Back to the future at #nicar12

Going to the IRE-NICAR conference is like traveling to the future for me. Not only because I advance my skills in computer-assisted reporting, but also because I always learn things that I would have never dreamed even existed.

Put sci-fi movies aside – who would have thought that computers could write neat and tight copy? In the talk ‘Automation and free text,’ Reg Chua, Editor of Data and Innovation at Thomson Reuters, showed some cutting-edge tools like Narrative Science or Yseop, which can do exactly that. Check out the slogan for the latter: “the only software suite that writes intelligent texts just like a human being, but at a rate of over a thousand pages per second.” Scary.

Sure thing, these programs cannot write like Shakespeare, but Chua recommended them for automatic tasks – such as writing sport scores or even stock information. Like that, reporters can focus on more ‘complicated’ issues – such as investigative journalism.

On the other side of the table was Jonathan Stray, Interactive Technology Editor of competing news agency Associated Press. He’s working the process the other way around, converting thousands of documents into data. Stray was one of the winners of last year’s Knight News Challenge and presented his open source tool, Overview. He recently published a story on Iraq security contractors after analyzing 4,500 recently declassified documents with it.

And then, there’s Ben Welsh, from the Los Angeles Times, and formerly with The Center for Public Integrity, who surprised me with his ‘Human-assisted reporting’ concept. Instead of crunching the crime reports he gets every day from the police, Welsh has his computer do it for him automatically. What he gets back are a series of answers, such as the highest fines, and then, he can start reporting without being exhausted at all!

I wrote this post spending some time and effort, but maybe in a few years, my computer would be able to write it by itself. May I start training it?

View the presentations of most #nicar12 participants and tutorials for more inspiration.

Subscribe to The ICIJ Global Muckraker by email

RUSSIA

New US sanctions target trust companies and corporate service providers for the first time

May 12, 2022
European Parliament
Accountability

Pandora Papers shed light on ‘gatekeepers’ of dirty money says European watchdog

May 09, 2022
MONEY LAUNDERING

As US pledges renewed fight against dirty money, head of financial crime agency says funding shortfalls have caused delays

Apr 29, 2022
Pandora Papers on screen
AWARDS

Pandora Papers investigation receives National Headliner Award, other honors

Apr 27, 2022
IMPACT

Lawmakers in US push to uncover riches shielded by state secrecy laws

Apr 21, 2022
IMPACT

Sweden’s anti-corruption agency launches investigation into suspicious Ericsson payments in Iraq

Apr 20, 2022
ICIJ is dedicated to ensuring all reports we publish are accurate. If you believe you have found an inaccuracy let us know.