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Artificial intelligence. Machine-learning. Natural-language processing. These terms have become buzzwords flying around the internet, boardrooms and everywhere in between. And journalists are not just writing about the emerging topics, they are also stepping up efforts to harness the enthusiasm.

That’s why three Missouri School of Journalism students worked on a semester-long project with The Associated Press to create training materials to help journalists get comfortable with the subject of automated news creation and learn how to do it.

Automating the production of frequently repeated stories, such as market, weather and sports reports, can free journalists to focus on in-depth reporting projects, says Lauren Wortman, who graduated this month. Wortman was on the student team that helped create the online training guide.

“Automated writing, in a nutshell, involves programming a template to interpret imported data. As a result, the data is placed into templates and comes out as automatically produced stories. These templates can be programmed for a variety of variables, including different word choices. They can also have the ability to recognize different types of data.”

The Associated Press, which uses automated writing in its work, asked the students to create a self-guided curriculum for its staff, especially those who don't have coding experience.

Watch AP Director of News Partnerships Lisa Gibbs talk with members of the team.

They produced lessons on how to use Arria, an advanced natural-language generation tool, and wrote a cheat sheet so users don't have to repeat each lesson in full when they start a new project. The team also researched how others are using automated writing and how automated writing can benefit newsrooms.

AP News Automation Editor Justin Myers trained the students on the fundamentals and key technical details of automated writing.

Being new to the process helped the students create the resource with other beginners in mind, says team member Sarah Sabatke, also a recent convergence journalism graduate.

“He's (Myers) very close to this technology and can talk about it in very technical terms,” she says. “We can only talk about it in layman's terms because we only have layman's terms. I think that really helped in learning how to teach others.”

To tap these resources and learn more about automated writing, please contact Lisa Gibbs, director of news partnerships, The Associated Press (Lgibbs@ap.org) or Justin Myers, news automation editor, The Associated Press (jmyers@ap.org).

If your news organization could benefit from having a group of talented students work on a new product, service or other innovation, contact RJI Associate Director Mike McKean (mckeanml@rjionline.org) to explore the options.



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