 2009; 11:04 am by Ryan Thornburg

I’d agree with this post from Andria Krewson — “technology will not replace human contact that reminds government employees to provide public information to the public.” Hopefully that elicits a big fat “no-duh” from most readers of this blog. But here’s how people and machines will work in newsrooms of the future …

1. Copyeditors. As Andria points out, automation is great for the low-hanging fruit of stenographic journalism. But that automation needs verification. Copyeditors need to invent new workflows for quality assurance on vast amounts of data. When dealing with major metro crime reports or national election returns, copyeditors will no longer be able to dot every i and cross every t. They will have to do QA by sampling. They will need to understand algorithmic thinking and content management system idiosyncrasies in order to do this well.

2. Pattern Analyzers. Yes, Andrew, campaign contributions to N.C. Gov.-elect Bev Perdue appear to be more geographically scattered than those to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. But so what? Much of this data is freely available to every citizen. Professional journalists earn their paychecks by giving data meaning.

3. Just plain annoying. Journalists also earn their keep by asking for information that isn’t offered, by making public important information that powerful people want to hide. Journalists are the professional guardians of open government that free societies need so everyone else can spend their time more productively. Call me a bad citizen or a good capitalist, but I want journalists to watch government so I don’t have to.

And as annoying as computers can be, they will never be as annoying as humans.

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