Using AI to Create News Stories, May Impact Legal PR/Journalism

Google’s move last week to fund a natural language generation (NLG) news project to help automate the creation of stories has a wider relevance that may one day touch the legal world, including legal PR and marketing teams, as well as legal journalists around the world.

While Artificial Lawyer has tended to focus on the use of legal AI in strategic areas, the reality is that AI tech will spread into everything in the legal world and across all parts of a law firm, including the writing of stories and press releases. When this happens it will impact legal media and PR/marketing teams. The question is when it filters through. A new project by Google and the PA (the Press Association) certainly promises to move things forward at a rapid pace.

The Google project is focused on local and mainstream news, rather than the legal sector, but the core principles about tapping automation still apply to the legal sector’s media professionals.

In this case, PA, the national news agency for the UK and Ireland, and Urbs Media, a start-up specialising in data-driven news, have received a grant worth €706,000 from Google to fund a new service which will create a stream of stories for hundreds of media outlets via automation of the news writing process.

The funds will help pay for RADAR – Reporters And Data And Robots – a new service which will create up to 30,000 localised stories each month from open data sets. And by open data sets this means taking publicly announced data, for example, a report on the increase of house prices, fitting these into locally-focused ‘story templates’ and then using the NLG automation system to create dozens of news stories for regional markets across the UK.

This allows a single data source to create a huge number of stories, rather than having individual journalists write them up, or having a PR/marketing team having to produce the content via press releases.

The basic logic is that certain types of news story, and for that matter certain types of press release and marketing material, all have the same format, just like a legal contract often does. What changes is the core data in the story. If you can map the new data via NLG into the news/press release template the process can be automated.

In this case RADAR will see journalists identifying national open databases from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, and creating detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health and employment.

In addition to scaling up the core story writing process, the grant from Google will support the creation of database tools to collect and combine different data sets, with editorial intelligence guiding the automation process. The funds will also help develop capabilities to auto-generate graphics and video to add to text-based stories, as well as related pictures.

But, this is not a wholly automated process, yet. The money will help pay for a team of five journalists to identify, template and edit data-driven stories. One could see this as the same process that lawyers have been through in trying to crystalise key aspects of a contract so that templates can be automated with rules-based systems.

With regard to how law firms might use this technology, one certainly can see this NLG tech used in relation to deal stories or partner hire announcements, which generally have a repeating format. Where a press release needs to refer to previous events, the system could be made to tap news and press release archives to extract related news that could be quoted from.

This could also be especially useful for international firms that want to produce the same story in many languages by adding in machine translation to produce a dozen different versions of simple stories or marketing material.

Likewise, for legal journalists there is an opportunity here to speed the process of writing what are known as ‘news in brief’, i.e. short stories, often based on press releases where the objective is to extract core data, fit it to a standard pattern of story construction and then publish online very rapidly, usually without needing additional editorial views or commentary.

Naturally, where a story demands insight and editorial skill in interviewing key people this new tech is insufficient. But, for many ‘cookie cutter’ news stories, then this may well be very relevant and lead to far greater productivity in law firm PR/marketing teams. There may also be ways to use this same tech for responding to RFPs and BD research documents for law firms.

This certainly seems like the shape of things to come and it will be interesting to see when the legal world starts to embrace ‘News AI’ systems. It is certainly an area that Google is taking seriously. Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI) already has €150m in funds to stimulate and support innovation in digital journalism across Europe’s news industry.

Watch this space.